Archive: Chronicles of Narnia: “Values that the book embraced”

Steve Beard talks with Mark Johnson
November/December 2005

Mark Johnson has been producing films for more than twenty years. He has been involved in projects as diverse as Diner, My Dog Skip, Good Morning Vietnam, The Rookie, and The Notebook. Good NEWS editor Steve Beard spoke with Johnson about the production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Is there much of an awareness in Hollywood of the writing of C.S. Lewis?

Mark Johnson: It’s interesting. l think everybody is aware of C.S. Lewis, and it’s amazing the number of people in Hollywood who read The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t think anybody was saying, “We’ve got to make some movies based on C.S. Lewis’ work.” Tolkien was probably a similar type of aspect I suppose. But it’s clear for us to have made this movie the way that we did. And it’s a very expensive movie – I can’t reveal the budget – but it’s a big production.

Was there a temptation to make the movie radically different than the spirit of the book?

Johnson: Hollywood has ruined a number of books and a number of projects by trying to appeal to an audience that maybe the underlying rights didn’t appeal to or wasn’t aimed at. Everybody’s wary of Hollywood. When people see their favorite book, no matter what kind of book it is, being turned into a film, they are sort of wary. You’re hoping, “Oh gosh, l hope they didn’t ruin it.” Andrew and I wanted this movie to embrace the same values that the book embraced. And neither one of us was interested in any way of changing it.

In what ways was C.S. Lewis’ step-son, Douglas Gresham, involved in the project?

Johnson: Douglas was very involved in every stage from the script development to casting.

What was the greatest challenge in bringing this book to the big screen?

Johnson: J.R.R. Tolkien described everything in great detail. C.S. Lewis did just the opposite. He gave us a touchstone and then in your mind you create Narnia. You imagine, more specifically, what the White Witch looked like, as opposed to having everything described. And so there was a combination of having to be loyal to what he gave us, and then be able to use that as a jumping-off spot. And so people will say, “Gee, I thought the White Witch’s hair would be shorter.” That’s not because of anything C.S. Lewis said. That’s because of that White Witch existing in that person’s imagination.

It sounds as though director Andrew Adamson had his work cut out for himself.

Johnson: Andrew Adamson has taken what C.S. Lewis gave him and then has taken an artist’s imagination and has said, “Okay, the final battle is about a page and a half in the book. And yeah, it’ll be about 15-20 minutes in our movie.” So obviously a lot of it has to be made up. But Lewis was so smart in what he gave us was so to the point and so provocative chat it’s a great jumping-off start for an artist.



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