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More notes on The Movie (and movies-from-books in general) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
More notes on The Movie (and movies-from-books in general)
Well, now that the 3:00 am business is wearing off, the irritating things in the movie are getting to me more and the prettiness is getting to me less. But still, compared to expectations, I'm in the positive column.

In general, there are a few good things about even bad movies made from books.

  • They give a shared visual palette--the icons and mood themes and such that we can all recognize instantly are just fun. (Of course, we all pretty much recognize seviet's visual stuff, too--now that would be a good mood theme set!)

  • A "moment." HP books do get a splashy release date, but most don't, and even with HP, the hoopla doesn't last long in the public eye. A movie sitting there is like a big beacon calling everyone to drop in and have some fun.

  • Community. Reading is solitary, even when you go and talk about it later. Going to a movie theater is a community event, the same as going to a storytelling has been since the beginning of human culture. It's good for the ol' tribal instinct to laugh and hiss and cheer with other people who love a story.

That said, there are some things here that are driving me bananas.

If you're a purist (as everyone knows I am), people keep harping to "treat the movie as a separate thing!" Okay, fine. So, treating it as a separate thing means not going in with the book in your head. So why are the same people justifying omissions of absolutely vital plot points and set-up? As a book fan, I can fill in the blanks on MWPP, but if I'm to evaluate the movie without reference to the book, I'm left with only the huge problem that the animagus stuff comes blatantly out of nowhere. And don't try to do, "Well, it won't matter to someone who hasn't read the books," because of course it will--the whole plot sequence depends on it and Kloves and Cuaron failed to set it up. This isn't a subjective criticism--it's an objective--and serious--fault in the storytelling structure.

Also, take the rushing from scene to scene, the mutilation of the beginning--there's no way Kloves is thinking, "I'll retell this story for people who don't know the whole thing already." Because part of intelligent story structure is spending some time in the "ordinary world"--the Dursley world--so that we can see the change in the character develop. This is a basic tenet of storytelling in any medium, and someone developing an original script would have to do this as much as someone adapting a novel. That's the point of the Tatooine sequence in Star Wars, the Kansas sequence in Wizard of Oz, and the pre-war flirtations in Gone With The Wind. So, judging the movie as a movie--not as an adaptation--that's a huge, glaring fault, and when critics say, "Oh, that's only something fanatical purists would worry about," I want to throw several stacks of writing books I own at them. It has nothing to do with the fidelity level, it has to do with narrative pacing. Rowling got it right; Kloves got it wrong. If he'd gotten the pacing right but omitted Aunt Marge and made Dudley and Harry best friends, then I'd be complaining about infidelity, and doing so as a book purist. Complaining about the pacing is complaining about the technical skill of writing, and I am doing so as a writer.


I have to tie this up now, but I'll probably write a bit more later.


Well, to keep on the "Not criticizing as a purist" kick, I thought I'd try to demonstrate what I mean. There are over 600 extant versions of Cinderella, differing in a lot of details from one to the next, so I can take lots of variations on the story. But here's one that would make my head spin.

Cinderella had a nasty stepmother and two nasty stepsisters. There was a ball coming up. The stepmother said Cinderella couldn't go, and Cinderella said, "I'm so going, buzz off, bitch." So Cinderella left, and ran into her fairy godmother, who gave her a dress and turned a pumpkin into a coach.

She got into the coach and started up the treacherous mountain road, as lighting and thunder raged around her. The horses were spooked, and the reins were slick in her hands. Water sluiced around the wheels, ever on the verge of washing the carriage off the road and into the abyss below.

As she rounded a bend, the rear wheel caught on the edge of a rock and swung the coach into open air. Cinderella fought for control, climbing onto the backs of the horses to take weight off the carriage and finally pulling the whole thing back onto the road. She stopped and rested for a moment, exhausted.

At last, she reached her destination. The palace gates swung wide and she drove in. A friendly livery worker with an Irish accent helped her dry her dress out.

