Movie NewsMicah RobinsonComment writing for CHUD, you sometimes see news from the same company of the same nature so often that you dismiss it on its face. Ever since Walden Media started up in the “big-budget family entertainment” lane and scored with The Chronicles of Narnia, we’ve seen notice after notice of them snapping up child-oriented fantasy novels and grabbing a notable adult or two to lead the cast. But while I was entertained by Narnia enough to give it a pass, I certainly didn’t see it that style of movie as a viable template for a whole slate of films, so I’ve been increasingly disinterested in what Walden’s been doing.

Until now.

Today’s news isn’t exactly earthshaking, but it’s got two gentlemen attached whose respective next projects I’ve been eagerly awaiting, and now that they’re doing the next film together, my anticipation jumped up that much more. The first is the invaluable Bill Murray, who has signed to star in City of Ember for Walden. The story, which of course comes from a fantasy novel, concerns a city of darkness that is illuminated only by street lamps. When the lights begin to dim, two teenagers become involved in a grand mystery in order to save the city. Sounds innocuous enough, but Murray has a way of shining in the most mundane settings and I expect this will be no different. The second gent that sealed the deal for me, however, is Gil Kenan.

He’s not a marquee name…yet. But I figure it’s just a matter of time because Kenan directed the remarkable Monster House, which just blew me away when I happened to see it way after the fact. With the glut of CGI kiddie flicks out there these days, there wasn’t much in Monster House’s marketing to distinguish it, so I ignored its theatrical run despite a lot of recommendations from friends and other people whose opinion I trust. I finally gave in when it ran on Starz recently, and I was in disbelief at not only how interesting the characters were and how sharply it was written, but also how dynamic the direction was. Not just in pacing, but in the swooping, lifelike kineticism of the camera (well, virtual camera) movement. And as impressed as I was with that film, I could not wait for Kenan’s live action debut. Further adding to the behind-the-scenes pedigree is Tom Hanks, whose Playtone banner will co-produce.

They’re putting this out through Fox, and Fox has wisely staked out an October 2008 release date already (which has paid dividends for the right kind of family adventure films before). But with that set in stone (or plaster, as it’s possible – with enough buzz – that they’d move it up a day or so given recent release date trends), they’re under a crunch and will start shooting on location in Belfast later this summer.