xcasOne of the films I was most interested in at the San Diego Comic Con was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and not just because it’s the longest film title since The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. I felt like most of the rest of the films at the Con this year were known entities: I had been to the set of Aeon Flux, there’s no way Doom is going to better than just a stupid movie, King Kong will be great, and Superman Returns is going to appeal to the nerds but leave me cold. But Narnia - well, I’m not a huge fan of the series but I have enjoyed the first book. I think epic fantasy, done right, is a blast in theaters. Weta is working on it, as is KNB Effects. And a lot of money was spent. But the director is an unknown – at least when it comes to live action stuff. Narnia is his first real people movie, but Andrew Adamson had previously inflicted the Shrek films on us. On top of that Narnia is pretty much movie-star free. That, to me, is always a good sign. You’re not relying on Tom Cruise to sell your film but rather the story itself.

So while I missed many of the other presentations in mighty Hall H at Comic Con, I made sure to have my ass in a seat for Narnia. What I saw impressed me. The footage looks good, and most importantly, it looks serious. There’s no Shrek-like winking. Nothing seems to pander to the kids in the audience – and that usually is a defining element in the best kid’s films.

What really sold me, though, was talking to some of the behind the scenes folks before the presentation. I heard real passion and excitement in their voices. At this point I’ve done hundreds of interviews, and I know the difference between someone who is honestly excited about their project and someone who is just selling it. I mean, Howard Berger of KNB was PSYCHED.

Producer Perry Moore wasn’t quite so psyched, but he was obviously pleased. He knows he’s in the final stretch for this film, and he obviously knew that he was among friends at a place like Comic Con. In this first part of my coverage of Narnia at Comic Con, we’ll focus on Moore. Future installments will feature the FX folks, including Howard Berger and Weta’s Richard Taylor.

xasMoore sat at our roundtable and started off by introducing himself…

Moore: I’m the guy who went after the rights about five years ago and convinced the CS Lewis estate and the studio to take it on. They also asked me to write the official making of the movie book, and I had the good sense to let each of the gentlemen in this room [the heads of the FX departments] write their own chapter about what they do because I feel the fans deserve a bit more. Usually a journalist gets to go down to the set for two weeks and they get to observe and they do the best with what they have, so it was special to write that book.

Q: How faithful is the film?

Moore: I’ll just preface this by saying I’m not a Hollywood guy. I live in New York, I am actually a big comic book guy. I go to the store every Wednesday. When I was a kid I used to save my allowance and do it, and people would tell my mom, ‘Why do you let him read that garbage?’ I would read every fantasy book I could get my hands on and I just went to the estate and said, let us do this faithful and let us do this right. Thankfully they entrusted us to do it. Now that I’ve seen the movie I feel like not only have we done that, I’m shocked at just how powerful the story itself is. This is one of those movies that are going to surprise people because the artisanship is obviously impeccable on every level from costumes to weapons to visual effects, but the heart behind it, the real characters and the emotions – I don’t think people will be ready for this in a big budget movie because I think Hollywood has largely forgotten it in movie making.

Q: What were the kids like?

Moore: The kids are so special in this movie. They’re exceptional. We spent years looking for these kids. The other studios that had the material wanted to modernize it – put it in LA after the earthquakes, and exchange Turkish Delight for hot dogs and pizza! If you’re a fan – this is what got me going to the estate to say we’ve got to do this right. Part of what we wanted to do right was to find real kids from the UK. I had done a tiny little movie called I Am David in the UK which had a ten year old boy. I used a casting director named Pippa Hall, who only does UK children. She did a movie called Billy Elliot. I don’t know if you saw that movie but there’s no sort of Star Search, gee aren’t I cute actor kind of kid in that movie. They’re real kids from the schools. We spent two years looking at these kids and we see over four thousand kids. Our idea, and Andrew’s credo for the whole movie was ‘Fantasy has to be real.’ So four thousand kids later we chose four kids who are pretty close to the real kids in the movie.

