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If I Directed The Chronicles of Narnia:
To begin with, I should make it clear that I don't really want to be a film director. The job I actually want is something of a "continuity director," who would be able to advise the primary director and the primary editor on what needs to happen in order for the films to make sense to viewers throughout the series. However, I will use the word "I" here as if I was the director of all the films in the Chronicles of Narnia film series.
The idea for this blog post came from the announcement that Netflix had acquired the film rights to the Narnia intellectual property, and the resulting concern that Netflix may not give Narnia the proper attention or respect that it deserves. Therefore, I am imagining what it would be like if Netflix hired me to head up their Narnia streaming content project.
To begin with, I would get extensive fan & expert consultation for the entire project. In addition to C.S. Lewis' grandson (who is already consulting with Netflix), I would convene a roundtable of the Narnia experts from Narniaweb.com. While it is understandable why Netflix would normally want to steer clear of input from fan (which can tend to be fairly toxic, since they are very protective of their favorite franchises), the folks at Narniaweb.com are very thoughtful and reasonable about Narnia. They understand that it is not possible to directly convert the books to the screen. Instead, they advocate striking a delicate balance between adapting the source material for a different medium while remaining true to C. S. Lewis' original intentions for the series.
If I Directed The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:
I would film The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as a single film, pretty much as it was made by Disney (only longer, to allow the story more room to breathe). The story would be told from the perspective of the four Pevensie children, with shorts released before the film providing mini-stories about other characters and their backgrounds. For example, the actor playing the Professor would be expected to return later to film his parts for The Last Battle. Another short would show the white witch raging coldly through the forest, turning the Narnian creatures to stone and transporting them to her palace courtyard.
The importance of these short mini-stories cannot be over-emphasized. To begin with, these shorts serve as excellent candidates for post-credits sequences or home-video bonus material. They also permit me to obtain more performances from some of the non-primary actors in the film. Most importantly, though, they serve as the trailers for the film itself. In this way, none of the film is spoiled or "leaked" to general audiences, although they can still obtain a very good idea of the thematic direction and visual storytelling that they can expect from the film. These "teaser" trailers will be designed to create buzz by telling a short and compelling story without giving away what actually happens in the film. Plus, they fill in missing story material that had to be edited out for time and can even serve as the "deleted scenes" of the movie.
If I Directed The Horse and His Boy:
I would next beg the studios to permit me to shoot scenes with the four Pevensie actors (Lucy, Edmond, Peter, and Susan) before they grow up for The Horse and His Boy. This would be an epic adventure spanning several episodes and featuring several new actors who would not appear in any of the other films, except for a cameo appearance in The Last Battle. Since it is told from the perspective of a young boy named Cor, the side-plot of the Kings and Queens of Narnia attempting to escape Calormen will be told in shorts released before the series. The series format would better fit the "road-trip" quality of the book and allow better character development, which is necessary since we would not have previously met any of the main characters in this series.
This video from Narniaweb reviewing a stage adaptation of this book provides a good overview of how good an adaptation can be, when the script is written with the strengths and shortcomings of the medium.
If I Directed Prince Caspian:
After shooting The Horse and His Boy, I would shoot Prince Caspian as a single film with the (slightly older) actors who portrayed the Pevensies in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but make some changes to increase its audience reception. Although the story certainly is dark, I would have spent more time showing the results of Aslan arriving back in Narnia. Reepicheep would have more screen time. The Seven Lords of Telmar will be sent away in the film's prologue, showing how power-hungry and heartless the king is.
