The Weight of Story
Why'd you change this? Why did you leave out that? How come you didn't…
Andrew Adamson has heard all those questions, and then some. When you're trying to adapt some of the best-loved children's books of all time into big-screen movies, there will be plenty of naysayers and nitpickers, and Adamson fully expected it.
Already an acclaimed director for the first two Shrek films, Adamson stepped into a whole 'nother world, literally and figuratively, when he took on the first two Narnia films—2005's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and the sequel Prince Caspian, which opens in theaters May 16.
We recently chatted by phone with the 41-year-old director, who was working on final edits and polishing up special effects in a London studio. His wife and daughters (Isabelle, 4½, and Sylvie, 2½) were living with him in London—sort of a home between homes for the New Zealand natives. After living in Los Angeles for more than a decade (making the Shrek and then the Narnia movies), Adamson will take a break after this one, moving back to his home country for some R&R and extended time with his family.
And he'll pass the Narnia torch on to Michael Apted, the veteran British director behind such films as Amazing Grace and James Bond's The World Is Not Enough. Apted is directing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, slated for a 2010 release—and Adamson, who will stay on as a producer, assures fans that the franchise is in good hands.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was one of the top 30 movies of all time internationally. What kind of pressure does that put on you?
No additional weight that wasn't already there with this property. The beloved nature of the book—and how much import I place on staying true to it—has already put a load on me, and I feel it. Certainly following up a successful film, you feel like you have to live up to expectations. But to some degree, I went through that with Shrek, where the first one was a bit under the radar, and the second one, you had a lot more people watching you, and you didn't want to disappoint them.
With TheLion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, so many fans of the book already had high expectations. And that's something you're very conscious of when making a film—and it's hard. There's always an adaptation process. Things do change from book to screen, and you ask, "Did I make the right changes?" The other thing I do is refer to my memory—I zero in on the things I remember from reading the book as a child. Those are the things it's important to be true to.
That reminds me: Before Lion/Witch, you said you had a memory of the book from childhood, but it wasn't an accurate memory. You had remembered this massive battle scene, but it really covers just a few pages. So why the epic battle?
That's the wonder of the way C. S. Lewis writes. He leaves a lot to your imagination. One cue to that is the scene just before Aslan's death, with all of the horrible creatures around the Stone Table. He lists some of the creatures and then says something along the lines of, And some creatures even more horrible, but I can't tell you or your parents won't let you read this book.
Douglas Gresham [Lewis's stepson and a producer/consultant on the films] told us he doesn't think Caspian is as good a book as Lion/Witch, but you've ended up with a better movie. Would you say that's accurate?
Hard for me to say. Definitely the adaptation was more difficult in Prince Caspian, because the story of Lion/Witch was already very cinematic with sort of a five-act structure. In Prince Caspian a lot of the story is told in retrospect, with Trumpkin telling the kids what happened when they were gone. So I restructured it to make it more linear. It's a challenge, but sometimes the limitations you face actually create more interesting solutions. And that's what I think makes this movie feel like a bigger movie, a more complex and interesting movie.