After The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, true Narnia loyalists clung to vague hopes that the studio would follow the publication order of the books and attempt a film adaptation of The Silver Chair. Instead they have opted to take The Magician’s Nephew, the penultimate book to be published, (yet the first book chronologically), and bring this to the silver screen, no doubt in stomach churning 3D. The reason? What all audiences apparently want when sequels are no longer a viable option: an origin story.
Walden Media (backed by Fox as of Treader, after Disney jumped the sinking ship), concluded that as the franchise is steadily losing money, the best way forwards is backwards. They intend to replicate the appeal (and box office takings) of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In the panicked death throes from the herd of producers determined to squeeze the last drop of money out of C.S. Lewis’ magical series, what they fail to understand is that there is not a committed enough fan base to keep the franchise alive. Wardrobe attracted fans of the series that were curious to see how this version would compare to the timeless original (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the BBC adaptation). They were let down by the attempt to mimic The Lord of the Rings in the battle scenes, and the dumbing-down of the Christian messages central to the book. Those new to the franchise were attracted by the fact that Wardrobe is one of those books you are expected to have read before you die and that it kind of reads like a film anyway. However, most of the interest dies with Wardrobe. The book (and the film) could easily stand alone, and few are aware of later tales focused around a horse, a donkey, an ape, or a silver chair; let alone a set of magical rings that serve as transport between dimensions. At a push they’ll recall Prince Caspian, but this was turned into a sort of watered down ‘Prince of Persia meets Dr Doolitle’, with an unconvincing Spanish accent from Ben Barnes.
So the films are floundering. Following in the footsteps of countless other franchises, with Puss in Boots threatening to fling fur-balls at us in 3D, the producers are hoping that if they show the events leading up to Wardrobe, people might pay attention again. But why should we? Prioritising profits over principles means that the latest instalment will continue to disappoint fans of the book by butchering key themes and alienate casual cinema-goers with confusing attempts to mimic more successful franchises. They may drag some in who are curious to see how the book will be translated on to the screen, or some who merely hope that it serves as a substitute for the soon to be finished Potter franchise, but I fear that this will not be enough to keep the studio happy financially. Still, what do I care? They lost me when they dropped Eddie Izzard as the talking mouse.