The Films of Matthew Aldrich
As of today, I can now officially say that I have seen all four major movies that Narnia's "Creative Architect" Matthew Aldrich has been involved in writing. Therefore, given the lack of any other Narnia Netflix news to speak of, I thought it would be worth reviewing these four movies to see if there is anything interesting that can be deciphered about his writing style or storytelling sensibilities that might help to inform how he might approach the task of writing Narnia…
The short answer is No. Not really. But for what its worth, if anyone is still interested, here are my reviews….
I’ve ordered these in terms of how much involvement he had in the writing process:
- A “Written by” credit indicates that the writer had sole control over both the story (the plot) and the screenplay (the dialogue)
- A “Screenplay by” credit indicates the writer wrote the dialogue, but did not come up with the overall story, either because someone else did, or because it was based on a book or other pre-existing source material.
- A “Story by” credit indicates that the writer came up with the basic narrative, idea, or theme only, but did not actually write any of the finished script.
“Cleaner” (2007) – written by Matthew Aldrich
To start with, this movie has a really interesting premise – Samuel L Jackson plays a private contractor who gets paid to clean up bloody crime scenes after the police have done their investigations, however one day he gets tricked into cleaning up a crime scene before the police get there, potentially putting him in the frame for the murder itself. This premise should be the set-up for a really intriguing cat-and-mouse murder mystery, however the main character behaves completely irrationally throughout, and any intrigue and mystery that is generated is squandered by a really abrupt action-shootout ending that just kind of happens out of nowhere.
The move was also really short at just 1 hour 29 minutes, so maybe something went wrong with the studio insisting on a short edit? Overall though the dialogue itself wasn’t terrible, its just that the story and the direction were dull and uninteresting.
Its easy to see why this didn’t get a wider cinematic release despite having such a big-name cast. 6/10.
"Spinning Man" (2018) – Screenplay by Matthew Aldrich (based on a book)
As with the previous film, this is a fairly generic detective mystery movie, about a High School philosophy teacher (played by Guy Pearce) who becomes the prime suspect in the mysterious disappearance of a high-school cheerleader, with Pierce Brosnan playing the detective charged with trying to suss out whether he did it or not. On the one hand, this movie managed to keep me fairly well gripped for the most part, and I thought the dialogue felt quite naturalistic throughout (no real use of heavy handed exposition or generic detective cliches) and in places it even occasionally skilfully withheld information, or teased at things which may or may not have happened in the past, to help slowly build up our understanding of the characters.
Despite all of this though, for a detective movie, the plot wasn’t all that complex or interesting.
Also (like Cleaner) the movie ends rather abruptly (the runtime was a fairly brief 1 hr 40) with a fairly bland and uninteresting conclusion. There was some sense it was trying to tie in the fact that he was a philosophy professor with some vague thematic message about the nature of truth, memory and proof, but it didn’t really work for me, and the whole thing was as boring as it was confusing. It also tries to make some sort of visual metaphor connection with the title, but again I wasn’t really sure what they were aiming for there.
Still, for a movie that has absolutely no action scenes, and delivers the entirety of its story through dialogue, It deserves some credit, its just a shame that the story was so lacking in anything interesting happening, and the pay-off for all the intrigue and tension was basically nothing. 6/10.
“Coco” (2017) – Screenplay by Matthew Aldrich and 1 other, Original story by Matthew Aldrich and 3 others.
This is by far the best movie on Matthew Aldrich’s resume, but it’s also one in which its hardest to ascertain the level of involvement he had. Yes he gets both a Screenplay credit and a Story credit, but he’s also working with a team of other writers, and the movie itself is first and foremost a “Pixar” movie through-and-through.
Honestly, I would put this right near the top of Pixar’s all-time best movies in terms of genuine emotional storytelling, but it also has so much in common thematically with Pixar’s other modern classics, that its impossible to determine what exactly Matthew Aldrich himself is actually bringing to the table, above and beyond what Pixar is already excellent at.
Still, this movie is fantastic. If anyone hasn’t seen it, you really should. 10/10
“Lightyear” (2022) – Story by Matthew Aldrich and 1 other.
Matthew Aldrich only gets a vague “story by” credit on this, and I think from recent interviews it was mentioned that he left the project fairly early on to go and work on other projects (presumably Narnia).
Overall, its hard to know how to judge this movie – the opening text introduces the idea that this is supposed to be the actual movie that Andy from Toy Story saw when he was a child, which made him fall in love with the Buzz Lightyear character, and made him want to buy the action figure…. and based on that weird premise, its hard to buy into any of it.
