There certainly was more than a little skepticism when Shrek director Andrew Adamson decided to foray into the world of live action filmmaking by tackling C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but the big budget fantasy epic ended up surpassing all expectations, even making more money at the box office than the remake of King Kong, by Adamson’s countrymate Peter Jackson, much to everyone’s surprise.
The laid-back New Zealand director has been working hard on the sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, this time shooting mostly in Prague and the surrounding area. We had a chance to talk to him briefly during a rare break in shooting.
CS: Can you talk about your vision for this film and how it’s different from the first one?
Andrew Adamson: Believe it or not, this one I wanted to be bigger and I am regretting that decision now. (laughter) No, the first film really was set in a new world. Narnia had been created approximately 900 years before the last film took place. This is now another 1300 years later, Narnia has been oppressed by Telmarines for a large period of that time, so it’s a dirtier, grittier, darker place than the last world was. When the kids come back in, they bring a lot of nostalgia with them and they think they are going back to the place they knew and instead they’ve come back to a very changed world. For instance, the set we are at now, Aslan’s How, this is where the stone table once was. It fell as the earth subsided and the Narnians built a huge, sort of, almost burial mound over it and then that has fallen into ruin and disrepair as Aslan and all of that has been forgotten. So what you are seeing there is actually about 60 feet tall [pointing to the set of Aslan’s How]. The How itself, in the final film, will be about 2 1⁄2 times that. In general, I wanted the scale, the movie to be bigger than the last film.
CS: What made you decide to shoot in Prague and what problems have you had out here in terms of the weather?
Adamson: Yeah, we were expecting slightly better weather. We sent people all over the world for locations first of all and we used some locations both in Czech Republic and Poland in the last film that I wanted to reuse so we did visit some of the same places. On top of that, there are very experienced crews here, there’s one of the largest stages in Europe, the cost of construction is really good here so we can build bigger sets. We built an entire castle courtyard which is just cost prohibited in other places.
CS: Has anything given you a particular challenge on this film?
Adamson: Apart from the weather? (laughter) I feel like in most interviews on any film, apart from the “Shrek” films, I talk about the weather. (laughter)
CS: Maybe something that’s been shot or that you’ll be shooting soon?
Adamson: You know, the battles, both the raid sequence in the castle and this final battle, are more complex than last time. And again, every time, particularly because we are revisiting a similar world, you want to give yourself new challenges. We deliberately made things more complicated. On top of that, there’ve been a lot of films that have come out ’til now that have also raised the bar, so we wanted to make sure we were doing something new and fresh. This battle has some really amazing things that people haven’t seen before that I don’t want to give spoilers on, but there’s a whole event that takes place at the end of the battle that is entirely new and is very complex. You probably will get to see a little bit of it without knowing how it fits in when you go to second unit later on.
CS: Can you talk a little bit about what you learned from the first film and what you tried to take on board on this one?
Adamson: I learned never to do a film with locations, children, animals and visual effects (laughter) and so I decided to do that again. I mean, you always hope that after each film you’ve learned a little and you’ve improved as a filmmaker. I always feel like this is just an ongoing learning experience and it will hopefully be that throughout my career. I think the reason that this film is bigger than the last one is because I learned to do things last time and so I’ve created new challenges for myself, to make it more complicated and bigger which creates a better experience for the audience as well.
CS: Have you noticed that the kids have grown as actors, both physically and emotionally?
Adamson: I think they have grown in both. They had a lot of experience on the last film and they’ve done stuff since then that they brought to this film. We did a scene with Ben Barnes, who is playing Prince Caspian, and it was a pretty intense argument with Will, between the two of them, which William just brought so much more to that than he had on the last film. The last film was the very first film he had done. Since then he’s been doing some theater work, he’s been working on his own, and then he’s had the whole experience for the last 3 months here. So it’s kind of like the nostalgia and the experience he had as an individual, having lived through the last film, really goes with what the character has gone through from being in Narnia last time to this, so I think he has really grown as an actor and that’s true across the board.
CS: When we spoke to Richard Taylor, he was telling us about using more models on the film. Why was it important to use models in a film like this and what does using modeling give you that you can’t get from CG?
Adamson: Well it doesn’t necessarily give anything you can’t do just in certain instances it’s just more practical to do it that way. I thing there’s something very different between live action and animation that’s happy accidents. There are things that happen in live-action that happen because you’ve got a group of people together and things just work out a particular way. We were out here the other day about to shoot the scene and we had a lightening storm and were I not doing a visual effects film with hundreds of creatures in blue pants I would have just shot the film, shot the scene, it would have looked fantastic in a lightening storm. But, there are some things that just happen in animation, the same as the difference between computer models and miniatures. To do atmosphere and particular stuff, things crumbling and things breaking in CG it’s very complicated and miniature is rather easier to play with more options. It does just come down to what you are trying to achieve with the technique.
CS: Do you miss the computer animated stuff at all and do you ever see yourself going back to it?
Adamson: No, in the last three weeks–I’m going to mention the weather again–in the last few weeks I’ve definitely thought that animation had its advantages. I don’t ever want to be just doing one type of thing so there are other projects I’ve developed with DreamWorks that I am still involved with that I may or may not direct so. It’s definitely something I still want to keep involved in because it’s an art form that I really like and I think it allows you to do very different things than you can necessarily do in this medium.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian opens next summer on May 16, 2008.