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The chronicles of making Narnia

"The chronicles of making Narnia" Continued...

Issue: "Narnia unleashed," Dec. 10, 2005

"We tried to be as faithful to the book as possible," said Mr. Johnson. That's what fans of the book, particularly Christians who appreciate the way the story is rooted in the truths of Lewis' faith, probably care about most. But Mr. Johnson noted, "Lewis himself never really saw these as Christian books. Obviously he is a Christian in his views and values, but they were not specifically that-we just wanted to be true to the book so that if you find religious meaning in the books, hopefully you'll find it in the movie."

Arguing that the Narnia tales are not "Christian" books misses the depth of Lewis' belief. "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else," he famously said. Overlooking the significance of his faith produced some interesting twists in the screen adaptation, at one point actually adding a scriptural reference.

At the climax of the movie's final battle, Aslan the lion says, "It is finished," a statement nowhere found in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yet Mr. Adamson seemed surprisingly unaware of the statement's obvious religious imagery. Asked why it was added to the script and whether it was meant as a direct biblical allusion, Mr. Adamson responded: "Not intentionally. I actually honestly didn't know that. The thing I wanted, the thing I was really going for there is for Aslan's sadness-there's a moment where Aslan and the White Witch stare at each other at the end where they are both accepting their fate. Aslan accepts that he is going to have to kill her; she accepts she is going to be killed. To me, I didn't want to send home the message that war is an ideal solution. I wanted Aslan to regret the fact that he was going to have to kill the White Witch. I wanted a line that he could turn to Peter and really just say, 'it's over,' 'it's done.'"

While Mr. Adamson agrees that "the ideas of good and evil and of forgiveness and sacrifice are very present in the book and I think that's what makes it so universally appealing," he added, "I didn't really think a lot about the religious aspect of the film. . . . I think that because I set out to make a movie of the book, I think I've stayed really true to the book and I think people will interpret the movie the same way."

Keeping the story on track seems to have largely been the responsibility of C.S. Lewis' stepson and keeper of the estate, Douglas Gresham.

Mr. Adamson described him as "a huge cheerleader" of the project but said he disagreed with him about keeping one scene from the book which the director considered sexist.

Father Christmas gives weapons to the children but tells the girls, "I do not intend you to use them, for battles are ugly when women fight." Mr. Adamson, considering the line sexist, told Mr. Gresham, "C.S. Lewis may have had these dated ideals but at the same time there's no way I could put that in the film." The two compromised, Mr. Adamson said, with Father Christmas on-screen saying, "I hope you don't have to use them because battles are ugly and fierce."

Overall Mr. Adamson said he agreed with Mr. Gresham on most things. "He was a huge asset at times when I was adapting, particularly in the writing process, when I could call him up and ask, 'Does this take anything away from what Jack [C.S. Lewis] intended?' or 'Does this addition change things too much?'"

Mr. Gresham's expertise, explained Anna Popplewell, who plays the oldest sister Susan in the movie, "reminded me of the responsibility to the huge family of readers and the importance of the story."

The actors who play the Pevensie children are not movie stars. Younger Lucy's Georgie Henley, in fact, had not acted a day in her life, yet moved to New Zealand for filming with her mother, away from her father and two sisters.

Aslan, too, presented a learning curve. Initially cast as a real lion, the production team ultimately decided that-ironically-made him unrealistic. In the movie he is a computer-generated lion, except on the Stone Table, where he is a puppet. Throughout he is voiced by Liam Neeson.

Mr. Gresham proved invaluable in keeping the production lifelike. Said Mr. Flaherty: "In addition to Douglas' encyclopedic knowledge of all things Narnia, he actually brings a wealth of personal discussions with Jack about Narnia to the table. Having Douglas' integral involvement was the next best thing to having C.S. Lewis himself."

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