Rather than being a fun 1990’s style action-adventure space opera that children would find exciting, this is a really dour introspective movie about learning to deal with failure. If anything, it’s the exact opposite sort of movie that a child would like, never mind want to buy the action figure for. Its more of a bleak deconstruction of what it means to be a hero, with a Christopher Nolan “Interstellar” vibe.
As a standalone sci-fi movie its perhaps fine, but as a Buzz Lightyear thing, its a weird tonal mess.
How much did Matthew Aldrich have to do with it? Who knows. Part of me thinks this movie started out as something completely different, and they only decided to make it into a Buzz Lightyear thing later down the line? Or maybe it was originally supposed to be a more faithful adaptation in-line with the overall Buzz Lightyear brand before spiralling off into a whole other direction during the writing process?
I really have no idea what went wrong here. 5/10.
Overall then, is there really anything you can say about Matthew Aldrich’s writing from watching these films? Probably not.
To be honest, there probably aren’t a lot of screenwriters for whom you can immediately identify a unique style or character, unless they also happen to be the Director. The only writer who really springs to mind in this regard is Aaron Sorkin, but he is a pretty exceptional and unique writer in that regard.
The only things I did really pick up on:
- In all four movies, the story touches upon the theme of daughter-and-fatherhood relationships, at least to some degree.
- In two of the four movies the main character gets betrayed by someone they trusted.
- Two of the four movies have really intriguing mystery set-ups which have no interesting pay-off or conclusion.
- Two of the four movies have a strong Latino influence within the story.
Make of any of that what you will.
What can I say about the films of Matthew Aldrich? I guess the question remains will he still be writing for Narnia films and series?
Both BBC and Walden pulled the plug from Narnia movies. BBC did a TV series, and stopped after The Silver Chair. Walden made three movies on the big screen, and stopped after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'm still hopeful that we'll get to see all seven books be adapted into screen.
I think if Matthew Aldrich is still being the writer for Narnia, he has a hard task ahead of him. One is how to get the character of Aslan right. That's a really hard character to get right. He is to be a character that is well-remembered. Another is how to get the audiences invested in a relationship between a boy and a girl, and there's no romance. It's hard to do a relationship without a romance. Another is how the Calormenes are depicted. They've often been view as stereotyped, though you realize that not all Calormenes are like that. Another is the potentional to have an iconic character in each story, and if they are done right. Some ones I could think of that could end up being iconic characters are Puddleglum in The Silver Chair, Bree and Hwin in The Horse And His Boy, Fledge in The Magician's Nephew, and Jewel in The Last Battle. Another is how will he able to come up with our favorite scenes, and get it right. My hope is to see Emeth's encounter with Aslan in The Last Battle, and have it done right.
I think that's all I've got to say.
"And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me beloved."
(Emeth, The Last Battle)
I don't really believe Netflix is going to make a Narnia adaptation at this point or if they do, it won't involve Matthew Aldrich. But just saying that is boring, so I'll pretend...
I'm not really getting good vibes about Matthew Aldrich. I'm not getting bad ones either per se. I just don't really see why he specifically should be the showrunner for a Narnia series. Except for maybe Coco, which features a kid going to another world, none of his movies are really similar to Narnia and even that one's a bit of a stretch. Of course, much the same thing could be said of Andrew Adamson and Michael Apted but at least we got interviews with them so we could kind of understand why they were hired.
From what I understand, Aldrich is really interested in bringing the stories of minorities to mainstream audiences. That's nice and all but it doesn't really fit in with Narnia. Did he only take the job because he was desperate for money? (Since he apparently worked on two movies for Pixar, a major studio, that seems unlikely, but I can't think of another explanation.) I'm sure he's a perfectly fine writer but why him for Narnia?
In two of the four movies the main character gets betrayed by someone they trusted.
Well, I guess that happens in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe too. That's something.
For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen check out my new blog!
Like @col-klink, I'm also inclined to suspect that Netflix won't go ahead with Narnia at all. We've heard NOTHING substantial since the initial announcements were made several years ago. Ever since then, it's been a very occasional "oh yes, we're working on it" at the very most, with no actual information whatsoever. Very much like the Walden film of The Silver Chair being hinted at for years with no real progress evident, until they finally admitted they'd dropped the whole thing. If Narnia was a serious project for Netflix, they would surely have more to show for it by now — and this Matthew Aldrich would at least be able to drop some hints about where he wants to take it or what it means to him. But no... still nothing.
I could be wrong about this — it'd be nice if that's so and Netflix DOES go ahead — but I'm not hopeful...
"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
I'm sure some other company will pick up Narnia eventually if Netflix doesn't do it. Perhaps we'll see all seven books being done on the big screen. Though we do tend to talk a lot about what we hope to see and what we don't want and what we're afraid of what might happened. There are traps that filmmakers tend to fall into, and I wouldn't be surprised if Matthew Aldrich fell into any of those traps.
