It has been a long time since I put up a blog post but college schedule is quite tight and I often do not find myself in the mood for blogging. But once the winter break starts, I shall resume analysing more characters and reviewing more books. For now, I publish this piece on movie adaptations that I worked on for a college assignment featuring the Harry Potter movies as a case study. Do read on!
“When I have had too much of reality, I open a book.”
Who doesn’t like good books? Books are the best escape from the mundane reality of human life; they transport us to a world unseen and sometimes, purely imaginary. A world that doesn’t exist in real life but is nevertheless, very inviting and worthy of existence. A world that you would wish was solid and real.
While it is not easy to bring this world to reality, it is not unachievable either. The closest one can get to actualising these fantastic worlds is by making them come real on the reel, that is, by creating film adaptations.
But how many of these adaptations qualify not just as films in themselves but also fairly faithful cinematic adaptations? How does a filmmaker compress a 500-page novel into a mere two-hour long movie? Does it still retain its originality and authenticity? Above all, what makes a good adaptation and how liberal/rigid should one be while judging it?
All of these are questions that intrigue us. In this essay, I shall attempt to answer them using a case study (or rather, a critique) of the most famous novel-to-movie adaptation of all time – Harry Potter.
I begin by studying the dissimilarities between the movies and books of Harry Potter.
Portrayal of physical traits of characters:
While a great effort was taken by the filmmakers in selecting the best people for casting, some errors in outward appearances of characters have occurred in the movies. Harry was not skinny, he did not have jet black and messy hair and neither did he have his mother’s green eyes, which were crucial emotional factors. Further, Hermione mysteriously ceased to have bushy brown hair from the Prisoner of Azkaban (one remarkable piece of magic that was not accomplished by Hermione herself in the books). Also, Dumbledore, who wore a colourful array of robes every other day in the books, donned on robes of a dull and gloomy shade of grey all the time in the movies (from Prisoner of Azkaban), making the readers wonder if he really was Dumbledore sometimes. Further, in the later movies, the characters always wore Muggle clothes, when they were supposed to wear wizard robes. This squeezed out the other-worldliness of the whole story to a fair extent. (Chris Columbus can be spared this criticism, for the first two movies were very close to the books.)
Take a look at the stark difference between the younger Hermione’s hair and the older one’s.
Deletion of scenes:
It is impossible, yes, to fit every scene from a huge novel into a short movie. However, there are some scenes that need to be incorporated in the movies, be it for the sake of character-building or for the sake of their bearing on the future plot twists. The bearing may be direct or lateral; nevertheless, for a wholesome experience, these scenes need to be made way for. A painfully chosen list of a few of the many scenes that were ruthlessly left out in the Harry Potter movies goes as follows:
- The story behind Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs and the fact that they were Animagi. (Prisoner of Azkaban)
- Fred and George’s bet with Ludo Bagman and the fate of the Triwizard winnings of Harry. (Goblet of Fire)
- The story of Neville’s parents and his visit to St. Mungo’s hospital. (Order of the Phoenix)
- Neville’s potential of being the Chosen One. (Order of the Phoenix)
- The history of the Gaunts and Voldemort’s family. (Half-Blood Prince)
- Wormtail’s death, which made one of Dumbledore’s mysteriously disguised predictions clear in the books. (Deathly Hallows 1)
- Harry fixing his first wand and then disposing of the Elder wand, instead of thoughtlessly breaking it into two. (Deathly Hallows 2)
Complete omission of some characters:
Some characters that were the crux of humour, sarcasm and sometimes crucial plot twists were completely omitted in the movies.
The most striking omission is Peeves, the poltergeist. He was not only the ultimate comic relief in the books but also gave a much more vibrant look to the Hogwarts’ lifestyle.
Another striking omission is Professor Binns, the History of Magic professor who enlightened the students about the Chamber of Secrets. Further, we have Winky, Ludo Bagman and Phineas Nigellus Black, all of whom had crucial roles to play in the plot.
Addition of scenes (sometimes unnecessary) :
It’s not all about cutting down – it’s also about the addition of extra features that would sometimes make readers feel that the essence of the original has been taken out.
Harry and Hermione’s long dance in the tent (Deathly Hallows 1) was, as explained by the filmmakers, used to establish that theirs was a platonic and friendly relationship. However, that concept runs undercurrent throughout the movies so much that it need not be put forth distinctly. Also, Ron and Hermione’s intimacy during the third movie gave away the inklings of a romantic relationship between the two, which was otherwise supposed to be a pleasant surprise for readers in the sixth book. Going further, the addition of the scene in which the Burrow burned down (Half Blood Prince) was not necessary at all, considering the fact that more important scenes were left out of the movie.
However, certain dialogues that were added to the movies (and are not in the books) were greatly humorous and worthwhile. This particular exchange between Professor McGonagall and Neville is particularly hilarious.
“Let me get this straight, Professor. You’re actually giving us permission to blow it up? To boom?”
“That is correct, Longbottom.“
“Wicked. But how are we gonna do that?“
“Why don’t you confer with Mr. Finnigan? As I recall, he has a particular proclivity for pyrotechnics.“
Changing music themes:
This occurs mostly in a series of movies like Harry Potter. After having developed an emotional attachment for the music themes in the first few movies, a completely new background score might sound out of place (sometimes cacophonous too) to the ardent viewer/listener who has been listening to the older background score devotedly. The new and unfamiliar music becomes an intrusion of sorts and viewers find it all the more difficult to connect to the movies.
Last, but never the least, a movie adaptation presents the story in visual to the viewer – this makes his imagination lethargic; for all he has to do is watch the motion picture (and fling some critique, if possible). However, the books stir and trigger your imagination, your mind running sharp as you go through each line and your thoughts weaving a novel world – into which you soon disappear.
Well, now that the case study is done, how do we answer the questions posed in the beginning? I would say that, in any movie adaptation, there will inevitably creep in manipulations, augmentations and chop-offs that may not be invalid per se, but fail to capture the aura of the book. Thus, it would be pointless to judge them rigidly based on the book. Unless the movie is treated as an art piece in itself and not as an adaptation, there will surely be discrepancies and it will become almost impossible to find a faithful film adaptation. However, this must not lead to laxity on the director’s part. There should always be effort garnered to make the movie fairly faithful, if not perfect. As Marjane Satrapi says, “If it’s a good work of adaptation, the book should remain a book and the film a film; you should not necessarily read the book to watch the film.”
After all, a burger with ten layers of filling would be more sumptuous than another one with five layers. But the second burger, considered alone, would be delicious too, wouldn’t it?
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