07 March 2004

More Disney Imitation

As further proof of its loss of the ability to innovate, Disney has just announced that it will coproduce a (potential) series of films based on C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In New Zealand, for $100 million.

The sudden enthusiasm for Narnia and all things fantasy—later this year, the Sci-Fi Channel will be presenting a four-hour-long made-for-TV film of Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea—reflects yet more of the herd instinct in Hollywood. The Lord of the Rings and the two (so far) Harry Potter films have demonstrated to a particularly unimaginative generation of Hollywood executives—quite a considerable achievement in itself—that fantasy reaches beyond the pseudopolitical thriller of James Bond, Tom Clancy, and Mission Impossible to works with a greater relationship to reality. So, in the usual fashion, Hollywood has rushed to acquire preexisting "franchises" based upon their popularity as books; based on this latest from Disney, adaptability to film is not a significant issue.

As difficult as it was to adapt The Lord of the Rings in any sort of fashion to film, it is nonetheless a linear narrative (well, actually two linear narratives wound together that fell apart in the last two films, but that's just quibbling) based largely in a humanoid-dominated, preindustrial-Europe-style nonallegorical universe. A Wizard of Earthsea is a much more subtle work, in some ways, being based on a seagoing culture with a lot of critical internal monologue. Whether the Narnia books, being dominated by non-humanoid characters, can be filmed without gutting them—particularly given the allegorical basis, some of which is rather racist—remains open to doubt. A $100 million budget, given the necessary amount of even-more-complex-than-Gollum CGI work, indicates a serious attempt to cut corners. In the end, all that will do is poison the well.

Hollywood is going through its decade-long cycle of emphasizing preexisting works as the source for its films, as opposed to original scripts. Instead of sticking to more-filmable works, though, and trying to learn from that process, it is attempting to replicate a single achievement that was done outside the Hollywood system. That sounds like desperate me-tooism to me. What a surprise.