When she got inside, she saw her stepsisters, who didn't recognize her. One of them made a rude comment about her. Cinderella took no notice.

She spent a great deal of time talking to the king, and to the livery boy, and to some maids-in-waiting, who asked her for hair care tips. Then she danced with the prince, who turned out to be crazy about her. But she had to leave by midnight, as everyone knows (though her fairy godmother had failed to remind her) that all clothing enchantments end at midnight. As she ran, one of her shoes fell off.

By the way, she had really small feet, and the shoes were glass. I forgot to mention that.

She had to rush now, or she wouldn't make it home before her stepmother. The carriage thundered around the pass where she'd had such difficulty earlier, but as she descended toward the valley, the bridge over the small stream had been washed away in the flood! She jumped from the carriage and and swam the raging waters, leading the horses as well as she could, because if she allowed them to still be in the water when they turned back to mice (um, yeah--they used to be mice), they would drown. And a pumpkin sitting the stream might be suspicious, and destroy everything. Finally, she made it to the far bank, just as the enchantment ended.

The end.

Prince, what prince?
13 comments or Leave a comment
lync From: lync Date: June 5th, 2004 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Thinking about it after the fact - with regards to the animagus stuff anyway - I agree with you. There is a quick reference to it in a spot where it's not SUPPOSED to be referenced and that's it. That got screwed up with the first movie though where McGonagall changed into the cat in class. *sigh*

I'll have to ponder on your comments about the opening. I did notice a lot missing but I was just so happy to be there! LOL

I liked the movie overall but the transitions were too much. The scenes with the dementors flying around Hogwarts were too much. Do we have to sit and stare at a flower for 30 seconds to a minute before we see it freeze/die? No. I think that time could have been better spent.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2004 08:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, yeah. I was so delighted to be with the crowd and enjoying that HP moment that I was more than slightly buzzed from it.

I did like the flower and didn't hate the Flying Dementors (tm), but it was like Cuaron's slow, lush style was being alternated with, rather than combined with, Klove's fast blow-by-blow.
lync From: lync Date: June 5th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't have a problem with the addition of the artsy bits... I quite liked them for the most part... I just thought they were overused.

I'm sure I'll think of more things that will bug me the next few times I see it. ;)
leelastarsky From: leelastarsky Date: June 5th, 2004 09:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I have to say I agree with you on this, despite the fact that I have yet to see this particular film.
I firmly believe that all the HP films should start at the Durselys and end with the kids at least getting on the train to go home. It would give the films a much needed continuity as well as polish them off really nicely.
Sadly, we're not even going to see the Dursleys in GoF and...well, I have no idea where they're going to start it, but that much needed grounding in the real world will be missing. I think the film will suffer for it, and the audience's empthy with Harry will be less.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2004 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)
My guess is that they'll open GoF with a Quidditch sequence from the World Cup game, with the crowd already in the stadium. We'll get nothing before then.
From: ireact Date: June 5th, 2004 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I think your thoughts on the pacing of the Harry Potter films are dead on. You're very articulate.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2004 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. :)
ronniekinns From: ronniekinns Date: June 5th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I loved the Cinderella thing. That was perfect, and I agree with you that that was essentially PoA -- not enough description at the beginning, way too much at the ending.

And I definitely agree that there was no way you could have understood the movie if you hadn't read the books.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2004 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
And yet, when there's a problem with the movie, you're supposed to say, "Oh, it's not the book!" Make up your minds, critics. Is the movie dependent on the book or not?
thatmadgirl From: thatmadgirl Date: June 5th, 2004 11:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I've been snooping around journals of people posting in hp100 in hopes of finding thoughtful film reviews... not disappointed. :)

I think you're right on with the Cinderella thing. I simply cannot wrap my head around what must have influenced the decision to leave out the explanations in the film. I mean, how hard would it have been for Lupin to ask at the end, "By the way, Harry, what form did your patronus take?" Maybe, just maybe, they could have squeezed in that extra two minutes of film by taking out Hermione's gratuitous screwing-with-time-saving-the-day bits. *sigh*

I also think you're right about the Remus and Lily. There is something important there, though I'm not sure what. It's just completely bizarre that the conversation would take that turn instead of explaning the friendship between James/Sirius/Peter/Remus. Ack, I wish I could get into Steve Klove's head.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 5th, 2004 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

A script usually runs about 1 page per screen minute

and PoA is what, about 300 pages?

