Features

Beyond the Wardrobe

Movies | Narnia gatekeeper Douglas Gresham isn't surprised by success

Issue: "God and mammon," Jan. 14, 2006

Much as C.S. Lewis fans awaited The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on the big screen, it's unlikely that anyone was more anxious about the final product than the filmmakers themselves, as a reported $150 million investment and the potential for a seven-part film series rests, to a large extent, on the film's success.

Any doubts were laid to rest by Wardrobe's strong opening weekend-the third-biggest of the year at $67 million. In fact, holiday moviegoers pushed Narnia receipts up as box-office buys fell for the more recent King Kong and the bigger-opening Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Wardrobe topped New Year's weekend box-office receipts ($34 million to No. 2 Kong's $32 million and No. 9 Potter's $7.6 million)-a surprisingly strong showing in the film's fourth weekend out.

Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson who served as a Wardrobe producer and consultant, checked in with WORLD following the film's opening success.

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WORLD Did the strength of Narnia's opening surprise you?

GRESHAM I was not in the least surprised; I always knew that this movie would be welcomed by folks all over the world.

WORLD Narnia movies have been discussed (and scripted) for years, but never made it to the screen. How did it finally happen?

GRESHAM There were some scripts which I did not regard as entirely suitable. It is also very true that the technology to really do the book justice simply has not existed until very recently. I think it would be fair to say that we could not have shot this movie as we have as little as three years ago. What really set the stage, so to speak, has been the fact that the technology has matured now to the extent that people no longer need or want to see "effects" movies for the sake of the effects, but now are waiting to see the effects disappear into simple, beautiful fantasies so that the suspension of disbelief becomes perfect and the wonderful tales of long ago can at last become real on screen.

WORLD How did Walden Media convince you that they were the right company to make the Narnia films?

GRESHAM They made a "pitch" just like everybody else. The difference was that their stated intent was to make a faithful adaptation of the book, and when I met with them and with [Walden backer] Philip Anschutz, I felt that I could trust him to do what he said he would do. He has.

WORLD Was there ever tension in remaining faithful to the book, particularly in its spiritual themes?

GRESHAM There was no problem with this at all. We did not really look at the book that way, nor at the film that way. As we saw it, if we made a faithful adaptation of the book, whatever messages or symbolisms people found in the book they would similarly find in the movie. When we strayed at all, the thing to do was to go back to the book to check ourselves.

WORLD Do you expect readership of the Narnia books to grow through the success of the film?

GRESHAM Yes, of course, the film will introduce people who have never heard of the books to the wonders of Narnia.

WORLD What is C.S. Lewis' legacy?

GRESHAM If you look around at the faces of the children in a cinema while the movie is playing on the screen, you will see his legacy living all around you.

WORLD It's been reported that Prince Caspian now has the go-ahead. Can you confirm this?

GRESHAM Not officially. :)

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