Constantine. Fantastic Four. Batman and Robin. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
As a comic book fan who has felt more than a little slighted over the years thanks to really shoddy movie translations, I can somewhat understand why Harry Potter purists are so up in arms over the last two installments in the film series. The last two directors have opted to cut out what some say are “vital” scenes from the movies, and the integrity, fans claim, has been hurt. However, and I don’t mean to sound offensive when I say this, as I walked out of the theater after seeing Goblet of Fire and hearing some of the off the wall complaints some people had about the movie on the way out, I really don’t think some people completely understand the difference between what makes a good book, and what makes a good movie. While the stories may be the same, each medium has it’s own set of requirements, and often times those requirements are in conflict with each other.
Going back to the comic book movie analogy, most of us would agree which comic films have been the best. Superman I and II. X-2. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. None of these movies are one hundred percent faithful to the source material, though. Superman can make Lois Lane forgetful with but a kiss, Spider-Man’s origins were heavily tweaked and a good bit of the X-Men’s histories and relationships were mixed and matched for the sake of a good story not to mention that their traditional costumes were completely scrapped. Still, these movies are held as the pinnacles for making comics into movies.
But why? Because while they strayed from the source material, they kept the spirit of their inspirations alive. It felt like Superman. It felt like Spider-Man and the X-Men. Audiences, and by that I mean comic geeks, were willing to forgive small omissions and transgressions because the film makers obviously knew what they were doing and how the story needed to be told best. That’s not to say some geeks weren’t pissed. I stopped in at more than a couple comic shops where Sam Raimi was being lambasted for making Mary Jane Peter’s first girlfriend over Gwen Stacy. The uber-geeks, though, don’t understand that a two hour movie can in no way capture between 40 and 75 years of history. The rest of us saw a job well done and a respect for the characters and enjoyed the movie.
So why can’t Harry Potter fans do this? Critics and most fans openly acknowledge that the last two movies were by far the best. Chris Columbus got the ball rolling, but he was faithful to the books to a flaw. The movies were slow moving, and badly paced to the point of being almost excruciating to watch, whereas in Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, we got movies that trimmed the fat. The directors cut out the things that would kill the pacing of the movies and focused on the meat and potatoes of the books. After three movies, did we really need another play by play Quidditch match? Did we need to see just how fantastic the wizarding world was, as if we hadn’t already visited it a few times before? In fact, even Harry is starting to become a little desensitized to the world of wizarding. J.K. Rowling is focusing less on the wonders and more on the characters. Just reread the latest novel. Fans now get that this world is unlike ours. Let’s move along now.
It needs to be understood why the movies have strayed a little lately. For starters, books are personal experiences. You read a book alone. You curl up on the bed, or on the sofa and while away the hours. The author is allowed to delve off into more sub plots and side adventures. We expect books to be this way and feel slighted when they aren’t. A movie is a group experience and not only that, it’s someone else’s vision. Sure, we all take in our own ideas of what Hogwarts needs to look like, or how spooky the hedge maze is, but once the opening credits roll, we are now passively taking in the information. When reading a book, we’re expected to visualize everything on our own no matter how eloquent a writer may be.
Not to mention the basic difference in the mediums. Books exist solely in the language of the text, while a movie is made expresly for visual stimulation. When leaping from the page to the screen, Concessions have to be made and compromises sought out. Some things that work in a book will never work on film. They just won’t.
Movies are also really expensive. If every paragraph of every page is faithfully transcribed on film, we would wind up with a movie that lasted for days.
It’s time Harry Potter fans realized that the movies are not the books. They may share the same name, they may share the same characters, plots, and settings, but the’re totally independent of one another from there. The last two directors seemed to have realized this, as well as the majority of fans. It’s a disservice to yourself to get bogged down in trying to figure out why this scene was cut, or why this character was left out. The book may have given us an entire chapter showing just how bad ass Krum is, but the movie did just fine showing the crowd’s reaction to him as he zipped by on his broom. It got the same message across, and besides, the world Cup was only a set up for the return of the Death Eaters.
So unless the next director takes the Constantine route or, worse, the Batman and Robin route, the movies are going to be just fine. The books are still there, so just let the movies enhance what you already love.