Director Michael Apted takes movie fans to "Narnia"

LONDON (Reuters) - Director Michael Apted on Friday brings out his new “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third instalment in the film series based on the children’s stories by C.S. Lewis.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth meets director Michael Apted at the Royal premiere of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" in Leicester Square, central London November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Ian Nicholson/POOL

The movie, which appears in 3D and cost around $140 million (88 million pounds) to make, arrives in theatres as part of the key holiday film season and Apted, 69, sat down with Reuters to discuss it.

Q: You made significant changes to the original C.S. Lewis story. How did you choose them and was it a difficult process?

A: “When I read it (the book) I was alarmed. I liked very much the story and the tone of it and the colour of it and the imagination of it. (But) it was pretty clear to me that there was no drive to it whatsoever.

“It felt very episodic. That’s catastrophic in a movie. You’ve got to have a reason in a movie to go from A to B to C especially in a commercial movie. So that was a big problem.

“It took us nearly two years to figure it out. The way we did it was to look at the next book and see where that began and where ‘Dawn Treader’ ended and to realise there was a complete chunk of the story missing. ‘The Silver Chair’ is about Eustace going down underground to where captured Narnians have been preparing to attack Narnia and the witch was down there organising all this and Caspian was an old man.

“So what we decided to do was to take that piece of narrative, i.e. that Narnians had been kidnapped and taken somewhere no one knows, and use that as the driving force.”

“In fairness, Lewis had never written about it but had talked about the outcome of it. That helped us.”

Q: Was that a problem with the author’s estate?

A: “They were a bit put out by it at first, but I think they began to see it and certainly we gave them the original script to look at which was the pure adaptation of the book, and they could see there was an inner inertness to the story.

“(It) is wonderful as a reader -- you can read a chapter to a child and then you go on to the next adventure and the next island. Of course, there are a lot more islands in the book than there are in the movie. It was a big problem that everybody acknowledged, which was the most important thing.”

Q: The story involves the return of Eustace Scrubb, played by Will Poulter. He has been praised by critics. Your thoughts?

A: “I had a few fights with the studio when they started seeing (early film clips) -- they said ‘he’s too unsympathetic, you can’t do that, the characters have got to be sympathetic otherwise you’re not going to care about them.’ But the great thing he brings to it (is) you don’t dislike him even though he’s being a pillock. There’s something about him, something about his demeanour which is likeable, which means you can play him ridiculous, almost caricature nasty. There’s something in the back of your brain that is happy to see him.”

Q: Is there a problem with turning the Narnia books into a film franchise, in that the same characters do not run all the way through like they do in, say, the “Harry Potter” books?

A: “I think so, yes. I would be surprised if they did all seven books. I suppose the fourth one might work better now after the changes we made in the third -- we’ve kind of woven in a thematic line from three to four now, but after that it goes haywire. With a franchise, the continuity of actually quite crucial, and I don’t know how they are going get beyond book four, especially when they have to start bringing characters back. I think it is a problem.”

Q: Have the producers said they will make a fourth “Narnia” and if so, will you direct?

A: “I think they are waiting to see how this turns out. I think they think I did a good job, but I think they are still waiting to see how the movie turns out in terms of money. I think they’d like to go on.”

Q: With you at the helm?

A: “Probably, and I would like to do it and would be crazy not to do it.”

Q: Isn’t one blockbuster, with all the pressure, enough?

A: “It’s fabulous to have a movie when there’s an audience waiting for it. If this does $300 million (at box offices) it will be a failure, you know, so there’s an expectation, but nonetheless there’s an audience out there.

“It’s hard enough making a film, but it’s so hard to sell movies, the sort of movies I like to make...That’s frankly why I went to live in America, because I didn’t want to stay -- though better men than I have stayed like (Mike) Leigh, (Stephen) Frears, (Ken) Loach and people like that -- but I always wanted to make commercial movies. Hopefully I’ve been able to add some soul to them.” (Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)