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Harry Potter: Book Vs. Film, Part I
How do the movies measure up to Rowling's prose?
By Alexandria Kaplan
November 17, 2010
Harry Potter is a literary masterpiece; with prose that is simple and easy to read, and descriptions that fill your mind with elaborate sensory experiences. There are few books I can recommend as highly as the J.K Rowling novels (start from the beginning). Having been a literary hound starting at age 4, I have learned to expect disappointment when seeing my favorite written masterpieces translated to screen. This series however, has been lovingly protected by the contract-savvy Rowling who never relinquished her rights to the actual characters. Time and again I am thrilled to find people who normally dismiss the time necessary for reading make special exceptions for Harry Potter after seeing the films. Everyone seems to know a Potterhead in their social circle who will excitedly espouse the intricate differences between the books and the films. This article is an effort to list the key differences between the movies and the books. I’ve included mention of the number of times I saw each film in the theaters, as well as the release dates of each book and film, and which one “wins” in a head-to-head match-up. I will cover the first three films below; the final three will appear in the second half of our double-header.
The Philosopher’s Stone (U.S. Title: The Sorcerer’s Stone)
U.S. Book Release: 1 September 1998
U.S. Theater Release: 16 November 2001
Number of Theatrical Viewings: 7
Book vs. Movie: Tie
At the beginning, the amazing poster painted by Drew Struzan was the first glimpse fans had of what was to come.
What the Movie Did Right:
- The first glimpse of the world was thrilling for fans.
- The casting presented a cavalcade of acting genius from British stage and film, exposing American audiences to some of the U.K.’s finest actors. Also the children were so perfect in their roles, that the rough, we are new to this sheen on everyone was hardly noticeable. Granted, Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton had both been actors previously, and upon rewatching this film, it is evident that these boys both have a tremendous career ahead of them.
What the Book Did Better:
- The theatrical release did not mention the names of Harry’s owl “Hedwig” or Mr. Filch’s cat “Mrs. Norris” (this was corrected very swiftly in the second film).
- The arrival of letters and owls from Hogwarts presents a much more elaborate problem in the book. Some deleted scenes are included in the DVD showing some of these moments. But the letter from Dumbledore that shames the Dursleys into giving Harry a room that is not a broom-cupboard is not sent. Oddly enough Harry mysteriously has an actual bedroom in all the subsequent films.
- Nicholas Flammel is barely mentioned. He created the Stone itself, and has some wonderful moments surrounding his friendship with Dumbledore. These interactions also introduce the real gravity of mortality, and the kindness and concern that Harry has for others.
- Emma Watson is lovely, Hermione not so much. Rowling described Hermione as having buck teeth, and bushy brown hair. In the DVD special features that come with the recently released über set, Chris Columbus’ commentary mentions that Emma Watson originally wore fake teeth, but they proved to be too much of an acting obstacle.
- Harry has green eyes, unlike Radcliffe’s, which are blue. Also mentioned in Cris Columbus’ commentary, Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t wear the contacts designed for him because his eyes reacted violently to them.
- Norbert the dragon is a sad casualty of the need to pare down the story. The interactions in the book concerning the removal of Norbert from the grounds are priceless, and should not be missed.
- Mrs. Figg is omitted entirely. The cat-loving eccentric shows up in the fifth film briefly, coming to Harry’s defense after the appearance of the Dementors in Little Whinging.
- What happened to Peeves? The Hogwarts poltergeist is completely absent from all the films.
- Dumbledore’s speech is not funny in the film. His nonsensical school speeches serve as a joyous part of his character in the books.
- Harry, Ron and Hermione do not go looking for trouble in the Forbidden Corridor in the book, Malfoy tricks them and sends Filch to get them in trouble.
- The film omits a lot of quidditch matches.
- Hermione saves Ron and Harry from the Devil’s Snare.
- Harry watches Professor Quirrell die in the film (which makes the Thestrals a bit troublesome in the fifth film, if anyone has been paying attention).
The Chamber of Secrets
U.S. Book Release: 2 June 1999
U.S. Theater Release: 15 November 2002
Number of Theatrical Viewings: 5
Book vs. Movie: Movie
J.K Rowling almost lost me on this book, which seemed too close in plot and circumstance to the first. I always considered it a bit of a slog on subsequent re-readings. In November 2002, Rowling admitted that this book possessed the key to the series, and upon a recent revisit, its significance becomes staggering.
What the Movie Did Right:
- Look at that cast! The kids really come into their own in this film, and you can clearly see their performances becoming masterful. Kenneth Branagh tags along as Gilderoy Lockheart, and he is every bit the self-involved showman: delightfully arrogant, charming, and extremely dangerous to everyone at Hogwarts.
- Dobby is a little larger than he seems in the book, but is fantastically portrayed. The movie tones down his masochistic tendencies, but is still good for a laugh in an increasingly serious set of themes.
- The Basilisk battle in the book ends relatively quickly. The film expands upon it with a fantastic chase scene reminiscent of The Third Man through the pipes and sewers underneath Hogwarts.
What the Book Did Better:
- Dobby is a much more important character in the book, and really does almost kill Harry on several occasions. His involvement in Harry’s life represents a very real threat to Harry’s continued well being, much more so than in the film.
- Only after the visit from Dobby does Uncle Vernon learn that Harry cannot produce magic outside of school.
