Exclusive: NarniaWeb Interviews Brian Sibley

Posted December 1, 2005 10:54 am by Tirian

NarniaWeb recently had the opportunity to interview Brian Sibley who is responsible for the dramatization of the BBC Audio Book versions of the Chronicles of Narnia. We asked Brian some questions about the upcoming film and we trust you’ll enjoy his answers and insight.

Q: So you’ve seen the new Narnia film – just ignore the millions of Narnia fans groaning with jealousy right now – can you give us your first reaction?

A: My apologies to those jealous masses who can scarcely contain their excited anticipation for the film! If it’s any consolation, I didn’t see the FIRST preview screening! 🙂

My reaction? I will admit to having been very apprehensive – simply because I so much WANTED it to be good and, happily, I was not disappointed! What I most appreciated was that Narnia felt ‘real’: as someone who, having read TLTW&TW for the first time, tried to get into Narnia via a big double-fronted wardrobe in my parents’ bedroom, I have never NOT believed – in some sense or other – that Narnia exists, so it was very important that the film felt as if it had been filmed IN Narnia… And, for me at least, it does.

As someone who grew up thinking of Narnia as depicted by Pauline Baynes, there were one or two visual moments when the on-screen images weren’t EXACTLY the way I had envisaged them from Miss Baynes’ illustrations. But the overwhelming feeling is one of having been true to the vision and spirit of Lewis’ writing.

The film is compelling cinema, exquisitely photographed and dramatically directed and edited.

Q: As a long-time Narnia fan, how well did you feel that the production did in terms of keeping true to the story? Did you like the changes that were made?

A: The fact that Lewis’ book is relatively ‘short’ when compared with Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or Rowling’s ‘Potter’ books meant that it wasn’t necessary to cut or condense the story to fit within the film’s two-hours-plus running time. In fact, the filmmakers had the luxury of being able to ADD material to strengthen character development and inject a little extra ‘action excitement’!

These additions were I thought justified and helped create a suspenseful scenario. The promotion of the Fox from a minor character to an important cameo was used to intensify the threat of Maugrim’s ‘wolf police patrol’ and the children’s perilous crossing of the frozen river (as the thaw sets in) added an exciting episode that also highlighted aspects of the children’s characters and interrelationships.

Without giving anything away, the motivation for Lucy’s first foray into the wardrobe and the circumstances which now prompt all four children to climb inside, seem to me to work admirably well and the moment when they tumble out into the snow-covered land of Narnia is full of pure wide-eyed wonderment.

Q: Which character is your favorite in the movie? Is that different from your favorite character in the book?

A: I always have trouble with naming favourites! However, Mr Tumnus is exceptionally well realised both by actor James McAvoy and the digital wizards responsible for his goatish nether-regions; the Beavers are funny and endearing; Lucy is delightfully disarming and Aslan is simultaneously noble, vulnerable and potentially scary.

The White Witch’s dwarf is played by Kiran Shah and it is good to see this talented little guy on screen who has given so much to fantasy cinema (‘Rings’, ‘Dark Crystal’ etc.) virtually unacknowledged.

Q: How were the computer graphics and voice casting for the animals? Were the voices appropriate?

A: The gossiping Beavers are a delight – in no small measure due to the vocal performances by Dawn French and Ray Winstone – and Liam Neeson gives Aslan gravitas and majesty. The ensemble: Aslan’s troops and the White Witch’s entourage of hags, harpies and horrors are uniformly superb: centaurs, unicorns, gryphons and a phoenix are all ‘fabulous’ (in the true sense of the word) and yet totally believable. The White Witch’s Minotaur is especially fearsome…

The battle between the armies is an elaboration on that described in the book (which is, after all, is little more than a skirmish by comparison!), but inter-cut with the ‘resurrection’ of Aslan it has power and potency.

The atmosphere is magical and mystical but not in a Harry Potter wand-zapping way and the realism with which the fantasy is brought to screen is all the more effective as a result.

Q: How do you think the public will respond to the film? Any box office predictions?

A: I NEVER predict box-office! I was enchanted by the film – as I had so much hoped that I would be – and I trust that millions of others will feel the same. The film, like the book, feels as if it comes from the heart…

Q: You’ve done Narnia and Lord of the Rings audio dramas – how are some of the challenges of bringing this story to the movie screen different from the challenges of making an audio production?

A: Recently published letters have suggested that C S Lewis hated the thought of a film of TLTW&TW, but his conception of film was very different from ours today and it is difficult to imagine that he would not have embraced a film that so evocatively brought to life the pictures in his mind.

Telling these stories on radio was relatively easy – it is the equivalent of reading aloud with a full cast of actors! – the listener’s imagination paints the scenery and allows the suspension of disbelief necessary for the magic to work… That is the biggest hurdle which the filmmakers have had to surmount – to bring alive a world of taking birds, animals (real and mythological) without either being ‘cute’ or ‘corny’, and yet that is what they have done superbly well.

Q: You’ll be at the premiere in London – can you tell us a little about your duties there and other ways that you are promoting the new film?

A: I shall be talking about the film in various media situations, partly because my book about C S Lewis – ‘Shadowlands’ – has recently been republished by Hodder and Stoughton with a new introduction and is newly issued as an audio book from HarperCollins, read by Joss Ackland.

A: At the film’s World Premiere at the 59th Royal Film Performance on Wednesday 7th December, I have the privilege of providing the red carpet commentary (except, on this occasion, the carpet will be BLUE!) for the guests inside the Royal Albert Hall and for those viewing the event from the grandstand seating outside…

Wherever and whenever you see the film, I hope you enjoy the excursion into the enchanted wardrobe as much as I did.

For more information on Brian Sibley, please visit his website at BrianSibley.com.