Revisiting The Chronicles of Narnia Part 2: The Film Adaptations
By: Angela Russo (@Amaruki99)
In an age where technology can finally do justice to a cinematic adaptation of the books, the current franchise certainly doesn’t disappoint with realistic animation, stunning scenery, and impeccable special effects. Unfortunately the movies were not true adaptations of the books. As a die-hard nerd for Narnia I must give my honest and loyal take on the film franchise.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Walden Media & Disney (2005)
The first film committed to maintaining an authentic representation of the novel, taking minimal liberties with the storyline which can be easily chalked up to artistic license. There is only one thing that I would specifically critique: While Tilda Swinton certainly was a chilling witch, her barbarian-animalistic styling was very literal, deviating from Lewis’s depiction of the long dark-haired, red-lipped, haughty and regal empress of Charn. The contrast of her inner ferocity and barbarism to her exquisite external beauty and refinement is entirely Lewis’s point. Evil often comes with the fairest of facades. It is a story about temptation, the downfall of man, the conquering of evil, and ultimate redemption. That point aside, the movie covered the bases very well, and served as a respectable initial foray into the series.
Prince Caspian, Walden Media & Disney (2008)
The interpretation of Prince Caspian was a drastic leap from the book, hacking out portions and inserting numerous battle scenes that simply did not occur. In the novel, there’s a handful of battles briefly alluded to that occur prior to the Pevensies arrival, and only one very short-lived fight when the Telmarines stab Miraz with his own sword after his duel with Peter. To cap it off, they injected an unnecessary romantic sub-plot between Susan and Caspian. If you’ve never read the books, it’s likely an entertaining film. The CGI for the river spirit was impressive even if the events that surround his entrance were completely fabricated. Honestly, everything that was good and mesmerizing about the book was scrubbed right out of the movie. The point of this book was the belief in Aslan, and the restoration of Narnia to its rightful residents. The purest truest power of Narnia.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Walden Media & 20th Century Fox (2010)
The third film was the greatest departure by far with plot points twisted beyond recognition. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was practically unrecognizable to the book it is supposedly based on, qualifying as a loosely-inspired fan-fiction at best. They took the original story, chopped it up, and changed every detail of the events from the book that they bothered to include. Then, they mashed the whole thing together with seven magical swords and an absurd green mist. It was a dreadful and unnecessary rewrite that completely missed the point of the story. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not about saving Narnia or defending it from anything. It is an exploratory mission to discover the whereabouts of the lost lords of Narnia. The underlying plot of the book is about man versus the self….Lucy with her desires to be more beautiful and popular like Susan, Eustace transforming completely from the inside out, and Caspian learning that being King is about sacrificing personal glory for the good of the kingdom.
The Silver Chair, Sony Tristar & The Mark Gordon Company (In pre-production)
One would think that the deteriorating reception of the franchise would be cause for a reboot. Unfortunately, the rights have changed hands once again with an announcement in 2016 stating that a reboot is in order…starting with The Silver Chair. At this time it is unclear whether the term “reboot” was being used literally. Personally, I cannot imagine continuing this train-wreck of a film franchise as it currently stands.
Digging Deeper into the Franchise
It is said that one of Lewis’s greatest apprehensions for authorizing a live-action adaptation for his books was the idea of humans dressed up as animals – he likened it to blasphemy. Based on the way the modern series has completely contorted and rewritten his precious works beyond recognition I would be quite keen to hear his opinion of them. Regardless, when the BBC’s 1980’s miniseries adaptations (featuring humans dressed as animals) outpace the modern day movies in the fan-ratings you know you have a problem.
It all boils down to inconsistency and a needless attempt to reinvent the wheel. The rights certainly bounced from company to company like a hot potato, but the complete and utter disregard for the original books as the franchise progressed was unforgivable. Instead of having faith in the appeal of the adventure, wonder and beauty inherent to the original tales, the production teams injected unnecessary romance and drama into the films. This only succeeded in creating a synthetic lifeless representation that stripped them of the carefully crafted intentional writing that Lewis painstakingly penned into his works.
Exploring a True Representation of Narnia
The cinematic productions of the books fail to inspire any of the soulful awe that makes the series so deeply entrancing. The creators lacked the courage and dedication to fully embrace the Christian inspiration at the bedrock of the Narnia series. No matter what you believe, to C.S. Lewis, this was the heart and soul of the series from start to finish. A story without passion is not worth reading…and this was the fuel for his passion. Leaving it out is to leave the gas tank out of a car, or the oxygen out of a beautiful planet. You could send a probe there with a camera, but you could never go there yourself to inhale the scents, fully experience the texture of the grass on your bare feet, or see the richly unfiltered colors of a mysterious new world…the things that make it come alive! When it comes to an iconic series like Narnia, maintaining the integrity of the storyline is paramount to success. The books don’t need any alteration to be wildly entertaining, magically beguiling tales.
If we can have three reboots of Spiderman, I hold on to the hope that we can still honor the memory of C.S. Lewis and his timeless classic by starting from scratch. I believe that a true reboot of the films should begin with the genesis story: The Magician’s Nephew – widely acknowledged as a fan-favorite. Many literary aficionados might argue that the publication order should be honored, but for a film adaptation and for the purpose of drawing in fans who have not read the books, this is incredibly impractical. Despite being the sixth book to be published, The Magician’s Nephew is the seat of deep magic providing a crucial foundation story that informs every successive book. Presented chronologically from genesis to destruction, the series has a naturally expansive progression that seamlessly weaves all of the adventures together. The true unaltered story of Narnia deserves to be told in all its glory. Until the film rights fall into the hands of a true nerd for Narnia, it will remain an untold epic.