Q: The book is Christian allegory –

Moore: He calls it supposition, by the way. I now know more than what any human could possibly know casabout what CS Lewis thought about anything in that regard.

Q: There’s already been talk from the same organizations that used grassroots efforts to turn out church groups for Passion of the Christ to do the same for this film. Passion turned out to be a very polarizing film – are you worried that this film could be polarizing?

Moore: I went after these rights before that came out. I went after these rights before Lord of the Rings came out. Before Harry Potter came out. I went after the rights because it was an amazing story and an amazing book from my childhood. I knew I’d have to address this question with the directors or writers or other producers I would have to hire for this movie, so I had an answer prepared: It’s a wonderful, great messiah story, not unlike Star Wars, not unlike The Matrix. If you want to see something more in it, we’re doing a movie that’s a faithful adaptation of the book, that’s there for the people who want to see it. But we’re making a movie for everyone, because that book and that story is for everyone. It’s not for one group, it’s for everyone. And I think we really pull it off.

Q: It’s a very short book. How did you flesh it out?

Moore: You asked the right question! Andrew reread it after we met with him and he wanted to do the movie and he was shocked by how thin parts of the book were, particularly – and he talks about this in our book – particularly the battle scene. It’s just a page and a half, and it’s just a retelling of what the battle was. Andrew wanted to do this big, blown up battle where the movie builds up to this crescendo. The other thing was that the kids are just pretty much thin caricatures. Susan’s barely in the book. Casting some great kids and having a director who’s great with kids and working hard with the script to have them be characters and not this sort of thin, cartoonish people made a difference. It’s a real challenge. It’s not a no-brainer.

Q: Are any of the other books part of your deal?

Moore: Yeah, we have a rolling option on all seven of them. We have plans to make a sequel and we’ll see what happens with this one. I, of course, being the crazed fan I am would love to see all seven of them.

Q: Which one would be next?

sxMoore: We’re talking about it a little bit. There are a few ways you could go. It could be Prince Caspian. I’ve learned to never say never in this business, it could change in a moment. But that’s a sort of natural segueway with all four kids. We’ll see what happens.

Q: The actual series itself ends quite bleakly.

Moore: It depends on how you look at it. I read The Last Battle and I go, ‘It’s not over.’ A part of that story is over and some of them go someplace else, but not all of them go there. And instead of seeing it end bleakly, I look at it optimistically in that there are more stories to tell by the people who are left behind.

Q: As great as you can get Aslan as a CG character, it’s all about the voice. What were the challenges with getting that voice?

Moore: You’re going to hear a big announcement that Liam Neeson is going to be the voice of Aslan. Liam Neeson was actually the last voice that we cast on this movie because it’s really tricky – Aslan has to be this all-powerful being that can be a terrifying and brutal warrior but also has to be this warm hearted, inspirational figure who can make you want to be the best you can be. That’s a tough show to fill for an actor with just a voice.

Andrew taught me a lot in voice casting that you can’t be tricked by their gestures or charisma that they rely on actors physically. We would get tapes and tapes from our casting director Gail Stevens, and we wouldn’t look at who it was and we would turn the video off and just listen. That was the best way to do it because you can be so influenced unduly by who the person actually was. But he was a perfect combination.

To tell you a little more about the other roles – Andrew knew even before we shot who he wanted to be Mr. & Mrs. Beaver, Ray Winstone and Dawn French. Rupert Everett – great story – at Cannes he cornered Andrew. In Shrek 2 he’s Prince Charming and he knew about this movie so he cornered Andrew at the party and wouldn’t let him leave until he hired him as the fox! Andrew’s so good with these. The actors who aren’t just voices  – Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy as Tumnus? I don’t know if people are prepared to see… When I tell you we did the movie right, wait until you see Tilda. Wait until you see James. He’s going to skyrocket after this.

Next: KNB and Weta join forces!