First Disney dropped distributing the Chronicles of Narnia film franchise. Then Fox picked it up.
Then it seemed that producer Walden Media’s new director, Michael Apted, might bring a better story adaptation. But a leaked script emerged that included some rather gross perversions of C.S. Lewis’s original story. Yet the producers said that was not the film’s current script.
More recently have come the film trailers that contain even more divergent content. You can view the most recent trailer linked in last Friday’s column, or this trailer, to see what I mean.
Last weekend I returned to the NarniaWeb podcast, hosted by “Rilian” and in this episode costarring “GlumPuddle” (who has a hilarious video rundown of the recent trailer), “Warrior 4 Jesus” and me. Apparently the final mix isn’t yet finished [edit: now it is; download it here], but in that podcast many of us expressed worry about the film — not primarily because it has clearly changed some of the story, or at least added a kind of “flashback” to the White Witch (again). Rather, we were concerned that the book’s central themes will be overridden by modern-focused fantasy shtick.
It would be great to get a disclaimer, but that same notion seems reflected in a quote last week from director Apted himself (which is repeated, with source, in that same Friday column).
Below I’ll quote myself (with some edits) about Apted and the film’s adaptation, not because I think I said it best, but because so far my voice track is the only one I have from the recording.
The problem is something that you identified earlier, Rilian. You called it a “philosophical difference,” that the quote really kind of cuts to a philosophical difference between the book, and perhaps what’s sounding like (without qualification) the movie adaptation.
I want to be really cautious, and I don’t want this to sound mean when I use C.S. Lewis’s phrase chronological snobbery. There was a little of that in the last film [Prince Caspian], and even a little bit less in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; it wasn’t too bad. But it’s a very subtle attitude that goes like, “Hey, we’re too cool for this stuff. We need to put in some modern stuff. You know, we’re in on the joke. This is just a nice little story. But we need to make it more like Star Wars or Harry Potter.”
That’s kind of the giveaway there. And while I like Star Wars, and I like Harry Potter even more — that’s Star Wars, and that’s Harry Potter. Let them be them, and let Narnia be Narnia.
Why can’t we just tell the story? Maybe punched up a little bit — I don’t mind some filling out the details. They did some of that in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I don’t mind changing the order of the islands around. Heck, I could even get used to the Seven Swords, maybe Star Girl if I was really relaxed. But to revise things to this extent — at the very least, I’d like to hear a qualification going [for Apted’s quote]: “Here’s what I meant by that. Here’s what I did not mean. And we are going to try to meet the themes of the book. We’re not just trying to be another Star Wars, and we’re not trying to be Harry Potter, where all these details mesh together, we have all these little subplots where everything’s got to connect, and we have to imitate the other guy.”
Another term for [the main story] that’s used in novels and such is metanarrative. You need to understand your metanarrative. You can play with the subplots a little bit, but there’s at least three main metanarratives in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that have to be adhered to, or else it’s not The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
[They must get] those three right, and make them the main thing. You can’t just kind of give a polite nod and a salute in that direction, then go off on a quest for seven swords.
Please, I don’t mind the seven swords, Mr. Apted (I know you’re listening) but make sure to keep the main thing the main thing. [Otherwise] it’s like opening the Bible and getting all lost about trying to figure out who the Nephilim are, from Genesis 6, instead of, oh yeah, there’s this whole Flood there. Let’s keep the main story the main story.
Recently I was reading a article in a Christian magazine [Narnia Invaded by Stephen J. Boyer, TouchStoneMag.com, 2010] about how Prince Caspian in particular, while they had to change the story, they had made all kinds of alterations and had completely failed to understand Lewis’s approach toward authority, the kingly role in Narnia, and how that changes you, and how authority doesn’t make you into a bully that wants to go start fights in a subway station. It makes you more noble than that. And I understand how they wanted to change that. But I just haven’t seen a whole lot that is different from that previous approach. And this quote seems to undergird that. It’s like “we’ve got to change that, we’ve got to update it, we’ve got to fill in the gaps,” and even more than filling in the gaps, “we’ve got to find a new big story that ties it all together.”
But for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you already have three big stories. To me, they’re:
- Reepicheep’s quest, which is closely allied with,
- Finding Aslan’s Country — that’s perhaps the biggest one — which of course is closely allied with,
- Eustace’s transformation.
If they get those three right — and I haven’t seen anything that contradicts that at least Eustace will have a good “un-dragoning” (a March 2 Christianity Today article) — if they get those three things right, I don’t even mind them rehashing the White Witch. But they have to get those three elements right. That will make a good film, and that will make a film that honors The Voyage of the Dawn Treader book.