Pop 20

Potter fans slow to adapt to movies

by Aaron Sagers

17 July 2009

cover art

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Director: David Yates
Cast: Danielle Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Rupert Grint, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent

(Warner Bros.)
US theatrical: 15 Jul 2009 (General release)
UK theatrical: 15 Jul 2009 (General release)

Review [14.Jul.2009]

There’s a climactic scene in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” when Harry and Hermione, after discovering Ron has been using magical steroids in Quidditch, are cornered by Draco Malfoy and his Death Eater gang in the Room of Acquisition. Things look grim, so Harry and Hermy share a kiss and confess their love for one another when, out of the vanishing cabinet, pops Sirius Black on a Harley-Davidson broom with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun. He unloads on the Death Eaters, growls “Let’s ride,” and the three head out to save Dumbledore from the clutches of his half-brother Voldemort.

Or not. This never comes close to happening in the Potter movie, but after a screening, when asked how it was by die-hard Potterheads, I’ve easily convinced them otherwise. Other than revealing me to be mischievous, it also shows how readily fans are willing to mistrust the film versions of the beloved books.

Sure, mistakes were made within the film franchise, but despite a fairly solid movie track record and the involvement of people who legitimately enjoy the books, the fans expect “Harry Potter and the Half-baked Movie Adaptation.” Potterheads aren’t the first to complain “the book was better,” but they’ve the least room to gripe within pop-culture fandom.

“Half-Blood Prince” is a satisfying build-up to the antepenultimate film. It’s not a painstakingly accurate recreation of the book, but there’s the rub: It’s not a book, it’s a two-hour-plus movie adaptation of a 652-page novel. The media is the message, and to avoid a six-hour film or a 125-page book (the length of an average movie script), the media is massaged in the translation from page-to-screen.

Potterheads should thank the cinema gods. Yes, adored house elf Dobby was sacrificed (although a colleague astutely observes he’s always been the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise anyhow), but Potter scribe J.K. Rowling has been so involved in the adaptations that the films are approved extensions of the Potterverse.

The films have hewn close to the source material, and have brought the world to life. The actors so remarkably fill their character’s skins that they’ve superimposed themselves on my imagination’s original take (Alan Rickman does a way better Professor Snape than my mind’s version).

Meanwhile, as a Stephen King fan, I’m used to unrecognizable movie versions where the title is the only familiar aspect. Sometimes it works, as with Kubrick’s “The Shining,” but most of the time not - although maybe King’s works just needed the right media to be adapted to since the Marvel Comics’ versions are awesome.

Speaking of comics, fanboys at best hope film adaptations “captures the spirit” of characters. Often times, what they get is a “re-imagining.”  Decades of continuity and development are traded in for patchwork plots, and instead of adapting existing storylines, entirely new ones are created for the cineplexes. When we’re lucky, we get “Spider-Man 2” and “The Dark Knight,” but there have been too many “Superman Returns” and “Spawn” experiences to recount.

There’s a painting of “The Thinker” by Edvard Munch in the Paris Rodin museum. It’s a slightly distorted, wavy take on Auguste Rodin’s sculpture; not all the details are there, but the important ones are. This artistic adaptation of another artist’s work inspires you to look out the museum’s window at the real deal and appreciate both differently.

The painting reminds me of the expression that a movie version “is its own thing.” It must be looked at separately from the source material. This is true, yet any fan who loves a book wants to see it done justice by the film industry; to see the page come to life, to compare the images on the screen with those in the mind, to spread the word about the printed words.

You have this, Potterheads. Despite omissions and additions, the Potter song pretty much remains the same, and your beloved franchise has a double-dose of magic on its side.

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Aaron Sagers writes about all things pop-culture each week, but you can follow him daily on Twitter under “AaronSagers,” and on his site, www.paranormalpopculture.com. He can be contacted at sagers.aaron AT gmail.com.

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