June 11, 2018
Failed Franchises: Narnia
This is my first in a series of posts wherein I'll delve into what I like to call 'failed franchises'. This series is about films, or series of films, that have come to an unexpected end, or did not flat-out do well, in one sense or many. There's some slight bias, as this series of posts will cover some films that I personally hoped would do well, and get sequels.
It goes without saying, as you can see above, that I'll be starting with Narnia.
The first film, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, was released in December of 2005. It was quite successful in pretty much every sense in the word. From the first trailer (and just the way the film's logo was designed) you could tell that they were gearing up for a franchise. Disney and Walden Media obviously had hopes to adapt all seven books, in published order. Hence, why they began with the first Narnia book that was published.
Narnia is a series, although it's more 'episodic' in nature, and does not follow one giant plot (like The Lord of the Rings) or even to the degree of something like Harry Potter or Star Wars. The stories are almost standalone.......but not quite.
One thing I enjoyed the first film, was how the merchandising was handled. The same level of quality (or close to it) that went into The Lord of the Rings marketing and advertising also went into the first Narnia film: it wasn't just a 2-disc DVD, but it was nicely packaged. Things like that, for instance.
Next up was Prince Caspian...and here's where the trouble began. This isn't to say that Prince Caspian isn't a good book (or the rest of the Narnia series) but it seems to be the general opinion that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the best one, or the most widely known. The problem with Prince Caspian wasn't the film itself. Sure there were a few minor changes, but take a look at the theatrical editions of The Lord of the Rings, especially The Two Towers. Some book purists were not satisfied with it, as they had been with the first film; as well as general movie audiences. No, the problem with Prince Caspian was WHEN it was released.
It was initially supposed to be released in December 2007. For some reason, Disney swapped its release date with another film called The Water Horse, which was slated for May 2008. That was a fatal move for Prince Caspian. And, for that, I blame both Disney and The Water Horse.
Moving Prince Caspian to may 2008 put it up against the likes of Speed Racer, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Oh, and a few weeks later - Hellboy II and The Dark Knight. What killed Prince Caspian's earnings was other films. People, as much as they may have liked the first Narnia film, flocked to see other movies instead, or first (dropping it's opening week / weekend numbers).
For some strange reason, Disney was surprised that Prince Caspian didn't do as well as the first, or as well as "expected." Here is where I'll interject - if you're doing a franchise of films, how each one does affects the likelihood of the next one getting made. This is why if The Water Horse came out in May, and failed, it wouldn't matter. Sure, it'll suck for the studio, those involved etc....but it's a standalone film. There aren't others in the series 'waiting' to get made; or dependent on its success.
Needless to say, Disney bailed, and 20th Century Fox took over. It sucked that Disney bailed, as they provided funding and distribution for the first two films. It was good that 20th Century Fox took over the franchise, as that meant we would get the next-published book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Dawn Treader was different from the first two films. This is due to another director taking over, new studio producers etc. But it didn't have too much of an impact on the aesthetics of the film: the Narnia stories were episodic, so each one being "different" somewhat works. Design and style (and title logos, etc) it meshes pretty with the first two films. Pretty good on that aspect, considering over the course of (at this point) three films, two studios were involved.
There were more changes to the film from the book than the first two combined. It still made for a decent movie, but not so much in the 'adaptation' department. Oh, and Spanish or not, I wish Caspian (played by Ben Barnes, now on Westworld) kept the same accent throughout the series (he appeared in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
Sadly, Voyage of the Dawn Treader did not do well at the box office, and thus, cemented Narnia's fate.
Slight dovetail here: I've always enjoyed the Narnia films. Maybe not as much as The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, but enough to see each one when they came out, buy the soundtrack CD, buy the DVDs when they came out...but I never got "hyped" for them. Again, this is isn't me saying "I didn't like them". I watched the first trailer for each film when they came out, saw the movies when they hit cinemas (but with Dawn Treader I went opening weekend, MAYBE opening night). I got the first film on DVD (2-disc DVD edition) for my birthday, and grabbed Prince Caspian when it was on sale within the first month of it coming out. With Dawn Treader, since the future of the franchise was up in the air, I pre-ordered the DVD. Nothing fancy - just the barest of releases. It was my intent that if they made all 7, I'd re-buy them all on blu-ray, or get the collection. Sadly, the franchise fizzled out.
[End of dove-tail] UNTIL......
The next book in the series (publishing order) is The Silver Chair. It's in pre-production! They're currently working on the script, and even have a director: Joe Johnston, who is most well-known for directing Jurassic Park 3 and Captain America. So these good signs! I'm looking forward to following the film's development as it happens (ie, the first poster, casting, trailer, etc.). So I'll "follow" the film but won't get "hyped" for it.
Given the fact that the film is still far from releasing, and given the Narnia's film history, one would debate if this franchise is classified as 'failed' if it's currently finding new life.
I hope that The Silver Chair does well enough for the rest of the books to get made: The Horse and His Boy, The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle. I also hope, that any future films have some degree of continuity and consistency. For starters, I hope that all the films have the same film logo. Throughout the years, the Star Wars logo has always had the same font. I'd be great to have Liam Neeson voice Aslan, where and when appropriate. Obviously, at this point Eustace will need to be recast. Getting Tilda Swinton for The Magician's Nephew would be awesome. For The Green Lady in The Silver Chair, I wouldn't say no to Swinton (as the same actress from the BBC production played both The White Witch and The Green Lady) though Eva Green, Kate Beckinsale or Cate Blanchette would be great choices as well (among others).I would love to have Bradley James (Arthur from Merlin) as Prince Rilian.
Possible directors I'd like to see helm a Narnia film would be: Christian Rivers (unless tied down to sequels of The Mortal Engines), Guilermo del Torro (with Doug Jones in a role - Puddleglum, perhaps....?) Alfsonso Cuaron, Jay Russell (he did The Water Horse....that'd be ironic), Robert Zemeckis, Duncan Jones, Wolfgang Petersen...and many others. I feel, with the names provided, if things work out in regards to studios, actors, budget, scripts etc that any of those names would be able to provide a great Narnia film.
Finally, some composers I'd love to hear score a Narnia film: James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, Alan Silvestri, Vangelis, Thomas Newman, Clint Mansell, Trevor Morris, Daniel Hart, Ramin Djawadi, Bear McCreary....there's a whole bunch of talent out there.
As you can see, I admit to having a soft spot for the Narnia films. It's a franchise I've liked, and kept an eye out for, but is nowhere near being my favourite. While not perfect, or a "popular franchise" (in regards to the films, that is) they are still fantasy movies. It's also a series that I'd love to fully brought to screen. Hopefully The Silver Chair happens, and performs well enough to warrant the remaining books to be made, or if in a few years, the entire franchise is rebooted from scratch (I'd be in favour of the BBC (re) doing all the chronicles, or a series of films from Studio Ghibli or Studio Ponoc).
We'll see what the future holds, and how The Silver Chair goes. Hopefully, people will still care by that point.