Monday, December 9

An 870-page book can’t fit in a two-hour movie


With fans across the country and across the world recovering from camping out for midnight screenings of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and preparing for a few more sleepless nights with the release of the seventh and final book, it seems Potter mania has taken the Muggle world by storm.

While the print-to-visual adaptation can be tricky, turning the series into films seemed only natural because of its success.

However, although it is a best-selling book series with fans in the millions, even highly successful stories such as “Harry Potter” incur a good amount of turbulence on the path from pages to movie screens.

Fourth-year psychobiology student and long-time fan Stacy Chang lined up outside the Mann Bruin Theatre to see the fifth “Harry Potter” film last Tuesday night in her finest Hogwarts uniform. Although she enjoys watching the movies, Chang admits she holds them to different standards than their literary predecessors.

“I appreciate the (“Harry Potter”) film as the movie, not as a representation of the book,” she said.

Richard Walter, a professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, also believes the books and the movies need to be treated separately.

“Imagine you’re writing a screenplay which is adapted from material from another medium, for example an adaptation from a novel. What do you owe the original material? It’s a one-word answer: nothing. What you owe is a good movie to the audience.”

Due to the novels’ popularity, it can seem movies have nothing to prove to their audience, garnering large audiences no matter what is on the screen. Walter believes film franchises such as “Harry Potter” are a cheap and formulaic approach to filmmaking.

“It’s the death of the imagination. … You know in a minute what you’re going to get,” Walter said. “The most dangerous thing you can do as an artist is try to play it safe.”

Walter is particularly disappointed by the audience response to the emerging popularity of franchises in the film industry. “Harry Potter” took in more than $44 million in its opening day.

“(When) you go to the James Bond movie, you’re going to get James Bond. … What it’s not going to be is really fresh and eye-opening and exciting and transforming, … because it’s already familiar,” Walter said, “I think audiences now have lower expectations. (But) when I go to the movies, I don’t want to get what I expect, I want to be surprised.”

A fan of big film franchises, fifth-year computer science student Keith Stevens believes when films change the original material it usually goes wrong, especially when they omit important aspects of a story line.

“(In “˜The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’) they focused too much on the war scenes, … whereas that last part of the book really tells you a lot about all the characters and it wraps everything up nicely. And they just flat out cut it out,” Stevens said.

Whether the movie manages to enhance the original literary experience or simply creates an alternative experience, it seems the “Harry Potter” film series will always have its share of steadfast fans.

Chang, for example, feels a faithful affection toward the series in any form, especially since she grew up with it since she was in seventh grade. And Chang, now 21 years old, has no plans to grow out of the Potter craze anytime soon.

“My brother (is) 25 and he still dresses up like Harry Potter,” Chang said. “I don’t care if I’m walking through Westwood with my cape and my wand.”

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