If I Directed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
I would next shoot The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a mini-series, rather than a single film. It would feature the same actor that portrayed Prince Caspian in the previous film, as well as the actors for the Seven Lords of Telmar. Because it would be filmed as a series, the format would allow the episodic nature of the book to play out over several episodes, each on its own island and featuring different character's development. This will remove the pressure that ruined the film. The overarching focus of the series will be an excitement for exploration, rather than a duty to defeat a "green mist." While the Seven Lords of Telmar will be part of the series, the search for them will take a backseat to the wonder of discovery, since the Seven Lords of Telmar was merely the excuse that King Caspian used to construct and fund the voyage. The first episode will introduce the primary characters, focusing on Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace boarding the Dawn Treader to meet King Caspian, Drinian, Reepicheep, etc. The second episode will focus on the Lone Islands, where the slave traders story from the book will be re-inserted. This version of the Lone Islands story will focus on King Caspian's cleverness, showing how the Narnians re-conquer the Lone Islands through sheer cunning and bravado. The third episode will focus on Eustace's transformation into a dragon and then his transformation into a much better person. The fourth episode will focus on Deathwater Island, the Sea Serpent, Burned Island, and growing restlessness among the crew about the journey. The fifth episode will focus on the Magician's Island, and the sixth will focus on Ramandu's Island. The sixth episode's focus on Ramandu's island will be a clear departure from the film, as Ramandu will actually appear, and the near-mutiny will once again show how King Caspian's cleverness wins out. The seventh episode will focus on the long journey through the Eastern Sea, emphasizing the wonder of adventure and discovery. Finally, the eighth episode will feature Aslan, where Reepicheep is able to enter Aslan's country while the children return to our world. Unlike the movie, King Caspian will stay on board the Dawn Treader (as in the book), making the departure even more heart-breaking. Throughout the series, character development will be of utmost importance (even over action/adventure), as Lucy must battle jealousy, Edmund must fight pride, Eustace must fight selfishness, and Caspian must fight escapism. The shorts would show the ship under construction and Caspian's battle to build it, and also Caspian's marriage to the Star. Also, in another short, Eustace's parents would be shocked at his transformation upon returning to England, and send him to the Experiment House boarding school to be "taught properly."
If I Directed The Silver Chair:
I would next film The Silver Chair as a series, rather than a single film. Because the book is essentially a long road trip, it would make sense for the series to consist of several distinct episodes with major events each receiving their own episode. Of course, this film would feature the same actor who played Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The promotional material would not be merely clips from the film itself; instead, I would release a series of shorts that essentially fulfill the role of deleted scenes: backstory or side story that is not essential to the plot, but fills in missing information. Since the entirety of The Silver Chair would be told from Eustace and Jill's perspective, this extra information would "hook" viewers without giving away the rest of the film. For example, I would release a scene detailing how Prince Rillian chased the snake that bit his mother and how he went missing. It would end with an aged Prince Caspian embarking on a voyage to seek out Aslan in search of his son.
In the film, the audience would see King Caspian's departure from a different point of view, and would be told the legend of Rillian's disappearance by the owls, who would use tree bark to illustrate the story. These scenes would use a much-aged version of the same ship used in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Another "short" would be a party of Narnians, celebrating the full moon and sailing in the caverns over the sunken underground city. This would end with a glance at a waterlogged locket Jill lost in her hasty escape. The end scene of the film would show the aged Caspian (same actor as earlier in the film) transformed into the young Caspian (same actor as this and the previous film).
If I Directed The Magician's Nephew:
Finally, The Magician's Nephew would be filmed as a single movie. Even though it is filmed last, it would be released before The Last Battle, essentially serving as the ultimate backstory of the entire saga and building up excitement for the final installment. The reason for this particular filming order is to preserve the aging of the actors. For example, the same young actors who depict Digory and Polly in The Magician's Nephew would be used to represent the younger versions of the Professor and Polly as they de-age in the final act of The Last Battle. The actors who depict the Magician and Queen Jadis would also star in shorts detailing how The Magician got his rings, and how Jadis rose to power. The same actress who was used for the White Witch in the previous film would also be used to depict Jadis in this film, as they are one and the same character.
One end-credits sequence would highlight how the Professor turned the toppled apple tree into a Wardrobe. This short would feature the same actor that depicted the Professor in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This short would also utilize the actor depicting Digory in The Magician's Nephew.
