This week, The Chronicles of Narnia’s Facebook page announced the unthinkable: Netflix had acquired all rights to make films based on C. S. Lewis’s world.
Let’s presume we’re all lifetime Narnia fans here, and get down to speculating.
I myself have a few immediate questions, like:
1. What about ‘The Silver Chair’ film?
No media sources I found mention what this deal means for the just-past-rumored development of the fourth Narnia film, based on The Silver Chair.
It is (or was?) a real project. It would be (have been?) produced by Mark Gordon (Murder on the Orient Express, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger). David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi, and this winter’s Mary Poppins Returns) was writing the script. And C. S. Lewis’s stepson and head of estate, Douglas Gresham, had praised the early script as recently as this past February.
Gordon and Gresham are, of course, named in the announcement. It’s not like the series has radically changed hands; Netflix will simply finance and distribute these stories. But would-be director Johnson and scriptwriter Magee are not mentioned.
2. Related: will Netflix reboot the entire Narnia series?
Netflix could take two paths here:
- They won’t shelve all current work. The recent films are still fresh enough in fans’ minds to make it safe starting with The Silver Chair. Pros: use existing creative work that’s already been done for this film adaptation, and save a bit on the budget (more on this below). Cons: pick up in the middle of a series, making the first three books difficult to adapt later.
- They’ll reboot the whole thing, likely starting with the first story in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pros: name recognition, and the ability to carry forward with the whole series. Cons: this is a big-budget story.
My prediction: Netflix will use The Silver Chair as a “soft reboot,” aligning with some of the film’s creative voices existing statements about the film’s intent.
3. Will a Netflix budget do these stories justice?
If Netflix starts with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—or bows to pressure from certain fans and decides The Magician’s Nephew is the best starting point—that’s challenging. These stories “for children” are epic in scope. They have imaginative worlds, magical-portal travel, and creatures galore. Aslan figures prominently in both tales. Even in the first series of three films, the budget is occasionally strained under the relative limits of animation technology available from 2005–2010.
However, Netflix has proven its willingness to fork over tens of millions of dollars for past productions. And with projections for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings production likely starting at hundreds of millions, Netflix is incentivized to compete.
Still, as I mentioned, Netflix could start with The Silver Chair. Budget-wise, this is far more reasonable without compromising the book’s themes. In fact, barebones budget fits perfectly with the story itself. Here, for the fourth Chronicle, Lewis actually “gritty reboots” the series somewhat. Gone are the many delightful creature comforts of Narnia, in favor of a tale about strict duty and obedience.
Gordon will likely face less-expensive film construction and a struggle to market The Silver Chair. In fact, a new film’s journey may be like that of the story’s two English schoolchildren — the new Narnia friend Eustace Scrubb and the trust-averse Jill Pole (perhaps Lewis’s best heroine) — and their optimistically pessimistic Marsh-wiggle guide Puddleglum, trekking into the wild lands around Narnia to seek a long-lost prince.
But such hardship may be exactly what a fourth Narnia film needs: a lower budget, tighter focus, less input from those with film investments to lose, and more faithfulness to Lewis.
4. Will Netflix make Narnia films or Narnia miniseries?
Left unanswered in the early news is whether Netflix will make Narnia feature-length films, or miniseries, or both. Oddly enough, I see advantages to both approaches. Stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as well as The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew feature relatively simple, accessible narratives. However, all the other stories, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, are quite episodic.
5. Who would star in a ‘Silver Chair’ film?
Who among you loved The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film? Yes, I see those three hands. The film itself sunk. But Will Poulter as Eustace Clarence Scrubb totally deserved this role. (And a better story.) Alas, by now eight years have passed, and Poulter is too old to return to the magical land of Narnia.
This marks a perfect chance for Netflix to go full into the realm of the “soft reboot.” They’ll re-cast all characters. I’d suppose they’ll likely choose another voice—besides Liam Neeson—for the great lion, Aslan.
Other than my earnest desire for Sir Patrick Stewart to voice Aslan (he’s done it before!), I’ve no firm convictions for particular cast members. With one exception:
— E. Stephen Burnett (@EStephenBurnett) January 31, 2018
Make sure you note the Like from actor Doug Jones himself. It also turns out he himself floated the idea back in 2011. And who else could he play but Puddleglum?
OMG — NARNIA 3 left a tear trickling down my boney cheek!! This is inspiring me to campaign for a role in NARNIA 4 ….
— Doug Jones (@actordougjones) January 2, 2011
6. Would Netflix de-claw Aslan and weaken Narnia’s faith?
Short answer: very possibly. Netflix has a lot of great fare, including among its original series, such as Erased and Lost in Space. It also has a lot of terrible content—not just exploitative (like Altered Carbon) or laughably hijacked for religious Progressivism (like Anne with an E), but simply poorly made.
At the same time, I take some comfort in this truth:
- Douglas Gresham is involved. This man has spent his life working to get Lewis’s world turned into films. He’s also fought to preserve the “supposal” Christian elements that permeate Lewis’s stories as naturally remixed classic mythology.
- By all accounts, Netflix does tend to honor creative control. That, not just some monolithic “liberal agenda,” means its content can end up all over the place.
- My guess is that Gresham and Gordon saw this Netflix arrangement as the best way to make more films how they want. Now, the creators don’t necessarily need to compromise for the sake of the silliness demanded by the “children’s fantasy franchise motion picture” template (e.g., “believe in yourself” insipidity).
- Netflix’s involvement also removes a huge cost factor: physical distribution. Films can market themselves thanks to fan interest, and momentum remaining from the previous three films (two distributed by Disney, the third by Fox).
7. When will we get to see the new Narnia film or series?
The statement doesn’t mention production or release timing. That’s also been a key element always left unanswered by creative voices talking about The Silver Chair.
However, based on previous announcement-to-release timing, I’d venture we’ll at least know of a Narnia film or miniseries release date/year by the year 2020. In either case, I’m almost certain my family will personally be up for hosting a long-overdue NarniaWeb moot—not in theaters, but in our house. We will hope to enjoy the awaited release of whatever adaptation we get. And if it ends up terrible, well, we can try to work with that too. In that case, we’ll just make sure to invite Bacchus.