- The garden gnomes--nasty little pests that bite--are left out of the movie entirely. Though admittedly unnecessary, they act as highly amusing little pests, and the scene at the Weasley’s involving their removal from the garden is very entertaining.
- Hermione is not comfortable using Voldemort’s name until the fifth book, and repeats it with tremendous reluctance when forming the D.A., but she uses it regularly from here on out in the films.
- Hermione is not initially hurt by the term “Mudblood.” Ron has his reaction to it, and both Harry and Hermione are surprised until Ron (not Hagrid) explains its meaning.
- Lockhart’s meddling is more extensive in the book. He publicly puts down other Professors to build himself up, and has many more obnoxious dealings with Harry where he explains the rigors of superstardom.
- The other students’ rumor-mongering over Harry’s abilities as a Parselmouth is almost entirely omitted.
- Again, where is Peeves?
- Rogue Bludger vs. the Weasley twins. When the bludger chases Harry in the books, Fred and George shine through and play the protective big brothers (thus cementing their essentially benevolent natures).
- Hijinx are involved with the production of the Polyjuice potion. A restricted book, stealing ingredients from Snape, and other elements--all vastly entertaining--managed to be omitted from the film.
- All of the sudden, Ginny appears to be the troublemaker at the end of the film where she is lying unconscious. In the book she freaks everyone out for quite some time.
- Ginny wakes after the journal is destroyed, and Harry exchanges a tender moment with her while he thinks he is dying. Fawkes shows up after a considerable several moments when we are unsure how Harry will escape this one.
The Prisoner of Azkaban
U.S. Book Release: 8 September 1999
U.S. Theater Release: 4 June 2004
Number of Theatrical Viewings: 1 (I did not own a copy of the film before starting my research for this article.)
Book vs. Movie: The Book, the Book, a Thousand Times the Book!
On a personal note, I openly and fervently hate the third installment of this movie franchise. It might be telling that I have read the book more often than any other in the series, and hold it dearest amongst them. I literally feel violent when Potter-posers proudly announce that they love the third film, after which I usually find out that the person has either 1) never read the books; 2) read one or two of the books and decided watching the movies was less time consuming; 3) listened to the books on tape (or any combination of these scenarios).
(In all fairness, the recent Blu-ray collector’s edition is gorgeous, though my opinion of the film itself remains unchanged.)
What the Movie Did Right:
- The Dementor design is superb. They are frightening in all the right ways, and not easy to see, like the best horror monsters in history (Alien, The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street)
- Gary Oldman makes a truly incredible Sirius Black. Very few actors could portray the shift from criminally insane psychopath to your favorite godfather with such elegance and such a small amount of actual exposition. The film desperately needed more of him.
- David Thewlis gives one of the best performances of his career as Remus Lupin: vulnerable, wise and the guide for Harry that we all saw in the books. Like Sirius, his role is a bit truncated but he really makes the most of his scenes. The reveal at the end in the Shrieking Shack is truly frightening, and we really don’t know what side he is on for a few moments.
- The amazing Emma Thompson appears as the loopy, bug-eyed Madame Trelawney. She makes the most of her brief appearances, with a haughty attitude towards the not-so-talented Hermione (guffaw). And we have the pleasure of actually getting her back in the next film as well!
- Hermione’s cat Crookshanks is another character severely slighted by these films, but the cat chosen is great, and his scenes are few but priceless.
- Unlike the novel, the Knight Bus contains a talking shrunken head, and other talking shrunken heads show up later in the film. Though she didn't include them in her book, Rowling claimed to be delighted with the addition, adding that she "wished she'd thought of it."
What the Book Did Better:
- Why was Harry able to perform magic at the beginning to read his book without getting in trouble?
- The scene with Aunt Marge is funnier and more elegant in the book, I suggest reading it if you want an excellent laugh.
- There is a shocking lack of quidditch matches in this film. Only one match happens in the film.
- Mrs. Norris’ eyes are not red in the film.
- What happened to the Headless Hunt and the ghosts?
- The Grim becomes much more present in the books, including a lot of interactions that Harry sees between Crookshanks and the creature. Crookshanks also saves the day in the Shrieking Shack in the books.
- Sir Cadogan is a wonderful addition to the novels, but barely appears in the film, reduced to galavanting in a couple of portraits in the background in a deleted scene.
- Harry disobeys orders to stay away from Hogsmeade more than once in the book, a fact omitted from the movies.
- The map responds to Snape with a special individual message from each marauder.
- Harry’s happiest memory is getting to go off and live with Sirius, which allows him to finally conjure his patronus, the Stag.
- When Snape is dragged along the Whomping Willow passage back to the Shrieking Shack, Harry thumps Snape’s head on the top of the passageway.
- Sirius feels bad for robbing Ron of his pet, so he buys Pigwidgeon and sends it along to Ron with a letter to Harry.
- The Marauder’s Map: who made it, and why? The movie never says, and it’s a vital part of the entire story. How on earth can a responsible storyteller leave this out?! Amazing that Harry miraculously makes the connection with the Stag that is his patronus at the end of the film. Why does Sirius know about the map in the film? How does Lupin know that he should look at the map for proof of Harry’s allegations concerning Pettigrew? 6 minutes of Whomping Willow cut scenes could have been spent on something more valuable… like telling us who created the map!
NOTE: To those who wish to leave comments, please be respectful and do not spoil the ending for people who have yet to discover it. Look for the next installment of this article covering books 4 through 7 soon.