Harry Potter, from page to screen

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The history

My experiences with Harry Potter have been something of a rollercoaster. I enjoyed the books during their first run, but wasn’t hugely passionate about them – happy to wait for the paperback version, rather than stand in line at midnight for the final book’s release.

I somehow ended up owning just six of the seven physical books, so was super keen to own them as ebooks so I could a) complete my collection and b) ditch the last standing physical books I owned. JK Rowling finally capitulated and I was able to plow through them all, on my Kindle, for a second read.

This time round, they piqued my interest a lot more and I started to think about watching the films. The cinema version of Harry Potter’s story had absolutely passed me by. I was aware of the trio of actors and their level of fame because of these films but I hadn’t seen a single one. In fact, one of the Harry Potter movies was the reason I stopped going to the cinema.

When iTunes released an affordable bundle of all eight HP movies, I snapped them up. It wasn’t clear when I would get a chance to watch them, as I tend to use up my film watching windows with Mr C, and he wasn’t keen on the fantasy world of wizardry and wonder.

With a mixture of spare time over Christmas, and ongoing sickness, he caved in and watched the first one with me. After enjoying it more than he thought, we then binge watched the rest completing all eight films in such a short space of time that they did all start to merge into one glorious wizarding wonderland.

The reviews

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Book review (5/5) / Film review (4/5)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Book review (5/5) / Film review (3/5)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Book review (4/5) / Film review (4/5)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Book review (5/5) / Film review (5/5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Book review (3/5) / Film review (3/5)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Book review (4/5) / Film review (3/5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1): Book review (4/5) / Film review (2/5)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2): Film review (4/5)

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Conclusions

The beauty of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books isn’t the story she weaves, although good versus evil is always a good tale, one as old as time. What I think people really love about Potter is the universe that is created – the secret but believable wizarding world, with a ministry of their own, spells and potions that can help or hinder, and a school for talented kids ready to learn how to use a wand. Laid on top of this world is the drama and relationships that every child, teen and adult has to deal with, so that it’s relateable but still a fantasy.

It’s telling that Mr C, who wasn’t even slightly interested in Harry Potter pre-film, was saying midway through the series that he’d really just like to watch a day in the life of Ron. How he got through the magic lessons, navigated a burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, was cheeky to the portraits guarding the doors, that kind of thing. The story was great, but really just spending time with the characters in their domain was where it excelled.

The flip side to the joy of a huge and fascinating world is that it’s almost impossible to fit all that into a film. Or even eight films. There was so much missed from the books to the screen, I knew there was going to have to be cuts and yet it still unsettled me. All of the house elves at Hogwarts, much of the history Order of the Phoenix and where the heck was Percy Weasley?

The films did the best job they could, and contained everything required to tell the story. Mr C, in his ignorance of the source material, managed to get through them pretty well, although after the first couple of films there were plenty of questions he needed to ask to keep things clear in his head. The information comes thick and fast during each and every movie, there’s barely a second to think, and yet there’s still information missing.

Having said that, there were only two things I think were particularly wrong. The first was not explaining the nicknames and friendship of Padfoot, Wormtail, Mooney and Prongs better – especially because Padfoot as an alias became so important later. Secondly, the relationship between Lupin and Tonks. One tiny mention, where she calls him by a pet name, and then suddenly we are supposed to be deeply invested in their final film sacrifice. There’s such a backstory missing there, it didn’t quite work.

Seeing how good the stories are on screen, I think it would make an incredible TV series. Given the space to expand, to revel in the wizard’s world, and get into more of the details that make the Harry Potter books the success that they are would be brilliant. Of course you face the same problems as the movie must have – firstly that working with so many children is hard, secondly you’re asking for 10+ years of everyone’s life, and thirdly, when it comes down to it, there still is only so much screen time available.

In the end, I can only applaud what the screenwriters achieved, even if I have some reservations. Mr C was expecting to hate it, anticipating Lord of the Rings style fantasy that involves a lot of walking and thinking and fairies flitting about. It wasn’t that. It was fun and packed and curious and intense. It was more than sixteen hours of movie, and almost all of it was entertaining and worth watching.

Now we just have to find time for all the iTunes Extras.