It’s been eight years since the last Narnia movie, and to be honest, many of us have been hoping they would just let sleeping lions lie. But The Silver Chair has been confirmed… and the future is looking very confusing.
As of April 2018, this article has been updated to reflect recent news.
After many years of vague news pieces about activity on the Narnia front, The Mark Gordon production company has announced that the fourth movie of the series has a director: Joe Johnston, known for Jumanji and Captain America: The First Avenger (he intends to retire after this movie). It also has a script, which was completed in mid-2015, and later rewritten in 2017.
Producer Mark Gordon shocked us all by announcing that The Silver Chair will reboot the series. “It’s all going to be a brand new franchise. All original. All original characters, different directors, and an entire new team that this is coming from.” And none of the old cast.
With the rights for The Silver Chair passing from studio to studio — first Disney, then Walden Media, and now The Mark Gordon Company — this is just another step in Narnia’s confusing journey to screen.
An opportunity to save the franchise?
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is quite unanimously considered the best and most accurate adaptation of the three Narnia films. But Prince Caspian followed, and while fans still enjoyed it either despite or because of its innovations to the original story, it made a disastrously small amount of money. So much so, that it brought about the end of Disney’s involvement with the franchise.
Then came The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, produced by Walden Media, and despite a few memorable moments, it felt like a nail in Narnia’s coffin. The badly-put-together Voyage felt like a confirmation that there would be no more sequels. It just wasn’t good enough.
At this point, it’s not that we don’t want to see more Narnia movies — in fact, the lack of them is painful given their potential — but with the minds that put together the first 2 films (and possibly got a little too excited with the second one) gone, it feels like any further movies would just be disgracefully watered-down adaptations of the source material, and we’re probably better off without them.
However, that’s not about to stop the studio that now has the rights to the films. The Silver Chair definitely deserves to be made, and have its themes of perseverance, faith and freedom properly depicted, and the new filmmakers are hopeful, assuring us that the next film will be “absolutely the best Narnia movie yet.”
“C.S. Lewis’ story is iconic and epic but also tender, personal, and emotional,” Gordon said, indicating that the new director would help bring all of it to screen. And as fans of the Narnia books and the message of The Silver Chair, we agree. But it’s also a bizarre choice for a Narnia reboot.
‘The Silver Chair’s’ uncomfortable position
The same dilemma that doomed Prince Caspian now haunts The Silver Chair’s production: filmmakers will have to decide if they want to gear this story towards children, or towards an older audience.
While Narnia is known for being a family-friendly series, The Silver Chair is one of the darkest books, dealing with powerful themes of enslavement, brainwashing and oppression, and some particularly terrifying scenes. In a way, it poses as a transition between the more innocent days of the Pevensies and the upcoming Last Battle. It’s when C. S. Lewis’ themes of faith and loyalty become the most pointed.
It’s hard to imagine how a The Silver Chair movie could bring in a new audience. A huge element in the story is a sense of disenfranchisement with what Narnia has come to. Eustace comes in expecting the magical land his cousin spoke to him about, the Narnians struggle with what the future holds, and Caspian literally dies.
In the books, these are potent themes when read in juxtaposition to the stories before it — but for an audience that hasn’t experienced The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian or Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it might be hard to understand why the characters are feeling what they’re feeling, and even make sense of the tragedy of Caspian’s family.
The Silver Chair was written to follow Voyage as closely as possible. After all, the book itself is set only a few months after its predecessor. It has now been eight since Voyage, and no one particularly remembers Eustace Scrubb, or what he was like before Narnia changed him. It’s hard to see how the story’s power can hold after such a lengthy absence… and even more so if he’s not going to be portrayed by the same actor.
There is some interesting potential in Jill Pole, the main protagonist of The Silver Chair. It seems likely that a big name would be cast to portray her; one that can draw in an audience for a confusing film like this one, and somehow capture audiences in the same way the Pevensies did with the first few movies. There are rumors that Millie Bobby Brown has been offered the role, but these are still unconfirmed.
But Narnia is unique in that, while it follows a certain group of characters, those characters aren’t necessarily the main point of view of all the books. In the books, Jill loses her position as our point of view in The Last Battle, to King Tirian. While that could be changed for the sake of continuity, Jill has one of the least fascinating storylines out of all the Friends of Narnia, and it seems strange that the entire new franchise would be held up by her as a main character — one that is only present for two out of the seven books.
So where is this reboot even going?
Confusing implications for the future
While it is true that Will Poulter, at 25, is probably too old to reprise his role as teenage Eustace Scrubb, the actors who played the Pevensie children are at the perfect age for The Last Battle, if it were to be made within the next few years. However, even if they were to agree to bring in the old cast, it seems unlikely that writers will go with the last book next; it’s possibly the most controversial one of the bunch, and not really viewer-friendly as a second movie.
Which makes what they’re trying to do incredibly confusing. Are they going to start from The Silver Chair and then come up with spin-offs before finally reaching The Last Battle?
As fascinating as Narnia is, the best moment in its timeline for further adaptation is definitely the Golden Age of the Pevensies. Included in this period of time is The Horse and His Boy: another rather controversial book for its unfavorable representation of people of color, but which could be excellent if tackled by the right writers, and actually provide a much-needed chance for Middle-Eastern representation in fantasy. And it could include the now adult Pevensie actors.
It makes sense that for the sake of upcoming movies, filmmakers might want to start from a clean slate. But while they can start from scratch, they can’t erase the previous movies from our collective memory. The expectations, the love, and the disappointment are still there… and they will undoubtedly affect the future of this franchise.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s hard to be excited for further Narnia movies the way we might have been years ago. It feels a bit like that ship has sailed. While we all want to believe that they’ve finally found a way to properly resuscitate one of the most beloved stories of all time, it’s going to take a lot to convince us that it’s worth watching.
Currently, The Silver Chair is scheduled to begin pre-production in July 2018 and start filming the following winter, in New Zealand. If all goes according to plan, it will likely be released around December 2019.