How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

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How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Glenwit » Mar 24, 2020 12:44 pm

Because of COVID-19, I have a lot more time at home than I usually do. I'm also thinking about Narnia more than I usually do. This is a bit of a novel, and might open up a bit of a philosophical discussion about the content of the novels, compared to how it might be adapted in the future. Especially when it comes to the tone.

I've been thinking about this, since the announcement of the Netflix acquisition. I know that The Chronicles of Narnia have a childlike innocence about them - which definitely shouldn't be touched. But the books do get surprisingly dark in places - starting in the Magician's Nephew, where Jadis is the last queen of Charn, a world which Aslan states is at a level of messed up that most other worlds will never see.

Jadis enters Narnia, and brings some of that darkness into Narnia from day one. Most of the books have one or two obviously dark moments, before the Last Battle retains a dark tone throughout (before the end, that is). In between, I feel like a lot of what CS Lewis implies, but does not spell out, adds not only deeper meaning, but makes me think "Wow, this would be intense if it was real life".

While I don't want the Netflix series to fabricate too much drama that wasn't already in the source materials, I also don't want it to shy away from the moments, whether implied or outright stated, that make the stories impactful. I also believe it shouldn't shy away from the lighthearted moments either (i.e. the Romp, comic relief, etc.). In my opinion, it requires both darkness and light to fully encapsulate the bigger picture CS Lewis was going for. Both make Narnia what it is. That said, I believe that instead of fabricating drama, a lot could be done to flesh the depth and subtleties that Lewis weaves through the stories - while this would make it more impactful, it might also make it darker in places than some people would be comfortable with.

So, I guess my question is, how much is too much? On one hand, I get that it was written for children, but CS Lewis even went on record stating that it's a disservice to children everywhere to shield them from the knowledge of the world being dark and scary sometimes. Is it selfish to hope that child-friendliness isn't always the priority of the series (the key word being 'always')? I mean, I obviously don't want it to be a Game of Thrones 2.0 either. What's the right balance?

What are your thoughts? Also, what are your hopes and fears about how specific scenes might be adapted?
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Reepicheep775 » Mar 24, 2020 4:53 pm

I have always been of the opinion that any Narnia adaptation should be accessible to children. I don't think an adaptation that alienates its target audience is a good adaptation.

In terms of violence, adaptations shouldn't shy away from death and violence because Lewis never did. However, movie violence can shock more than book violence ever can. If this was 2005, I'd say Narnia shouldn't have a higher rating than PG, but nowadays I think I would extend that to PG-13 because the MPAA seems to have become stricter. I don't think there's any way a movie like The Force Awakens would have been PG-13 had it been released a decade earlier.

So I think that the harsher realities of life should be included, but obscured as appropriate. A good example is when Peter beheaded the Telmarine lord in PC and we saw one shot of him swinging his sword followed by a shot of a helmet on the ground.
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby PuddleCheep » Mar 24, 2020 7:15 pm

I think the darkness in Walden's PC was pretty spot on. Unfortunately, it did not have as many aspects of levity that it could have. If they had had the Romp and maybe focus more on Caspian as a child learning about Narnia, I think that balance would be perfect for Netflix.
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Wanderer Between Worlds » Mar 25, 2020 11:35 am

Hello Glenwit! You’ve brought up a very good question. :)

I agree with Reepicheep775 in that I think the Narnia adaptations should still be accessible to children. I think that perhaps playing off of some of the darker explicit or implied themes in the Chronicles (to an extent while still staying true to the vision and purpose of Lewis) would serve to highlight that these stories are not mere “children’s fairytales” as most people would think of fairytales today. They are stories with real emotional, and, as many would argue (including myself), spiritual weight behind them. I agree that it would actually be doing a disservice to Lewis not to hit on the darker themes woven throughout the Chronicles—just as much as it would be to gloss over the undeniable scenes of joy (the romp, the snow dance, etc.).

I believe that there is a marked difference between darkness and violence. Darkness and violence often go hand-in-hand, but I think that darkness has more to do with overall thematic weight whereas violence is more physical. Something can be dark without necessarily being violent. For example, I personally think that the actions behind Lady of the Green Kirtle in Silver Chair are darker than the battle that marks her death. Although her death is described as a “nasty mess,” I believe that concepts of Rilian’s enchantment, the enslavement of the gnomes, and the denial of Narnia carry far more darkness than her actual death (even though that may not be as explicitly violent).

Some of the darkest scenes in the Chronicles, in my opinion, include the capture and death of Aslan, the concept of the Dark Island, much of Underland itself, Aravis’s attempted suicide, the implications of Calormene society (especially for women), Charn, and much of The Last Battle. There are also battle scenes that are violent (much of it is implied violence and not excessively detailed), especially when translated to screen (Peter’s First Battle, Battle of Beruna, War of Deliverance, Battle at Anvard, Battle with the LOTGK etc.), but I personally don’t see them as thematically darker than the others mentioned above. For example, one could show Aslan’s death with limited violence and in an accessible way for children, but the sheer emotional weight and tonal darkness of Aslan’s death would still make the moment dark.