Because many fans want to know more about Charn, yet C.S. Lewis provided only a basic description of what happened from Queen Jadis' perspective in The Magician's Nephew, I would tell the story of Charn in two different ways. In the movie, we would only hear Jadis' side of the story as she tells it to Polly and Digory, with some background noise adding flavor (such as the clattering of carts, shouting of merchants, and cracking of whips when she talks about the greatness of the House of Charn, and the battle-cry of armies and crashing of swords when she talks about the battle she fought with her sister). This would be a close retelling of C.S. Lewis' book and show both deference to the original source material as well as a courtesy to Narnia fans. However, a second project would be after before the film to fill in the backstory of Charn.
This second project (but first chronologically) would expand upon Charn and feature Jadis as the main protagonist. Unlike The Magician's Nephew, which was a single movie, this would be a limited series. Each episode would carry the plot further along and allow the writers to more fully flesh out the character and motivations of Jadis, as well as her sister and other characters in the world of Charn. The series would start with the meeting of the "Friends of Narnia" described in The Last Battle. The actors portraying Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Jill, Eustace, the older Polly and the older Professor Digory would be there, sharing stories of their adventures in Narnia. While we only see them briefly in this dinner party in The Last Battle, this series would give us a better idea of what good friends they had all become and what they talked about. Specifically, Professor Digory and Polly would be asked to tell the group about their adventure to the World between Worlds. At the very beginning of the series, Digory and Polly would narrate a short synopsis of the events of The Magician's Nephew leading up to their arrival in Charn and their meeting with Jadis. This would be shown in a flash-back style series of clips from the movie. The other friends present at the dinner party would stop Polly and Digory and ask them why Charn was so desolate, and Polly and Digory would then begin to tell them what they had heard from Jadis. At the beginning of each of the series' episodes, Digory and Polly would narrate some part of Jadis' story. While they talked, we would see an animated stop-motion sequence depicting the events with paper-napkin origami (at the end of each episode, we would see napkins on the dinner table folded much like the origami we had seen at the beginning, implying that they had been the ones folding the napkins to serve as visual aids as they talked). Then, their narration would fade out (since they had fairly little information to go on), and the animated stop-motion sequence would transition to the live-action format for the remainder of each episode. Viewers would be transported to Charn to learn about the events leading up to the fall of Charn. The primary advantage of this series would be its tight integration with other Netflix Narnia media. By using the actors that viewers recognize to bookend each episode, we are reminded that this is a story about a secondary character in the Narnia universe. We are also reminded that they are at a dinner-party, which will make it all the more interesting when they are interrupted during that very same dinner-party by Prince Rillian asking for help in The Last Battle. Finally, this series will serve to whet the appetite of viewers for the final installment in the seven-book series, a stop-gap between the sixth and seventh book adaptations. It will also give some time for the actors to age a bit for the final installment.
If I Directed The Last Battle:
I would then film The Last Battle as a series, rather than a single film. The reason for this is that the book has a lot of characters to keep track of, all of whom tend to be doing different things until everything comes together at the very end. A series would give us time to get to know the ape and the donkey, the Calormenes, the Narnians, Prince Rillian, the Pevensies, and more. Of course, this series would use the same actors for Eustace, Jill, the Pevensies (not Susan), the Professor, and Prince Caspian. I would film this last, since it is chronologically the final film in the franchise. Since this film happens after the other films in the timeline, it is okay that the Professor, the Pevensies, and Prince Caspian look much more mature. Since this film would be primarily told from Eustace and Jill's perspective, a series of shorts would set up the donkey/ape deception, as well as the backstory for the Pevensies' dinner party (see previous discussion of follow-up series for The Magician's Nephew). Some of the same Calormene clothing, props, and sets would be re-used or re-visited from The Horse and His Boy, in order to bring continuity between the film's universe. However, this movie would not be released until after the next film, The Magician's Nephew (see below).