We talk to director Andrew Adamson about the return to Narnia
With the original Narnia movie ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ director Andrew Adamson created one of the highest grossing family movies of all time. However this was just a gentle introduction into the darker world of C.S Lewis, the Narnia series is one of the most complex set of children’s books ever created. Adamson has managed to take a story set 1,300 years after the original adventure and turn it into one of this summers must see films. ‘Prince Caspian’ is darker, braver and more action packed than ‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’ .
Q: What challenges did you have with this movie compared to the first Narnia adventure? A: For starters, this film is bigger than the last one, a bit more scope and therefore more locations, and I think that actually created a lot of the challenges. When you are in the wilderness shooting in distant locations, you’re dealing weather, you’re dealing with insects, you’re dealing with places that can only take very small crews. That can be often challenging, the weather can be the most frustrating though.
Q: Why are you not directing the next Narnia movie? A: *sighs* Because I’m tired. No, I’ve been over lapping projects since the first ‘Shrek’, which I started in1997, and during the production of the last ‘Narnia’ film, I had two children – one at the start, one at the end, I wanted to spend a little more time with them, also I wanted to kind of clear my head and see what comes up next.
Q: Would you return to animation or do you want to stay with live action? A: There is stuff that I have bubbling away in development in both fields; some very small live action, some bigger animation, I’m going to wait and see what happens really.
Q: Are you happy with how the ‘Shrek’ movies are progressing? A: Yes. I mean, I couldn’t really be more happy. I had to hand it over to a degree. The last one I was involved to a certain degree and then I just had to let go. On this one I’ll probably be involved in a little less but I’m very happy with how they are continuing on with it.
Q: C.S. Lewis, a lot of his descriptions aren’t very detailed, What kind of creative license do you have to make changes to the source material? A: It’s one of the challenges and one of the privileges with the C.S. Lewis books, is that he does leave a lot to the imagination, they are quite thin books, and he kind of plants a little seed, and lets you imagine your own world. The danger with that is that, if I create something that’s disorientating or very different from someone’s imagination that they might not embrace it in quite the same way. I was lucky on the first one, to find that people did. So far the feedback that I’ve got is that people feel like this is how they remember the book, and that it’s just something you have to experiment with and just hope for.
Q: Is there any input or feedback from C.S. Lewis’ estate? A: Certainly, Doug Gresham, who is C.S.Lewis’ stepson, is very involved throughout and he’s there as a resource and enthusiast. He would come on set and we would keep him up-to-date with everything we are doing. If something isn’t clear or if we’re expanding something it’s always good to have Doug as a resource to go back to and say what was Jack thinking at this time, or what was your impression of what Jack was thinking. That being said, there were ideas that I disagreed with in the book. In the very first one, Susan is given a bow and arrow by Father Christmas and told ‘I do not intend you to use it’. And I just sort of thought why not just give her a knife and a plate if all she is going to get to do is make sandwiches. I really wanted to have a good role model for women and a stronger character in Susan, so that was one of the big changes I have made.
Q: How did you decide what movie to make next, with ‘Prince Caspian’ actually being the fourth in the Narnia series? A: C.S Lewis wrote the books in a certain order. ‘The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe’ first, and I don’t know if however he intended to write any beyond that, but people liked that, and he continued writing and ‘Prince Caspian’ was the next one he wrote. Chronologically, it’s the next that involves these four children. Then, the older two children leave, and the younger two visit Narnia next with their cousin, after that, the younger children leave Narnia and their cousin brings a friend. So C.S. Lewis kind of passes the baton from one group of kids to the next, so it makes it really easy as a film-maker. We aren’t stuck with the Harry Potter thing, where every year the kids are growing up and you’ve got to try and keep up with them, we’ve got a little more freedom with these films.