I'm sure whichever company picks up Narnia, they would want to give it a different look and feel. Cair Paravel could even look different. I'd be fine if Cair Paravel looked different in The Silver Chair, because it was rebuilt between Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As giving Narnia a different look and feel, well, I mean, it would still be the Chronicles of Narnia, but they wouldn't be with any of the previous companies (like BBC and Walden). I don't know if they would have rights to the logo or create their own.
If Matthew Aldrich is to still writing for Narnia movies, I hope that he'd be able to keep within the tone of the books. He better not have the Green Mist in Voyage of the Dawn Treader or The Silver Chair or even The Last Battle (where Tash is coming into Narnia, and there's the blinding green light when Shift is hurled into the stable)! I'd be fine with an exciting scene, but there doesn't have to be a big epic battle scene! All three of the Walden movies were about saving the world and having to defeat the bad guy at the end. The Horse And His Boy is a saving the world story, but the drama should be about who is Shasta? Is he a son of a Tarkaan or of the Tisroc? Is he something northern? As he is making this journey to "Narnia and the North" to make a discovery about himself, that's what makes the story so compelling. Also, Matthew Aldrich better not to allude to anyway of this whole idea that the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle are the same person or even keep bringing back the White Witch like Walden did. Even in The Last Battle, he better not do her instead of Tash, being all like, "Oh, it was the the White Witch that Rishda has called on" or something dumb like that. Anyhow, I am hoping that Matthew Aldrich will be able to keep with in the tone of the books.
"And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me beloved."
(Emeth, The Last Battle)
I would probably be willing to subscribe to Netflix to watch Narnia, but I wish the series would be on a network where you didn’t have to pay an additional charge to receive their services. It would be better if it were on PBS or some other network that offers educational programs. I am tired of having to pay extra money to watch shows of my interest. But I guess television will always be generic as long as it is commercialized.
I think the most important question is, Has he read the books and is he a fan of them?
I think the most important question is, Has he read the books and is he a fan of them?
Well, he's had over 3 years to read them, so if he hasn't done so by now we are in real trouble! 🤣 🤣
In all seriousness though, my main takeaway from watching his two detective movies was that he is a technically proficient writer who handles dialogue quite well. Everything felt real and naturalistic without ever feeling cliched, clunky or awkward. The main downside though was that from a storytelling perspective neither film had anything all that interesting to say.
Still, if we haven't heard anything concrete by the official 4 year anniversary of Netflix announcing the project, which will be on October 3rd of this year, I'll be willing to call the whole thing as dead.
Perhaps Netflix and Aldrich are waiting to take their cues from Amazon's Lord of the Rings 'Rings of Power' TV series to see if it's a success before they commit to any further Narnia development? That's similar to what happened in the early 2000's when Narnia came after the proven successes of both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
With 'Rings of Power' being only a little over a day away from release, maybe this will bring us Narnia news soon, even if it's news of its cancellation. And I hate to say it, but maybe that would be a blessing. Lately there have been so many ugly changes happening to so many established franchises. I'd hate for Narnia to be a future victim.
Mary Jane: You know, you're taller than you look.
Peter: I hunch.
Mary Jane: Don't.
Most of the reaction I've seen to The Rings of Power has been negative. I've yet to read something from a Tolkien fan that is unequivocally positive. Instead of showing unbridled enthusiasm, mostly it's "Well, I'm going to wait and see."
I am far from a Tolkien purist myself, but after seeing how much The Hobbit movies were padded, stretched out, and overinflated, that's my line of thought as well. I watched The Desolation of Smaug the other day for the first time and was shocked at how ridiculously overdone it was.
If anyone is interested, there is a link below to a script purportedly by Matthew Aldrich from an as-yet unproduced movie called "Father Daughter Time: A Tale of Armed Robbery and Butterfly Kisses"
It was a script which was apparently the subject of an intense bidding war back in 2011, which was won by the actor Matt Damon with financial backing from Warner Bros. Despite how strong the interest was however, its clearly been sat on the shelf for well over a decade now, and I've not heard of any intention to move ahead with it.
Anyway, I've not yet read the script below myself, but it is described in the article linked above as “very contained... No explosions or car chases... its a father and daughter on the run from the law". Which I guess to some extent does confirm my theory that Father-Daughter relationships are a reoccurring theme in his movies (even if only marginal in some cases) and that he prefers self-contained character studies over big action dramas (though having seen all of his movies I think the lack of action was massively to the detriment of at least 3 of them)
Even if Netflix don't move ahead with Narnia as a project, I would be very interested to one day see what he came up with from a scriptwriting perspective.