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May 2008
An Interview with Director Andrew Adamson

An Interview with Director Andrew Adamson
by Wilson Morales

May 15, 2008

Having directed the first of a great franchise with 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe', for director Andrew Adamson, to do the sequel 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian' could not have been so challenging since he has the same cast and crew on hand, but has to cut down a portion of the book to tell the story. Both films have taken the last 5-6 years to create and when you add in the first two 'Shrek' which he also helmed, Adamson has been stuck in fantasy land for a long time.

In speaking with blackfilm.com, Adamsom talks about filming 'Prince Caspian', the second adaptation of C.S. Lewis' beloved series.

Has anyone discussed whether fourteen years from now there will be a movie seven and whether they'll walk back on?

Adamson: It's funny. Obviously no one knows. I think the studios will keep making them as long as people will keep coming to see them. It's interesting in that the end story probably wouldn't be the last one to tell. It'd probably be the fifth because it's a prequel, 'The Magician's Nephew'. I know that Tilda [Swinton] would be more than happy to come back and do that. It would be interesting. 'The Last Battle' would have some real challenges obviously if we did do it all that time from now. The kids are going to be pretty grown up and definitely discussed, not very seriously, the idea of shooting those scenes sometimes in the next few years, but I don't think it's really going to happen.

So you think they'd do the creation of the world after the end of the world?

Adamson: I think so. I think it kind of makes sense because then it's about how all of this happened. If you're telling a linear journey and then going back to set it up is somewhat even more satisfying, going back to the beginning after you finished telling the story.

The first film seemed to be more character driven. This one seems to be more action driven.

Adamson: I hope it's character driven as well [laughs]. There is a lot more action though, yeah.

Is that going to be the trend for these films? Are you going to try and incorporate both?

Adamson: I think you always try to incorporate both, but really in both cases they're driven by the original stories. This book was a bit more of a boy's book, centered around a young prince. It's centered around human on human battles and human on creature battles. There's a lot more of that. From the time that Caspian escapes the castle in the book, in the structure of the book he's actually fighting with Miraz throughout the whole time the Pevensie's are traveling. So it is kind of centered around that. There are things that we obviously expanded out. In the book, Reepicheep actually suggests raiding the castle and going after the Telmarines. It's not something that they do, but I thought it was interesting with the expanding of it and the sort of new imagery that we hadn't seen before. Really though for me I just tried to immerse myself in what the book was and see what would come out of that in the writing process and it just sort of evolved into a more action driven film.

Why was Lucy's dream sequence with Aslan done as a dream sequence?

Adamson: Because there's a problem there. There's something that you can get away with, with the structure of the book where a lot of it is told in retrospect which is the fact that Aslan is there and he doesn't do anything. But I had a problem with that cinematically because once you show Aslan if you don't have him do something it's going to be like, 'Well, why is he letting all this happen?' It's a good question to ask. It became very hard to let your audience see the sort of powerful and omnipotent creature come along, hangout with the kids and not do anything to stop this carnage. So the way that I wanted to bring Aslan to the story is that I wanted to see the connection between him and Lucy. I thought that all of those things were important in the book and it ended up being the best way to sort of achieve that without having to explain why he wasn't there and then there's also the question of whether it was a dream or not. He repeats later on a line that he said to her in that dream and so I think that's something that I deliberately left up to the audience, for them to interpret themselves.

I really enjoyed the Caspian and Susan relationship. When Susan was given the gift of the bow and arrow in the book she was told she was not to be in battle, right?

Adamson: That was in the first one and I rejected it the first time through. I thought if she was just going to make sandwiches then you give her a plate and a knife [laughs] and not a bow and arrow. So I think it was written in a different time and by someone who's views I think evolved. By the time that he wrote 'A Horse and His Boy' he had a very strong female character, but in the beginning of those stories, although Lucy was strong as a character, women had to behave as girls. They weren't allowed to be more assertive and that's just something that I don't agree with. So I wasn't going to actually make the movie like that and I had a long discussion with Doug Grisham about this as well because when you start going away from an author's viewpoint, is that the correct thing to do? The way that I justified it to him is that I think that C.S. Lewis evolved after meeting Doug's mother and that's why in his books you see stronger female characters later on, in the later books.

Belief versus doubt seems to be a real theme all the way through. What was the process in exploring that theme?

Adamson: In the book it sort of happens very much in one scene in the gorge, when they're following Aslan. One by one they get to see him and I didn't want to do it that way largely because I felt like that would be a really long scene that wasn't that interesting because it'd just be walking through a gorge saying, 'Do you see him?' 'No. Do you see him?' I don't think that would've been very cinematic. So I really wanted to make it a belief on so many levels. Belief in yourself. Belief in Narnia. Belief and acceptance. I guess for me, with Susan, there was this idea of it's better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all. In relation to her and Narnia she has that line by the campfire where she says, 'While it lasts. You have to do that while it lasts.' So it was kind of this general sense of them all coming to terms with what had happened before, who they were, who Aslan was – coming to terms with their past, believing in their past and then sort of allowing themselves to let go and let things happen. Peter is trying to control the whole thing. Susan is rejecting accepting the thing. Lucy is really the only that stays relatively unwavering. In this movie much more than in the last her self-doubt was tested as well. That was a really indirect answer that opens up all these other issues that I haven't talked about for a while.

Peter wants to do something themselves and forget Aslan.

