cinema, Film Review, Magazine article, Mr. and Ms Magazine

Harry Potter : From Books to Films

It seems just like yesterday when we first saw three cute kids play the roles of Harry, Hermione and Ron in the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal Harry Potter novel.

Today, these kids are now all grown up. In fact, Daniel Radcliffe is enjoying a successful run at the West End playing a mature role in the play EQUUS. Like Peter Firth and other actors before him, Radcliffe gets to strut on stage clad only in his birthday suit.

Naked or not, Radcliffe has just signed the contract with Warner Bros. to continue acting in the last two Harry Potter episodes. The next installment will be Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I am looking forward to see the now grown up Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Last year, I wrote a review of the Harry Potter films for my magazine column. Here it is:
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When I read the first Harry Potter book in the 1990s, I thought that if the book’s author, JK Rowling, wrote it for a general audience instead of a target market – children, the book could become a classic at the level of Charles Dickens’s works.

I found the author’s coining of names for the characters, places and objects very amusing – giving the readers a game of guessing the meaning of these words. For example, the name Albus Dumbledore can have several meanings. Albus can refer to Albion, the Arthurian name for Britain. Albus also means white and Dumbledore was a type of hat popular in London in the late 19th century. In film language, White Hat means The Good Guy.

In 2001, the inevitable film version came out amid great media hype. For those who read the book, they can only like the film as it was quite faithful to the source. The screenplay by Steven Kloves included quite a number of lines taken verbatim from the novel. The child actors – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were cute and loveable. But they were unknowns. To support them, Warner Brothers got great British actors Richard Harris, Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and Robbie Coltrane. And for good measure, British stars John Cleese, John Hurt and Julie Walters had cameo roles.

The American director, Chris Columbus, who made Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, and Bicentennial Man, is quite adept at working with child actors. The film turned out to be not only humorous but also magical.

Last August, I was having lunch with relatives and friends. I witnessed an animated conversation between two women about the just-released book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling’s latest volume in the Harry Potter series. One was a relative who is in her 40’s, a mother of four and a UP graduate while the other is an American in her 30’s and is pursuing her PhD degree in chemistry. It was strange listening to two adults excitedly talking about a “children’s book”.

While surfing the ‘net, I found several e-groups on Harry Potter. But these e-groups admit only adults – 18 and above. Apparently, the Potter books and movies have now spawned cults even among adults in their 30s and 40s.

If Rowling only wrote one or two Harry Potter books, they probably would be simply “children’s books”. But the series of Harry Potter books – all taken as one text – gives Rowling’s work a quantum leap – from a children’s book to a book for all ages. The books’ content and style, like the characters in them, change with increasing maturity and complexity.

The Harry Potter movies on the other hand, have lives of their own – separate from Rowling’s books.

The first two movies were quite faithful to the books. The American director Chris Columbus gave the two Harry Potter films the distinguishing mark of Hollywood classics – good, clean fun movies.

The third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, veered away from the path created by the first two films. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron of the Y Tu Mama Tambien fame directed the third film.

Cuaron created a different Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school. Hogwarts became dark and gothic. The well-manicured lawn of the school became rocky and unkempt. Some of the changes seemed appropriate because Rowling has introduced seemingly dark characters named Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. From their names, one can tell that Sirius is somehow a black dog and Lupin is a wolf. (Sirius is the Dog Star constellation; Lupin comes from the Latin word for wolf). And of course, there are the Dementors, the soul-sucking skeletal entities that guard the Azkaban, the prison for wizard-criminals.

I liked the Time Travel sequence. But I found the replacement for the late Richard Harris wanting. In the books, Dumbledore is described as: “He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt…He was often described as the greatest wizard of the age, but that wasn’t why Harry respected him. You couldn’t help trusting Albus Dumbledore…”

Michael Gambon, the new Dumbledore is short, fat and not very old. He also does not look trustworthy, especially if one has seen him in his other movies like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. The credibility of Hogwarts rests on its headmaster. Gambon simply does not have the presence of the great actor that was Richard Harris. Peter O’Toole (Goodbye Mr. Chips) would have been perfect as Dumbledore.

From mid-November 2005, cinema houses in many parts of the globe began showing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth installment in Rowling’s 7-part series.

The Goblet of Fire is a turning point in the Harry Potter saga. The three kids – Harry, Ron and Hermione – reached puberty in the Azkaban episode. In this installment, they are right smack into adolescence. Physically, they are no longer children. This is the time when “hormones” develop boys and girls into men and women. It was too bad that the sexual tension between Harry and Cho Chang, Hermione and Ron, Hermione and Viktor Krum, and Ron and Fleur Delacour was nowhere to be seen. Instead, director Mike Newell gives the impression that it is a Harry-Hermione love team all along. The movie was given a PG-13 rating in England and elsewhere because of its supposedly violent content.

I thought that Newell, the first British director in the Potter series, would bring in his Cambridge background, as he did in Four Weddings and a Funeral, to give Hogwarts a more English outlook, if that is possible. Instead, he made it almost like a Hammer Films production. (Hammer Films produced many Dracula films in the 50s and 60s with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.)

Goblet is NOT a stand-alone film. For those who have not read the books or seen the previous episodes, Goblet would not be comprehensible.

Rowling takes care that all the Harry Potter books are stand-alone books. One can read any volume in any order and still would understand the story. In Newell’s film, characters come in and out from nowhere. Any newcomer to Harry Potter would feel lost in The Goblet.

The Goblet of Fire is a finely-crafted book which not only clarified many things from the previous volumes but also introduced new and exciting episodes like the World Quidditch Cup, the Triwizard Tournament and Harry’s first love interest.

Because of the book’s size, the producers wanted to make a 2-part Goblet film but Newell convinced them otherwise. Perhaps Newell did not realize that the Goblet is a part of a series. The Azkaban movie already cut off many parts in the book. The Goblet film contains just more than half of the book. If this trend continues, people who have not read the books might not understand at all the next Potter films – The Order of the Phoenix, the Half-Blood Prince and the still-to-be-written final volume – even if they had seen all the Potter movies.

Cuaron, who is Mexican, said he had not read or seen the Potter series before Azkaban was offered to him to direct. Newell, at 62, mis-read Goblet. He announced that Goblet is basically a thriller and that was what he set out to do. Newell couldn’t be more wrong. Goblet and all the Harry Potter books are basically a fantasy. If Voldemort couldn’t kill Harry the infant, how could he kill Harry the adolescent wizard? Goblet is another excuse to enter the fantastic world of magic – of dragons, mermaids, leprechauns, flying broomsticks, spells, curses and magic wands.

But there is hope for the next Potter film. The new director David Yates is 42 and British. The odds that he has read/seen and understood the Potter books/movies are great.

The issue here is not fidelity to the book or innovativeness of the filmmaker but simply the film’s intelligibility. A good film or book needs to answer the whys and wherefores of its characters and events.

After all is said and done, what makes Harry Potter click? I guess that for one thing, this is the first popular book/film that presents Magic in the contemporary world where anybody can learn to use the forces of nature to manifest one’s desires. Unlike in Bewitched or Charmed, one does not have to belong to a supernatural race of witches and warlocks to do magic. Magic is open to everyone who cares to study it. This is the essence of New Age.

In many parts of the world, including the Philippines, one can go to places like the Monroe Institute in the States to learn how to do astral travel, or attend seminars on how to maximize one’s ESP or even how to do magic. Or one can read books and magazines like Mr. & Ms. to learn more about the Body, Mind and Spirit.
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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine  January 2006

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