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The Adaptation Blog: Harry Potter
Guest writer Sophie Atherton starts her series of blogs on turning books into movies

When considering the adaptation of literacy, many believe that the process often
takes something from the original work. In short, it damages the narrative or
message encoded within the book. This makes it hard for many film directors to
prove themselves worthy to the fans of the book simply because every reader gets
something different from it; pleasing everyone is impossible. If a large amount of fans
have an issue with the interpretation of the text, can make or break a film adaptation.

Being a film student and a keen reader, I find myself stuck between two worlds when
it comes down to the adaptation of book to film. The question is do you remain loyal
to the book? Or accept the representation the film has to offer, whether it is good or
bad? Of course both sides successes and defeats need to be taken into account,
and both text receive the deserved praise, or lack of it.

The Harry Potter Series is a good starting point when considering adaptation as
the films provide a varied quality and quantity of deviation from the books. With the
release of the last film coming up in July, it seemed appropriate to look back over
books and film adaptations produced for it. Some are scrupulously made and fuse
to the plot of the book admirably, where others fail to maintain the standard set in a
credible approach.

The Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

Being a short book there was very little that screenwriter Steve Kloves could cut
out without shortening or damaging the primary aspects of the plot and characters.
Changing either the narrative or the characters in the first film of the series would
prevent the film from being an appropriate adaptation at all. There are obviously
minor characters and events cut out of the final edit, but they take nothing away from
the authenticity of the film. The text also maintains the innocent tone of the book; this
is possibly one of the most common pitfalls for adaptations, if the tone changes so
does the story.

The Chamber of Secrets (2002)

This should be taken like the Philosopher’s Stone; a short book with little leeway for
developing the plot. Of course, many small things change in order for the aesthetics
of the film to work, as in all adaptations, but this does no damage to the film or
original narrative within book. In fact, this film has the least amount of story from the
book removed and should thus be considered the most accurate adaptation within
the series. This is a probable addition as to why this film is considered to be one of
the most popular.

The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

This screenplay sticks well to the plot of the book, but is much more adventurous
in the way it is communicated. This is an insight into the future of the films; Steve
Kloves gradually gets more daring when rewriting the narrative of each book for
film. The techniques he uses when filming the time turner scenes, for example, are
successful in their portrayal of the scene J. K. Rowling is trying to get across within
the novel. In addition, the CGI (computer generated-imagery) works effectively
and flawlessly carrying the momentum and pace of the scene well. Because of this
complicated main storyline, the sub-plot suffered more greatly than previously seen
in the latter two movies. Furthermore, the emotional development of the three main
characters was more emphasised in this film, in contrast to the latter being more
focused on the adventures of the trio.

The Goblet of Fire (2005)

This text has been adapted well considering the great deal that is cut out of the
original narrative. The book is 636 pages long in contrast to the last three, the
longest of which was half this length at 317 pages. Due to this, losses within the
plot are to be expected. These losses were handled well, if not boldly, and while
large sections have been removed the film manages to run smoothly as though
these chapters were never there at all. The removed portions are those that do not
impact on Harry’s experience within the book and thus takes little away from the
main storyline running through the film, and the series. However, the beginning of
the film gives the feeling of being skimmed over; from travelling to the Quidditch
World Cup to watching the match to the Death Eaters riot. Jumping between these
early key moments clearly shows the strain of squeezing the book into 157 minutes.
The screenplay to The Goblet of Fire brings back the comedy within J. K. Rowling’s
writing that was removed from the previous films. There are several comic moments
in the previous books that are written very well and didn’t get the opportunity to
feature within the films. It almost feels like this film was attempting to make up for
it, in the already condensed time limit that it had. This is both a positive a negative
addition depending on personal viewing. As far as adaptation goes the plot was cut,
rushed and condensed a little too much for it to be an overall accurate adaptation.

The Order of the Phoenix (2007)

This adaptation has a different screenwriter to the others, and you can tell. Steve
Kloves declined to write the screenplay for The Order of the Phoenix due to the
time it would take to produce the film and was replaced by Michael Goldenberg.
Goldenberg provides a much more filmic adaptation than Kloves which benefitted
the film series greatly. It does affect the narrative of the book nevertheless, as this is
another large book with a lot to be passed over or cut out. Despite this, it effectively
conveys the storyline without damaging the original narrative or characters making
it a good adaptation. In fact, certain scenes within the film are flawless; such as, the
scene in which Voldemort and Dumbledore duel. That scene is very well structured,
effective and true to the book. Of course, it came at the expense of less important
moments within the book that seem skimmed over in comparison or even removed.
For example, Quidditch is not featured at all within the film. However, similarly to The
Prisoner of Azkaban, these moments don’t impact on the main narrative of the book
greatly so it is understandable why they didn’t feature.

The Half Blood Prince (2009)

The main problem with this adaptation is that the film fabricates influential scenes
that remain unexplained in the continuance of the series. The reasoning behind
this additional scene is that director David Yates felt that there was a need for “an
injection of jeopardy and danger” in the middle of the film. This “injection” came
in the form of the battle at the Burrow and then the destruction of it. Despite this
controversial scene, J. K. Rowling has been quoted saying that The Half Blood
Prince is her favourite film within the series so far. While Kloves has managed to
make a successful film, he has failed to produce an accurate adaptation similar to
what he once could with his earlier Harry Potter scripts. This film has the feel of a
new writer or director, more so than The Order of the Phoenix, simply for its daring to
navigate away from the book in such a dramatic way.

The Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)

The adaptation of The Deathly Hallows is very similar to Steve Kloves early Harry
Potter scripts; he stays clear cut to the book and barely navigates away from it. It
is very well filmed and an excellent adaptation capturing the mood and tone of the
book well. Of course there are alterations to the book’s plot, the most controversial
of which is the scene in which Harry and Hermione dance together. This scene
has been perceived in different ways; firstly that there is some form of attraction
between the two characters (never apparent in the book), the alternative is that the
characters were attempting to cheer themselves up after Ron’s sudden departure.
On first appearance the former seems to be the intended message, however,
when analysing the scene more closely the scene seemed to communicate the
latter. This moment communicates Harry and Hermione’s friendship, which is not
romanticised. Once they have finished dancing Hermione slumps back into her
depressed state which immediately connotes her pining for Ron and rejection of
any attraction to Harry. This scene ultimately makes the film a stronger and more
accurate adaptation, one can only hope that Part 2 will be just as brilliant.

To conclude…

Overall, the series has provided audiences with good adaptations to the book. Of
course they were never going to be identical storylines but they are similar enough
for fans to appreciate. As a Harry Potter fan myself I have enjoyed all of the films, not
necessarily all the way though (I continue to be unconvinced of the requirement of
the additional scene in The Half-Blood Prince), nonetheless the film series had made
a profit of millions and remains in the hearts and minds of many Harry Potter fans,
including myself.

Sophie Atherton is a young writer based at York St John.