Q: Were you relieved that the kids didn’t grow into that ugly gawky stage? A: I know. (Laughter) Hugely relieved. You just never knew, Now Skandar was the most at risk, ‘cuz he was just twelve when we started the last film, he was a little boy and he was growing into adult hood pretty quickly. But I’m pleased to say that they have all matured very well both physically and personally. They are just really great kids.
Q: What did Ben Barnes have that made you cast him in the lead role of Prince Caspian? A: We had seen him in the History boys play and seen him on tape. Ben sort of got a nuance in his reading that made me realize that he understood the character. UHe got something out of the script that not everybody did, and when I met him, I just, I liked him, I thought obviously he looked great. He seemed to understand the character and seemed very excited about the role. He was someone that I knew I wouldn’t mind spending 7 months with , you know all those things kind of add up.
Q: We didn’t realise that Tilda Swinton was going to return as the White Witch, was she kept out of the marketing process to keep it a surprise for the viewers?
A: Well that is something that Tilda has been very angry at me about, not seriously, but she gave me a hard time. We weren’t going to show her at all, I wanted to keep it as a surprise. But then the marketing department really thought people would respond very well to her, so one version of the trailer online showed her. In the meantime she had been telling everyone that she wasn’t in it, and I had been telling everyone that she wasn’t in it, or at least keeping it quiet. So, she’s ah, punished me for that, and a lot of journalist have said “she’s a very good actress, ‘cuz I asked her and she’s said she wasn’t in it. “(Laughs)
Q: You shot a lot of this movie in Europe instead of New Zealand, what was the reasons for that and how did you decide what countries to shoot in? A: One of the things I knew is that I didn’t want to do the stage work in New Zealand, there just aren’t enough big stages there. We shot in aircraft hangers and meat sheds last time and it meant, for instance you’d go under cover when it started raining but you had a tin roof, so you couldn’t shoot sound. I already knew I’d do the stage work somewhere else also because I wanted to be on location a lot more, so by starting in New Zealand in the summer and then moving to the other hemisphere, I got two summers and it meant that I was able to do more exterior shoots.
Q: The first film was surrounded by religious controversy, are you worried about a similar reaction this time round, especially with new characters like the river god? A: It’s funny but C.S. Lewis you know was a Christian apologist. I went back to check this because I was calling a character ‘the river god’. I thought it was interesting, but that actually how C.S. Lewis referred to him. (And that’s a lower case g.) But no, I’m not really worried about any of that, I think people have enjoyed these books over many generations for different reasons and I think people can be the same with the film.
Q: Are you afraid that some of the battle scenes are very violent for kids? A: No I think the action is intense, people have definitely referred to this film as being darker, and probably more thematically it is darker, but in the last film Aslan got killed in the middle of the film. The hero of the film had all these grotesque creatures drag him up, shave him and kill him. It doesn’t get much darker than that. And that, that was accepted by a fairly wide audience.
When I read these books I was 8 years old there is a bit in the end of this book when it says “Peter takes out his leagues and with a back stroke of the same stroke wallops off his head.” You read that as a kid, and I see it really quite violently, I didn’t make the film even that intense. The thing is that kids like the action, kids like intensity, they like to be scared… but you’ve got to let them off the hook, as well. You’ve got to give them some comfort. I think it’s just a matter of duration, and what you show.
Q: How did you get into the movie business? A: Um, very accidentally. I was planning to go into architecture but I was in a car accident and missed university enrolment, I then saw an advertisement for computer animation, which was just starting up in New Zealand at the time and got involved in that. That sort of lead me to visual effects which took me to the US and one of the first films I worked on was ‘Toys’, and I realized that I liked the idea of telling stories using the skills I’d learned and that sort of kind of went from there.
Q: So do you feel lucky that you had the car accident? A: Yah, kind of ironic (laughter) It kind of messed me up, and broke my leg, and smashed my chin up and broke all my teeth but other than that it was good.
Words : Vincent Donnelly ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia – Prince Caspian’ opens at Irish cinemas this week