Monday, June 23, 2003

Harry Potter explained

Steven at USS Clueless posted a long piece with his response to seeing the film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone for the first time.

This was his first exposure to the world of Harry Potter as it was for many people. I tend to think that is unfortunate because the books are wonderful - though the movies are very good the books are much better. To be fair very rarely does a film live up to a book in my experience and this one comes very close.

Steven brought up a few specific problems with the movie - I assume that many others whose only exposure to Harry Potter is from the films might have the same questions. I will endeavor to give an explanation for the questions raised by the film. The block quotes below are from Steven’s post about Harry Potter.
The early Cinderella part was excruciating
I would agree but I think that it has to be excruciating. After all there has to be a reason that Harry will so willingly embrace the wizard world and abandon the family that raised him. The book goes in to much more detail about just how horribly Harry was treated by his aunt and her family. The question that has never really been explained (to my satisfaction) is why the Dursleys never just handed Harry over to the state. I imagine that will be explained sometime soon – JK Rowling seems to pick up every loose string.
I had thought there would be a lot more hazing, for instance. I thought Malfoy would be a bigger part.
Malfoy is a slightly bigger part in the books but in the end he is more of an annoyance in Harry’s life. In some ways he is there to show the path not taken by Harry as much as anything. Malfoy joined Slytherin while Harry asked the sorting hat specifically to not put him in Slytherin. As the books go on the relationship between the boys becomes more adversarial. I imagine that the makers of the trailers knew that those who were watching the trailers closely knew about the growing animosity (because several of the books were out). Additionally the real villain is virtually impossible to show in a trailer without totally ruining the film for those who have not read the book… therefore focusing on Malfoy gives them a villain to focus on.
Harry didn't turn out to be what I thought he would be like. In particular, he didn't end up being as much of a nerd as I thought he would be.
Harry is not a nerd – he is friends with a nerd (Hermione) and that is often how he gets needed info. I would say that Harry is fairly average (academically) with exceptional flying skills – that is how he got the seeker position. The key to his success is that exceptional people surround Harry. His two close friends are often keys to his success… Hermione has the book smarts and Ron has the advantage of having grown up in a wizarding family so he knows more about the world within which they are living.
So I was glad to see that their friendship with Hermione developed more slowly, in ways which made sense. The boys met Hermione on the train, but became friend with her later.
This was really well done in the books. I always remember the line after the trio downs the troll (I will paraphrase – I don’t have the book with me) “The three of them looked at each other and a friendship was born. Some things linked you forever - one of those is taking down a troll in the girls bathroom.” I always remember that scene becaue it was the point where I learned that this was not just going to be a couple of boys saving the world.
It was a special pleasure to see John Hurt in the film, as the owner of the magic-wand store. **snip**Hurt's part wasn't a recurring character. Now that Richard Harris has died, why not cast him as Dumbledore?
Hurt was wonderful and I can see why he would seem a natural for the Dumbledore part but…the character that Hurt Played (Olivander) does reoccur later in the series. They may want to use him again for those scenes when they film the later books. The Wizarding world is fairly small so characters often reappear. This is nice because you can really understand the politics of the world as well as saving Rowling the trouble of creating new characters.
I was happy to see that all three kids got a chance to contribute; in particular, it was cool to see Ron play and win the chess game, especially in how he did it. Ron had been comic relief, so it was neat to see him get to be important,
That is one of the great things about the books Rowling has given all the kids strengths and they work together as a team to accomplish their goals. One disappointment for me was how much the filmmakers depended on Ron for comic relief. In the books his character is funny but also has unique skills and abilities that are not highlighted enough in the movies.
If Professor Quirrell was already past that point, then why was the chess board not already littered with rubble?
This is one of those suspension of disbelief moments. Remember that Quirrell is a fully-grown wizard and therefore he has the ability to reset the chessboard and remove the rubble.
So she (Hermione) should actually have accompanied Harry to the last room – except that in plot terms, it had to be Harry alone who confronted Professor Quirrell. He'd been supported by his friends to that point, but as Sarah said in "Labyrinth", I must go on alone. That's how these things are done. So "You stay here and get Ron to safety, I'll go on" was the only real way to make it come out right.
This was the greatest disappointment to me in the translation of the book to film. In the book Hermione and Harry go forward to an additional room. In that room there is a logic puzzle and Hermione solves it because of her very muggleness. As she says “It is simple logic. Most wizards could not solve it because the look down on logic as only for muggles” of course Hermione (as a very bright muggle raised witch) can solve the puzzle. The solution to the puzzle gives them just one dose of a elixir that will get them through the door to the final room (Think Alice in Wonderland ‘drink me’). Harry of course drinks the elixir and Hermione goes back to care for Ron (I don’t remember them saying they are going for help). I really think that it is regrettable that they removed the section where Hermione shines and her muggleness sets her apart.

On the general topic of the kids growing out of their roles… perhaps they will but I really hope not. I love these kids and I think they are really good. However, I can imagine that they may want to take a break and live their lives. If so it will be really hard to find a better team of kids.

One good thing about the team that made the first movies was that Christopher Columbus learned his lesson about how fame can destroy a child’s life the hard way with Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone. Columbus made a point of choosing not just the actors but also their parents to find stable families that will put their children’s best interests first. In all the interviews I have seen all three kids are remarkably well adjusted I think that Columbus will make every effort to keep them that way. In major movies like this it will take a concerted effort by both the family and the friends of the young actors to keep them on the right path.

As is by now completely clear I am a total Harry Potter dork. Usually I get answers to all of my Harry Potter questions at The Leaky Cauldron - a great Harry Potter based blog. Check them out to have all of your questions answered. I will now return to reading The Order of the Phoenix…


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