So I certainly didn't expect to see everything. I think Kloves managed to extract the basic plot - from Hagrid's appointment through the Buckbeak "execution", from Lupin to the Marauders Map to the Shrieking Shack (pity about Crookshanks, however). He got the skeleton of the story, but how it was fleshed out...
But is that Kloves or is it Cuaron as director?

I simply can't think of another series where scripts have been written about the same three characters by the same author that are supposed to show the development of character as HP movies do. Kloves is in a unique situation. He's got characters who are supposed to grow up and mature: kids to adults with all the rocky bumps included. His style of writing was consistent from SS to CoS. but we had the same director, hence the looks and feel of both movies had a consistency (and frankly, a glamour and beauty I found very appealing.) But now we have Kloves with a new director and it begs the question: what is Kloves' work and what is Cuaron's direction?

It strains to believe that the writing style of Kloves would have undergone a significant change between films using the same characters. I know writers use different styles - look at Lawrence Kasdan's canon and you'll see a spectrum of style from Body Heat (still the sexiest movie I've ever seen) to the epic Star Wars sagas to the action/adventure serial Raiders of the Lost Ark. But he was working with different characters in different types of movies - each demands its own palette.

I don't think that Kloves is totally responsible for the things that irritate me the most. Superhero!Hermione was certainly his creation. I tend to think that the choppiness of the scenes results from direction, not from script. We've heard lots of comments about how willing to "work with the actors" Cuaron was. I have to wonder what was lost and thought to be gained in that.

The two most satisfactory scenes were the Shrieking Shack and, despite the discrepancy with canon, the scene with the boggart!Dementor. Both had the power of conclusion. You had satisfaction at the end when Harry successfully repelled the boggart (let's just not mention that it didn't happen in the book that way and grossly undermined the power of his success later in the movie.) Maybe it was just the chemistry of Thewlis and Radcliffe - you could honestly feel the respect between the characters and the actors in that scene. I don't think either of them hit a sour note.

Again in the Shrieking Shack - power. Raw power. Oldman was fantastic - Sirius was bitter, revengeful and at the same time, he could reunite with his old friend and be real enough to convince Harry of the truth.

Harry standing in a doorway during his orders to Lupin and Black not to kill Pettigrew - that struck me as so very right. I'll give Cuaron that one. Beautiful. It led to the right conclusion - turning Pettigrew over to the Dementors. It was concluded. The scene ENDED. It wasn't chopped too early. It worked.

So, who's responsible? Writer or Director? That's what I would really like to know. Know any journalists who would be willing to as those questions?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 5th, 2004 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: A script usually runs about 1 page per screen minute

Actually, I thought the Shrieking Shack scene was one of the weakest in the movie--no emotional power at all because the rest of the movie hadn't bothered to set it up.

A minute per page is a minute of script per page. Parts of the novel are description, which take no script time, or introspections, which take very little time.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 6th, 2004 03:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Setup in the Second DADA Class

No. The concept that needed to be set up wasn't that there was such a thing as an animagus--we know that from McGonagall, and the name isn't a major issue. What needs to be set up is that it's difficult and requires registration with the proper authorities. And the most important thing to know about the animagus business is that the other three did this difficult thing, illegally, in order to keep Remus company, which wasn't even touched on.

The bit about comparing werewolves and animagi was kind of silly, too, as the two have almost nothing to do with one another, so it would be difficult to justify in a DADA class, where the original question is more important--what's the difference between a werewolf and a true wolf?
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