'Narnia' composer has become a franchise player in the feature world

For the 2005 movie "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," composer Harry Gregson-Williams was given an ambitious task: Write the score for a movie where the good guy is a talking lion who is a literary allusion to Jesus, the bad guy is a candy-toting wicked witch and the whole action is set in a fantasy world entombed in winter that children access via a wardrobe.

Gregson-Williams delivered, earning Golden Globe and Grammy nominations for the film's score.

In late 2007, he received a new assignment from Disney: Can you do all that again?

Scoring "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," the sequel to the original hit that arrives in theaters May 16, was daunting, Gregson-Williams admits. But in an industry where sequels are the studios' bread and butter, composers often are pushed to expand their vision and find new themes in their previous works.

For "Caspian," it was a matter of picking up some of the underlying themes in the first film and expanding upon others from the new one. "A composer is one's own harshest critic," Gregson-Williams says. "I thought, 'I'll take that scene and develop it,' and 'I don't think I'll bring that scene with me.' "

Gregson-Williams says he had the benefit of "Caspian" taking place in a vastly different Narnia from "Wardrobe" — one that is ravaged by chaos and war. "Narnia is not quite so beautiful and snow-laden," he said. "The place is a wreck when the children arrive there."

As a result, the score is more foreboding and imposing than the one for the first "Narnia," in which Gregson-Williams tried to express the Pevensie children's glee in finding an alternative world.

In addition, he has two new major characters to introduce musically: the titular hero, Prince Caspian, and the tyrannical Lord Miraz. "Prince Caspian is being pursued from almost the start of the film," he said. "The tone of the movie is more urgent, dark, driving."

Beginning in December, Gregson-Williams composed and recorded the score in London, winding up with more than two hours of symphonic score that will be used in the film.

It's not the first time Gregson-Williams has taken on a score for a sequel. He worked with "Caspian" director Andrew Adamson on the "Shrek" series and has composed scores for several versions of the "Metal Gear Solid" video game franchise.

Working with Adamson again was critical to "Caspian," Gregson-Williams says, because he has developed a comfortable rapport with the helmer. "He basically said, 'You've done sequels, for God's sake,' " Gregson-Williams says, laughing. "We've got no excuses for not knowing each other's nervous twitches. He certainly knows how to get the best out of me."

Ann Donahue can be reached at adonahue@