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Saturday, November 17th, 2001

Time Event
Saw Harry Potter. Felt like I was reading the book again -- or at least skimming it. Bobby was hunched up in the seat next to me with a bag of popcorn on his lap, and reacted just about like I expected. He got scared once or twice, with his typical "What's going to happen?????" whimper when a story gets scary. I reminded him that he'd read this and knew what was going to happen, but of course he was asking the question because he wanted reassurance, not because he didn't know the answer. I hid his eyes for a bit of the end, mostly because the scene was tense enough that his question carried through the whole (packed, yet hushed) theater. :) Nevertheless, he was very excited about it afterwards and wanted to keep talking about it after being put to bed, despite being very tired.

Two different kids near us kept up a running spoiler commentary throughout. ("That's X. Later on, he's going to Y.") If you're seeing the movie without first reading the book, you've been warned.

As for my reaction... It's well-known that it's a /very/ faithful adaptation, so I don't consider that a spoiler, but I have some reactions to that which might be. Here's what I'll do. (can anyone read LiveJournal with a non-white background color?) Highlight the rest of this post in your browser if you've either seen the movie or don't mind seeing my response to it, which deals as much with the upcoming LotR as with Harry Potter...

What the reviewers have said is more or less what I think, both good (extensive) and flawed (a bit). I did like the movie a lot, and Bobby loved it. If there's a flaw, it's that they tried to cram every scene from the book into the movie, omitting much of the dialogue and thus most of the character development, plot, and surprise. Probably this was a good move, for a book that so many kids have read -- the aforementioned spoiler-kids were clearly distressed that Snape's Challenge was missing, near the end -- but as a movie, the plot wound up being pretty thin, and as an adaptation I think it demonstrates that it is possible to be too faithful.

Only one deviation from the book actively disappointed me. In the movie, Hagrid got Fluffy from "an Irish feller I met in a bar". There was NO reason not to have made him Greek as the book did. Diminishes the connection to actual mythology. (Not that this irritates me nearly as much as does the title change of the book/movie in the U.S.)

But about the adaptation: the book is, in fact, pretty thin on plot, spending time instead on character and setting, and the movie reflected this. (The setting and characters are enchanting, so that's not necessarily bad). A book, however, can spend only a page here and page there on important things and still make it significant; it's harder for a movie to move a plot along that way without distracting the viewer. It made me think that not enough attention was paid (perhaps deliberately) to the inherent differences in the two media.

As I've been thinking for years about book-to-movie adaptations for other reasons (like, oh, something about hobbits), concentrating on this flaw has helped the purist in me finally shut up. I would have preferred there to be no Nearly Headless Nick at all than to have him appear, take up a minute or more of screen time, and accomplish nothing -- and more seriously, it would have been better not to have the House Cup point-scoring subplot at all than to have Dumbledore's assignment of last-minute points come out of nowhere at the end. (Tell me that wasn't confusing to anyone who hasn't read the book.)

Minor flaws. The movie is still a good movie and a very good book adaptation. But the cuts from the book were too even. Half of every scene, you might say, instead of half the scenes. With some work and imagination, there could have been smarter elision of characters and scenes, and more character development (more plot would have had to be an invention) accomplished in the same long two and a half hours. I think, however, that that's inevitable in this book adaptation, because children who've memorized the book will remember the scenes but not the dialogue, and be disappointed by any change at all. IT was important to be a faithful adaptation first and a good movie second.

But LotR is different. Most people who have read it have read it only once, and more than a decade ago, and are adults. They'll be more forgiving of differences and will be looking to see a good movie first and good adaptation second -- I think.

So there will be no Tom Bombadil, Old Man Willow, Barrow-Wight, Radagast, or Glorfindel. All I have to do is remember Nearly Headless Nick and the House Cup to know why this is a good thing.

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