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December 2005
The Chronicles of Narnia: An Interview with Andrew Adamson

The Chronicles of Narnia: An Interview with Andrew Adamson

By Wilson Morales

Having won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Film, "Shrek" and successfully directing its sequel, "Shrek 2", Andrew Adamson is continuing to make film films for the entire family, but instead of helming another animated film, he's making debut with a live action film. And what better way to make an explosion on screen than to bring the classic tale of C.S Lewis's acclaimed book, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" to the big screen. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Adamson talks about making his live-action debut film and why the story is an important one for all ages.

What made you choose this film for your live action debut?

Andrew Adamson: The fact that I grew up with it as a child, I fell in love with this story, this world. I read the book at eight years old, and I read all seven of them and reluctantly got the end of the last one thinking ŚI'm going to have to start all over again.'

Had you seen the animated version?

AA: I saw that when I was young and I went back and saw it again as an adult, and the interesting thing about it, I wouldn't say it was well made, but the interesting thing, they made some decisions that were strange and yet I understand- for instance, Mr. Tumnus was dancing around on the lamppost being incredibly silly- and at the same time I know the goal was to liven up the story, which is a somber book in many ways, and I had the same challenge. What intrigued me about the animated version was seeing it as an adult, what I found reassuring is that it still works on an emotional level. You get to the point where Aslan is going to his death, and as crude as that animation is, you still feel the emotion. And that was reassuring. It's going to hard to screw it up, basically. It's very reassuring.

You've said your goal was to tell the story as you remembered it. Why?

AA: I sat down and wrote down- before I reread it, because didn't want to be disillusioned by rereading it, so to speak- I tried to write down everything I could remember about it from reading it as a child, and then I sat down and reread it, and it was kind of like going back to the house I grew up in. The book was smaller than I remembered it. CS Lewis wrote in a way that he relies on your imagination. As a child, you fill out the imagery. And it was that imagery that I wanted to put on the screen. The battle is very brief, it's basically Peter telling Aslan what happened when he was away. And yet somehow in my mind I had this impression of this great battle- probably because I read all of the books. I remembered it as an epic story, and I wanted to tell the movie as an epic story.

Lewis made choices to give children access to the story. How did you go about doing that?

AA: Film is such a visual medium, film is a visual experience, and if you're in the position where you have to live up to or exceed people's expectations, it's always a scary thing. There's always a fear that my impression or my imagination made it different than someone else's. Am I limiting, meeting, exceeding everyone else's expectations? It really comes down to the question- should this be made into a film or not? For me personally, it was too good of an opportunity to be able to realize some of my boyhood dreams, but also to share my impressions of the book. I think ultimately if someone's worried about that they shouldn't see the film. But I have been reassured by people along the way that I am meeting their expectations. Even Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson, who's lived with this book all his life, would come on the set and tear up at times and say Śthis is exactly how I imagined it.' So I tried as much as possible to tap into as much of the universal impression of the book as I could.

Do you prefer using your imagination to adapting a book like Lord of the Rings in which everything was spelled out?

AA: CS Lewis spent more time describing the meals than most other things, thatŠit's a blessing and a curse. It's great that I get to use my imagination. It's great that I get to draw upon my childhood, at the same time it carries that danger that we're just discussing. I guess I do prefer it because I like existing in my own imagination, as a film maker I like taking things out of my head and being able to share them with other people.

What was it like to watch the film come together?

AA: It's great- but this is the sad thing about making the film yourself- you never get to completely enjoy it as a naďve experience. You never get to walk in and believe it because you know all the elements that went into it. That being said, I still feel the emotion of watching the film even now. And there's certain moments- I don't know if it's because I know the children and I know their emotional state- like the moment Lucy comes and finds Mr. Tumnus turned to stone and she cries, I know that was Georgie projecting her impression of what would happen if James was turned to stone. So I know that emotion was real, and I tear up. Some of the other things- Aslan's death on the stone table- I find hard to be emotional about because that's a very technical scene and I've watched that scene hundreds of times. Sometimes with an audience I can still have that experience, but most of the time I'm going oh, I wish I'd done different lighting on that bauble in the background. So it's harder for me to enjoy it that way. Maybe ten years from now I will. I caught Shrek on TV one day, I was flipping through the channels and I saw some colors that looked interesting and I stopped and said, "That's why I like those colors, I put them there!" And I watched the film and really just enjoyed it as an audience member for the first time in a number of years.

People have such reverence for this book-

AA: It's fun to move from irreverence to reverence. One of the things I brought forth was I made this a story about family. And Shrek 2 is a story about family. So even though the stories are very different and you're making them in a different way and using different techniques, they're still stories about human conditions and human situations. And to me this is a family drama taken to epic proportions.

Would you consider Narnia a fairy tale?

AA: Some people saw them as fairy tales, I never saw them that way. I don't know if it's because I was exposed to them at a very young age, but I always believed that Narnia was a real place. And the Hans Christian Anderson stories- maybe because they were smaller and more contained and this is a whole world in over seven books, I never saw Narnia as the same thing.

What makes it such an important story?

AA: The themes of forgiveness and sacrifice, which are universal themes have stood the test of time. And I think why it appeals to people on a personal levelŠI had someone say to me the other day when they saw Lucy step through the wardrobe, it didn't just make them remember what it was like to be a child, it made them nostalgic for their childhood. I think we lose so much of that as we get older, and for an adult reading the book, it's nice to invoke that. For children, I think, it's a story of empowerment. They're not children when they go to Narnia, they're kings and queens. In England, they're disenfranchised, and have no control over this war; in Narnia, they're the only ones who have control over this war.

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