Adamson: I think the thing for him also really is just wanting to relive his glory days. One of the things coming out of the last film and when I read the book initially I went through that whole thing of like, 'Okay. I've just been a king for fifteen years and now I have to go back and do homework? I'm not going to adjust well to that.' So for Peter it was sort of a chance to go reassert himself, to prove himself again and so he didn't really want Aslan's help because that would mean that he needed someone's help and he wanted to prove that he was the high king and so he was therefore the sort of last one to actually saying, 'Okay. I need help.'

How did you want your audience to reconnect with Narnia for this second movie since it's been thirteen hundred years since the four children had come back? What kind of challenge did that pose?

Adamson: I think we're given a huge leeway in terms of connection just with our kids. One of the things that I found in one of the early test screenings is when the Pevensie's come on the audience was just really happy to see them because that made it easier to connect with the place that was very different. At the same time I was trying to create somewhat of a disconnection, if you know what I mean. The thing for me, and I related to this on a personal level too, I grew up in Papua, New Guinea from the time that I was eleven to eighteen and it's a country that's gone through an awful lot of change in the last twenty two years. I've never gone back there partly because I know that the place that I grew up doesn't really exist anymore. There's a lot of conflict. There's curfews. There's violence. When I grew up there it was very free. I would jump on my motorcycle and ride off into the bush at thirteen years old. So I sort of related to this sense of loss, of not being able to go back to something that you grew up with. It's also a universal thing that you can't go back to your childhood. That's also what these kids are going through. They're sort of going back to a place that no longer exists and then having to accept that and move on. As much as I wanted a connection I wanted the audience to feel that sense of loss as well.

What character in your opinion, in this film, has to make the greatest change from the beginning of the film to the end?

Adamson: That's actually a good question. I think it's Peter actually. I think because he's going from being high king – we see when he hands his sword over to Caspian that that's probably the biggest sign of change. He lived for fifteen years as this high king, conquering the giants and all those kinds of things and now he has to pass that on and accept that he's going back to being a schoolboy. That's a pretty hard change.

The action wasn't overly graphic with it's violence, but it seemed to be nonstop. Do you think audiences now want a more visceral type of action than before?

Adamson: That's a hard question. Certainly when you see movies like '300' the audience is exposed to a fairly fast paced level of action.

But that's for adults.

Adamson: That is adults. There are kids in this and obviously we're sensitive to that and we went through it all with the MPAA and there were things that I took out for my own taste, after seeing it with a younger audience and then obviously after the MPAA had seen it we sort of toned back some stuff and thought, 'Okay. Maybe this has gone too far.' Largely it was seeing with kids for me. When you sit down and are watching and you're just in the head space of making the film you're just making it intense and you're making it exciting. You're doing all these things because you're effectively making a film for yourself. When you start showing it to an audience that influences how you feel about the film. I had a similar thing on the first 'Shrek' with some of the humor that was a little bit adult. I started watching it with children and I was sinking down in my chair thinking, 'This is making me really uncomfortable.' So there were definitely some things that I toned back because of that. In some cases it's the duration of the intensity. I don't have any problem with children being scared. Let me rephrase that [laughs]. I think that children like to be scared. They like that intensity. They like to be on the edge of their and biting their nails as long as you let them off at some point. I think that if you keep it going for too long at a certain intensity then it can become traumatizing and it can be things as simple as sometimes letting the sound drop away and playing the music. Then you get to still be in the moment, you're not taken out of it but at the same time you don't feel abused and beaten up by the intensity. So that's the balance that I was really trying to find.

Were you under instruction to make a PG movie?

Adamson: Yes. We always intended to make a PG film.

We were talking earlier about the final battle sequence where they take the pillars out of the tunnels. Was there any sacrificial suicide going on there?

Adamson: No. When we actually started pre-vising that – I start that before I even start writing sometimes – scene we got to this point of like, 'Here we are again with the battlefield, an army on each side charging at each other. We've got to do something else. I've seen this so many times.' Then from that we started talking about how we had the house and we had this underground and what we could do with the underground and from the came the idea that what if the whole battlefield was suspended on a parking lot effectively, like an underground system. It just sort of evolved from that point, like how we could find something new and interesting and different and that's what it evolved into. There was no deeper meaning that, I'm afraid to say. I just thought that it was cool.

Humor was a big aspect in this film which I think probably relates to the intensity. Can you talk about that, about Reepicheep and the kids interactions – there was a lot more of an attempt at humor?

Adamson: An attempt? [laughs] Thank you. No. I don't know that it was thought out. I was actually really pleased the first time that I saw it with an audience at how much they laughed and they laughed at things that I didn't even think were that funny which is a good sign because part of that is just sort of a love for the characters. Again, it just sort of evolved that way. I think there was more opportunity with this book. Reepicheep is a great character in the book. In 'Dawn Treader' he's even better. He's expanded further. He's the character that subconsciously I think that Puss N'boots is based pretty heavily on. So immediately you put Eddie Izzard in a mouse and you know whatever he says is going to be funny. Trufflehunter, I think, is a very charming character and you get a lot of humor just from how sincere he is. I like humor. Obviously I've worked on some funny films before. I enjoy humor. I enjoy taking the audience to a place of tension and then letting them off with humor. I enjoy the fact that humor can underline things that seem over sincere or saccharine. So I guess I just tried to inject it where it was appropriate and where it could come from the characters.

How involved are you on the third film (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)?

Adamson: In the last couple of months not very involved, but pretty involved now. I've been working with them in terms of getting the script together and so on and obviously in the last month or two I have withdrawn a little bit from that to finish this film and then we'll be getting back into it pretty soon.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Opens May 16th

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