Cover Story

Return of the Lion

With Prince Caspian, Chronicles of Narnia film creators make bold departures from a beloved story: "This one is about losing faith and regaining it"

Issue: "Return of the Lion," May 17, 2008

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NEW YORK-When producer Mark Johnson, director Andrew Adamson, and the rest of the team responsible for bringing C.S. Lewis' classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia, to the big screen last met with journalists, talk centered mostly on how closely the film version of the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, mirrored the book. Anxious to assure the novel's legions of fans that Disney's version of that story would not include any of the strange interpretations other studios had considered over the years, the filmmakers maintained an insistent, if sincere talking point in front of the press: We have remained as faithful as possible to the original.

The biggest reason they gave for their fealty to Lewis' work was pure affection for it. And certainly it's impossible to believe that anyone familiar with the adventures of Narnia wouldn't love them. But it probably also helped that two other major fantasy franchises-The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter-had made a mint by sticking painstakingly close to their source material.

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By following their lead Disney went on to reap similar rewards. Fans turned out, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe grossed $745 million in its worldwide theatrical release. Given these kinds of earnings, few would expect Johnson, Adamson, and company to alter their game plan for the rest of the books.

And yet, at the May 3 prescreening for Prince Caspian, the filmmakers weren't highlighting how well this movie duplicates Lewis' novel as much as explaining why it departs from it.

"With The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we were really careful about not making any changes," says Johnson. "Because it was so revered by so many people, you sort of got the sense that if you tampered with it you would be putting it at great risk. And I think that we kept the integrity of the book so much that the number one thing people would say to me about it was, 'I loved the fact that it was so close to the book.'"

However, when it came to adapting Caspian, which opens in theaters nationwide May 16, Johnson says that kind of scene-for-scene adaptation was impossible: "When we first went back and read this book, we all thought it was going to be really tough. Not that it wasn't filmable, but we did wonder, 'How are we going to tackle this one?' We weren't even sure if there was a complete movie there and we toyed with the idea of combining Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader like the BBC did a few years back."

Eventually they abandoned that idea and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, along with director Andrew Adamson, were tasked with finding a way to overcome the greatest hurdle the novel presented-its retrospective format.

Explains McFeely: "Structurally the book does not lend itself to becoming a movie, so we couldn't just transcribe it. Essentially the novel goes like this: The four Pevensie siblings return to Narnia, and they meet a dwarf named Trumpkin who tells them a 50-page flashback they're not involved in about a kid they've never met or heard of named Prince Caspian. And then when Trumpkin's finished telling the story they go, 'Oh it sounds like he's in trouble. We ought to go and help.' Well that just wouldn't work visually. So one of the first things we did when we started working on the script was agree that the action would have to start much earlier."

Not only does the action start earlier, but it occurs much more often than it did in the book. Battle plans that were only considered in the novel are carried out in the film, leading many critics, and McFeely himself, to note that Caspian presents a somewhat "darker" Narnia. Darker, yet also more emotionally moving.

But the differences between Lewis' Caspian and Disney's go far beyond reordering events, amping up the action, or trimming the story to fit it into a two-hour format. Entirely new plot lines are introduced and two primary characters are significantly altered. One of these alterations could actually make the story more meaningful to Christian audiences. The other will likely have some fans questioning whether the filmmakers respect Lewis' vision as much as they claim.

Readers may remember that when eldest sister Susan Pevensie was given her gift of bow and arrows by Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she was instructed not to use them for battle. The pronouncement wasn't an anti-war sentiment, but rather one of gender defining-the old bearded man went on to tell Susan that war is an ugly thing when women are involved. In Lewis' world, queens were not meant for combat.

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