I think there is also a third component that has a bit of overlap with the darkness element: scariness/creepiness. There are several scenes that don’t necessarily qualify as violent but, in my opinion, should be presented as quite eerie (the courtyard of statues in the White Witch’s Castle, lack of old Narnia under Telmarine rule, Goldwater and Ramandu’s Island, the Island of the Voices/Magician’s Book scene, all of Underland, Shasta among the tombs, Charn, etc.). However, I don’t know how much would be too much. As Glumpuddle has talked about several times on the podcast, atmosphere is essential.

I think that ultimately whenever Narnia (or any book, for that matter) is adapted to screen, the writers/producers should strike a balance between the jubilation and underlying darkness, humor and mystery. All of these are very fine lines in an extremely delicate balance. I think that the series needs to be accessible to children but also give food for thought to older members of the audience. If the writers do not underestimate the intelligence of the audience, I think there is wonderful potential. Although Lewis could be considered didactic, he writes with subtlety and does not, in my opinion, beat the reader over the head with the point he wants to get across. Above all, I think that families should be able to view it together, just as parents are able to share the experience of reading the books to their children. Ideally, I think that the movies/series should become even deeper and even more captivating on repeated viewings, similar to how the books take on a new richness as readers grow up. That may be asking too much, but that is what I would want out of a Narnia adaptation. :D
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby JFG II » May 21, 2020 9:57 am

How dark would be 'too dark' for a new Narnia series?

Interesting question to answer: Personally, I strongly believe that the Narnia films we have gotten so far are too intense and violent for Narnia adaptations - at least, for those particular Narnia stories. (The tone of those movies are so different from their book counterparts.) Wardrobe ought to be more gentle, as it is the opening story. Of course it gets very dark & violent (Maurgrim's demise, Aslan's sacrifice), but it never leaves its target audience of kids. Adults can manage.

As a simple gage for myself, 'too dark', would be partly determined by the age of the main characters.

For examples: Lucy is around 8 years old in Wardrobe, so a Wardrobe adaptation ought to be gentle enough for 8-year-olds - so in the PG / TV-PG area.

Lucy in 'Prince Caspian', and Eustace in 'Dawn Treader' and Jill in 'Silver Chair' are all around 9-years old, respectively. I think 9-year-olds and up would be appropriate for those stories. PC & SC could easily push the PG-rating with violent moments, but it's not impossible to be faithful to those books while taking out beheddings of Telmarines and serpent-witches.

'Horse & His Boy' could be more YA than young kids. Shasta & Aravis are both 13-and-up in HHB , so I think older kids (13-and-up) would be appropriate for HHB: PG-13 / TV-14. Of course, many people would oppose this, so making HHB PG / TV-PG could work if you softened certain intense scenes from the book (and did away with the controversial elements of the book).

In theory, The Magician's Nephew could be G-rated (if you kept the gentle tone of the book, and did away with the occasional violent moments). Almost everyone, except parents of small kids, would oppose this. PG it is.

Then, there is The Last Battle, which features teen & adult main characters, and violent, disturbing moments throughout, so a PG-13 / TV-14 rating makes more sense. Of course, it is possible to adapt LB as appropriate for PG audiences (the movie 'Life of Pi' is an intense, PG-rated drama film, based on a YA novel with R-rated creature violence). But I would oppose this, because, frankly, LB really messed me up at age 11. If I had read the book at age 14, I would have been able to handle the destruction of Narnia, better. LB is an upsetting experience for readers/audiences of any age, but I would want to protect young children (if I had some). :)
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Cleander » May 21, 2020 9:21 pm

Well, I'm not sure what level of violence Lewis was imagining, given we have the almost non-existent battle in LWW and then actual beheading in PC.
That being said, I'm not sure I want to see blood flying everywhere in any Narnia adaptation, regardless of the book tone.
Yet I wonder if maybe a little more blood could be shown in certain scenes like Aslan's death. I recently had an image in my mind of Jadis maybe doing something ritualistic or perverse with Aslan's blood, like painting her face with it. (Sorry if that's creepy. :-s ) In this scene in particular it could maybe better establish the ritual importance of the blood sacrifice if we actually see the blood. It would also, for the moment, make Jadis scarier....
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Carley » May 22, 2020 8:19 am

That's a very good question!

It's very hard, because some of the books, even though they still have their lighthearted moments, can get dark and violent at times. Also, it's one thing to read it in a book, and it's another thing to see it happen on the screen.

LB is dark for the most part, unlike the other six books. I was thirteen when I read it, and even then I was bothered with some things. With some of the books, you could easily get away with cutting some of the violence out. But LB needs to keep the dark atmosphere in order to keep the meaning of the book. It makes the end that much better. That being said, you almost have to make a PG-13 LB if you want a good adaptation. The others could probably be PG.

The thing I'm worried about with a PG-13 Narnia, is that many children will not be allowed by their parents to watch it. Over time, Narnia might come to be known to children as something only for "older kids".
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Re: How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?

Postby Eustace » May 24, 2020 10:44 pm

Since I had trouble watching Strange Things and that is a show 10 and 11 year olds are seeing I am not sure what level of violence I would be okay with watching in Narnia, but it seems to me most children with their family will still end up watching it even if it is TV-14 or PG-13.

Personally, I could see the ratings for SC, LB, and HHB being way different than LWW, PC, and VDT. MN's rating I see inbetween the younger kids audience ratings (LWW, PC, VDT) and the older more mature ratings (SC, LB,HHB).
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