Monday, August 27, 2007

Disorder of the Phoenix

I have to confess that until just a few weeks ago, I had only gotten as far as the fourth book in the Harry Potter series. My wife and eldest son, however, have long since finished the entire collection, including the seventh, The Deathly Hallows. So, since the latest movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is based on the fifth book, I decided I'd better get cracking.

In the case of screen adaptations, personally, I prefer seeing the movie only after first reading the book. A few days back and forth to work on the bus, and I was done. I thought the story was much stronger than the previous four books, leaving me ready to see a very exciting movie.

Now, for the most part, the Harry Potter films have failed to disappoint me in their adherence to the structure of the books. And I'd hoped that this latest film would be no different. Although I also realized that there is a lot going on in the fifth book and the film would probably need to be a bit longer than the rest to fit it all in, my hope for a faithful adaptation was riding high.

Ah, the word adaptation...adapt..."to make something suitable for a new use or purpose; modify"


Yeah, they certainly did that alright. They adapted the crap out of it. I don't know what the deal was with the filmmakers wanting to shave down the longest book in the series to make the shortest film of the series. I would've gladly sat through thirty more minutes if it meant a more faithful rendition.

The worst part about this hack job was that, in the interest of brevity, a number of key things were either left out or altogether changed. For instance: (WARNING: MAJOR BOOK & FILM SPOILERS BELOW!)

1. Quidditch. There wasn't any. None! No one even mentioned it. Who the hell wants to see a Harry Potter film with no quidditch? In the book, Ron joins the team (and is horrible), Ginny joins the team (and is pretty good), and Harry gets banned for life from playing.

2. Cho. Yeah, she's Harry's love interest, but she's no snitch. At least not in the book.

3. Baby-Headed Death Eater. This scene was so freaking bizarre in the book and it's a shame it's not in the film. I really hope it shows up as a deleted scene on the DVD.

4. St. Mungo's. Personally, I thought the gang running into Neville and his parents in St. Mungo's (in the book) was much more powerful than Neville calmly saying to Harry, "You know, Voldemort screwed up my parents. 'Preciate it if you didn't mention it." And Kenneth Branagh could've had a great cameo.

5. Battles. Dumbledore kicks ass in his office. The kids put the beat down on the Death Eaters in the Ministry. And Harry goes nuts in Dumbledore's office like a rock star in a hotel room. Too bad none of it made it into the film.

Overall, the movie felt disjointed and the scenes seemed to be connected only by the editor's hand. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't horrible. It just could've been so much better with a little more screen time.

This raises a fundamental question in screenwriting and adaptations. Does the screenplay owe anything to the original material? Not a lick. It's an adaptation. A modification of the original work. So it's okay to take a few liberties. But this is an insanely popular story franchise we're talking about, so it's gotta be just right. The first few movies nailed it. This one should've, too.