I was first introduced into the world of Harry Potter as a middle school student at the time when the first book was originally published. I remember reading the first several books after hearing all the hype from my friends and TV, and I ended up really enjoying them. I eventually outgrew the books, however, during the long waits between the new publications and gave up on the series. Rereading the first book brought back some of the same emotions that I felt when I first read it so long ago, but I also saw it in a different light reading it now as an adult. I may even have to go through and catch back up on the series!
I stopped reading the Harry Potter series before the first movie came out, so this was my first time viewing the film. Overall, I feel that the filmmakers were pretty faithful to the heart of the story, even making nods to some of the smaller details that only people who read the books would really appreciate, like the Botts Every Flavor Bean and the spell Ron tries to turn his rat yellow. This tells me that the filmmakers were aware of the huge following of the books and were trying to be respectful to the readers, perhaps to make up for some of the plot changes that had to occur in transitioning the book to film.
Reading the Book and Film
One of the most impressive features of the movie was the setting. The filmmakers made use of wide shots, models, and CGI to create an impressive world for the film, keeping very true, for the most part, to the original descriptions created by Rowling. In some cases, it made the story even clearer. For example, I had a hard time imaging what the entrance to the Platform 9 ¾ would look like. I imagined Harry, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley clan running onto the tracks but that just never seemed right in my mind. After seeing this scene in the film, the original description made more sense. While the impressive scenery was helpful, I also found it to be distracting at times. The Quidditch scenes, in particular, were hard to watch. The CGI, cutting edge at the time I’m sure, was almost dizzying and was very unrealistic. I found myself paying more attention to the quality of the effects than what was happening in the action.
In translating this elaborate story into film, there are a few plot elements that needed to be changed in order to create a movie of an appropriate length and also to avoid confusion for viewers who had not read the books. One of the major changes was the Norbert storyline. For one, the movie does not really seem to stress how dangerous it was to have a dragon, both for personal safety and in terms of legality. In the book, this was spelled out very clearly, creating another level of tension in the plot. Also, in the book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione take the Norbert matter into their own hands and see to Norbert’s removal. Since this is not a major plot element, it is easy to understand why it was streamlined – viewers were presented with what they needed to know, that is the suspicious nature of how Hagrid acquired the dragon egg.
Another important aspect of the original story that was removed was Hermione’s part in reaching the Sorcerer’s Stone. In the book, Rowling was very clear that each professor created a different challenge to prevent anyone from reaching the stone, two of these challenges removing Ron and Hermione from the endeavor. In the movie, however, there is no mention of the professors creating the challenges, an element that would have added some depth to the story line. In leaving out the mention of the professors designing the challenges, the omission of Snape’s potion challenge would have been unnoticeable to uniformed viewers. I am assuming this was another effort to cut time, but I was a little disappointed that this was not included.
Fidelity to the Original
While most of the other major plot elements are included, and even many of the smaller details are embedded in the film, I did not get the same feeling that I did when reading the book. It almost felt as though the filmmakers were almost TOO literal with the story, if that is possible, causing them to gloss over story and ignore the DEPTH to which the details were originally presented. Since the backstories were not presented in the depth, it led to a disconnect from the characters and the story itself. When reading the book, I was on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out what was going on, piecing together the clues. I felt Harry’s anxiety at various times in the book and shared in Ron’s anger at Draco Malfoy. These same feelings were not achieved, at least for me, in the film. I did not feel the investment into the film that I did with the book. Perhaps it was because I already knew what was going to happen, but I think it is more due to the rushed nature of the film and the shallow presentation of the story.
I think another aspect to take into consideration is that this film was created for children. The later films became more serious and dark as the readers of the stories grew older and matured with the characters, but the original film was rated PG and was marketed for kids. Because of this, I feel like the adaptation of the book was spot on for the intended audiences. It provided the major plot elements, stuck true to the defining characteristics of Rowling’s characters, and also provided a level of action and adventure to appeal to young viewers. Delving more deeply into the backstories would have possibly been daunting for young audiences, so keeping the movie fast paced and visually interesting is probably a major factor in the success of this franchise. As an adult reader, I am indifferent to the film. It was successful in many ways, but left me hoping for an emotional connection that just was not there.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!