23 September 2015

Movie Adaptations Part 2 Vol.1

For the second installment of the above topic, I am again going to look at books being made into films but this time on a broader scale. Which is why I've chosen the Harry Potter series to look at. This came about due to my upcoming visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, discussions with a friend and my recent re-reading of a few of the books. All of which led me to think about the films - the things they got right, and the things they got ever so wrong. So I thought I'd look at a group of the books and compare and contrast with each film over the course of two articles. Everybody has an opinion on each book and the films and now I'm going to share mine.

Harry Potter - An Overview:
A brief background of the series for those of you who have been living under a rock these past 18 years, Harry Potter is about a boy who is mistreated by the aunt and uncle who are his legal guardians after his parents were killed. At the start of the series, Harry is blissfully unaware how much his life is going to turn upside down over the course of the books. And yes 'blissfully' is probably too strong a word in the positive sense after the way his family abuses him so the audience is overjoyed when Harry is able to escape, after being told he's a wizard and that he's actually pretty famous in the wizarding world thanks to defeating a dark evil psychopath when he was a baby. The books chronicle Harry's acceptance into the fact that he's just been told this life-changing news and his dealings with the evil wizard's rise to power once again all while trying to survive school. It's a basic Good v.s. Evil concept, something that's done before but here it is craftfully done over seven books, each one evidently thought out well in advance.
  Got it? Good, onto the books and the film counterparts....

Books 1 + 2 - The Philosopher's Stone (The Sorcerer's Stone if American) + Chamber of Secrets:
These two books have quite similar film equivalents so I'm going to look at these two together. Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone came out in 1997 to which I promptly...scoffed at and refused to read until the fourth book came out. By which time my sister decided to purchase all four and read them. After teasing her immensely, I stole off with her copy of book one and I was on chapter 13 before she realised. So we were both excited when, in 2001, the movie version was released. And even though some of the acting was flat, it still came off as a faithful production. The majority of the quotes were the same (though not necessarily in the same order or spoken by the same character) and there were no major plot changes that would lead a faithful reader to scratch their head in bemusement. The same can also be said of the second film in the series based on the second book Chamber of Secrets. This is probably due to the fact that both films share the same director, Chris Columbus and that the first two films hadn't reached the complex nature the books would later explore. Both films were done in a faithful way with no gripes which also can be seen as quite forgettable due to them almost being carbon copies of the books.

Book 3 - Prisoner of Azkaban:
With the third installment, comes a new director of the series - Alfonso Cuaron. Though this film starts to include more scenes that are vastly different from the book (including the re-casting of Dumbledore played by Michael Gambon, more of that particular gripe later), it remains, as a whole, a fairly faithful adaptation. The changes in the film series are definitely more pronounced and when comparing it with the previous two, it's clear that it has a different director and that it's starting to deal with more adult, darker themes. The third film sees Harry enter his third year at Hogwarts, dealing with the magic world's prison guards (Dementors - creatures who suck out every joyful and happy feeling a person has ever felt, particularly affecting Harry) and the escape of a notorious mass murderer Sirius Black who seems hellbent on doling out revenge to Harry. Even though the majority of the scenes are again very faithful to the book, there are a couple incidents in the film that make me wince. One that comes to mind is the scene where Harry is riding the hippogriff (a horse meets bird creature for those who aren't aware) another is where Harry finds out that Sirius used to be a friend of Harry's parents and had possibly betrayed them ('HE WAS THEIR FRIEND!'); both scenes were a bit cheesy to be taken seriously, though it should be noted that Daniel Radcliffe's acting had improved immensely since the last film. Overall, however, this probably remains the best and faithful adaptation of the series. It's darker in tone as it is in the book and Cuaron's influences can be seen to coincide with the books. A pity, really, that the same can't be said about the next film....

Book 4 - Goblet of Fire:
Every time I think of the fourth adaptation of the Harry Potter series, a little bit of me dies inside. Now yes, that might be a tad melodramatic but in my eyes, the fourth book is one of the best in the entire series and unfortunately that is not conveyed on screen. From a director (Mike Newell) and actor (Michael Gambon) who refused to read any of the books (and it painfully shows) to a complete change in the tone of the storyline and the mannerisms of the characters, the fourth adaptation becomes the weak link in the entire series. I sometimes wonder if they should reboot the entire thing just to get this film more accurate. I still get angry today whenever I decide to give it a second chance due to everything they got wrong throughout the film. I was so excited to see this version up on screen, something that was heightened by the casting of David Tennant, at the time one of my favourite actors, in a role that is a vital one in the entire series. I just remember coming out of the cinema so taken aback that they got it so wrong. One of the major discrepancies, in my mind, is the character of Dumbledore. As mentioned before, Michael Gambon came into the role in the last film due to the passing of the previous actor to portray him - Richard Harris. For an actor to not do their research, as is the case here, is so blatantly obvious especially on the big screen, it would make the utmost faithful fan wince and shudder. An example that stands out in my mind as one that shows Gambon not knowing his character is the scene where Harry has been chosen as a contestant in the school's Tri-Wizard Tournament - a series of games to test the wit, bravery and intelligence of a wizard, a tournament that has been restricted to witches and wizards of age, in this case 17 year-olds and above (Harry's age is 14 in this film). The scene requires everyone to be baffled and bewildered about how Harry could possibly have been chosen, something echoed by Harry himself and yet Dumbledore reacts angrily and physically aggressive to Harry. A complete no-no for anyone who has read the books, Dumbledore is vehemently against any violence to any of his pupils and in fact in a further book, reacts strongly to someone who tries to manhandle one of his pupils in front of him. So a lot of people would have been left scratching their heads to Dumbledore's response in this scene, a complete opposite mannerism for him to convey. It was also to my complete dismay, that the character of Barty Crouch Jr (David Tennant) was again portrayed so poorly. The storyline of Barty Crouch Jr was one of the best plot-twists of the entire series and yet the twist would not even raise a flick of interest in the film due to it already being alluded to several times during the entire movie. The great thing about the ending in the book is that it was such a jaw-dropper and yet reading it back, there are small hints throughout which you may not have picked up during the first read. In the film, not so subtle hints are littered throughout (don't get me started on the opening scene). These particular major gripes, coupled with characteristic changes, make me want to obliterate the whole film from my mind.
Tune in to my next installment for the rest of the films and my conclusion...

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