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What Adamson learned in Narnia

Director took 'Lion' tips to heart on 'Caspian'

In “Prince Caspian,” C.S. Lewis’s four Pevensie children return to Narnia older and wiser, applying lessons learned during their first trip through the wardrobe. The same applies to director Andrew Adamson, who made his live-action debut with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and now builds upon that experience for the sequel. Here are the five principles that guided the helmer through his return visit.

1. It’s the battles, stupid

When Adamson first decided to direct “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” he went back and re-read Lewis’s original novel. He’d loved the series as a child, devouring them several times between the ages of 8 and 10, but as an adult, he was shocked: “I thought, ‘This is so much smaller than I remember.’ That’s why I decided not to make the book, but my memory of the book, because it had grown through the years.”

For instance, the book’s climactic “Lord of the Rings”-style standoff between the powers of good and evil had clearly expanded in his memory. “I think it’s only a page and a half, but he talks about a battle and how he’d like to tell you more,” he says. “I felt I needed to create it because I remembered it being there.”

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“Prince Caspian” takes place more than a thousand years later in Narnian time and lends itself even better to epic confrontations. “I loved the idea of seeing mythical creatures in a medieval environment and being able to explore more the way the different creatures fought, which I only got to tap into a little bit in the last film,” Adamson says. “Because this book is more action-based, I could really have some fun with it.”

2. Reality sells fantasy

If the environments look more convincing this time around, that’s because Adamson insisted on using real sets. “I did a lot of set extensions and greenscreen on the last film, but I found that I started thinking of every shot in terms of, ‘Ah, I’m going to have to spend another 10 grand [in visual effects to make this look right],’ he says. “So this time I decided to build a big castle.”

When the production team scouted locations, they fell for Pierrefont Castle, a beautifully restored medieval stronghold not far from Paris. “But it turned out it’s very, very expensive to shoot in France, and it was more cost effective to build a full-scale castle courtyard in the Czech Republic,” says the director, who staged the daring “Night Raid” sequence by blending CG with live-action footage shot on towering 200-foot sets with fancy camera moves done with a series of miniatures.

“This is one of the scenes that is somewhat invented,” Adamson explains. “In the book, Reepicheep [the swashbuckling mouse] says he would like to attack Miraz’s castle, but that’s as far as it goes. But the moment made perfect sense and felt like it belonged in the story.”

3. Actions speak louder than words

In drafting “Prince Caspian,” Adamson and co-scripters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely decided to change their method, doing all their writing together in a common room. “We would each take a scene, write it and pass it to the next person, and then that person would tear it apart, and you’d have to defend your ideas, so we were editing as we went, which led to a much tighter script,” Adamson says.

One of the trio’s key goals was to cut out all the excess chatter between characters: “If you can show it and not say it — it’s one of those classic truisms. I think we did a better job this time.” Equally important was rethinking set pieces that existed simply to create excitement or tension: “Very often I would take an action scene and say, ‘I’ve got another scene doing this bit of storytelling. How can I apply that to the action scene?’ ”

That philosophy made the Night Raid stronger. Though the characters invade Miraz’s castle in near-total silence, Adamson uses the sequence to show how Edmund [the selfish, cowardly Pevensie of the first movie] has matured and to reveal the power struggle between eldest sibling Peter and Caspian.

4. With young actors, get physical (or, twist and shout)

As it turns out, silence was also key to eliciting stronger performances from the cast. In scene after scene, simply by cutting to one of the children’s open-ended expressions at a critical moment, Adamson could suggest an emotional state the young actors might have trouble trying to convey.

“It’s the thing Hitchcock used to do with shooting blanks. He would basically tell people at the end of the scene, ‘Now just give me something where you’re not thinking about anything.’ By using it in context, the audience will read an emotion into it,” he says.

With the young male actors in particular, Adamson observed that the easiest expression for them to play was anger since it allowed them to stomp and shout and get physical. “People spend a lot of time trying to hide their emotions, and I think that’s hard for an actor to do that when their job is to show emotion,” he says. “What I would do with William [Moseley, who plays Peter] and Ben [Barnes, as Caspian] is let them get very angry and do a scene where they shove each other and yell, and then I would say, ‘Now take all of that and put it inside.’ ”

5. Make the transition to Narnia unforgettable

Any C.S. Lewis fan knows there’s more than one way to reach Narnia and the magical device that brings the children there serves as a defining sequence in each of the books. However, as Adamson discovered with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” notions that Lewis found relatively easy to write could be quite challenging to recreate onscreen.

“It’s the difference between an imaginary medium and a visual medium,” the director says. Looking back on the first movie, Adamson admits he compromised his original plan of taking the Pevensies from the real world into Narnia in a single shot. “I built the back end through the wardrobe, but there were technical limitations that made it very difficult to achieve and I ended up having to cut around it.”

This time, when Prince Caspian blows on Queen Susan’s horn, the Pevensies are suddenly whisked from their spot in a crowded subway station back to Narnia and Adamson was determined to show it: While the other passengers await an oncoming train, a strong gust of wind peels the tiles off the walls to reveal the magical beach where their adventure begins.

And though Adamson has passed the directing baton to Michael Apted for the action-packed third movie, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” he will make himself available on-set as producer in order to share the lessons of traveling to Narnia and back again — twice.

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