The Film-Versus-Books Debate on Harry Potter

By Karen Chin

31766_399044806329_6603271_nWHEN IT COMES to movies, some people get annoyed when someone says, “The book was way better!” To some, the comment may bear a condescending undertone as to suggest to ‘try a reading a book once in a while, why don’t you?’ but from people like me, it truly is just an honest literal truth.


When the very first Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone) came out in early 2000, my well-meaning aunt suggested for me to watch it, saying it was a very interesting movie. By then, Harry Potter had already gathered a lot of heat; and although essentially for children, adults were raving about it as well. Fantasy and magic weren’t really my cup of tea when it comes to movie genres, but upon recommendation, I gave the movie a try.


I was not impressed and stopped watching after 15 minutes. I was bored. The movie was mostly dark throughout, featured then-unheard-of children actors, unattractive and pompous characters with unfamiliar European accents, and even though it was about magic, it had an incredibly slow storyline.


A few years after the Harry Potter craze started, I came across a stray book in a house that I was temporarily renting. At that time, I was bored whenever I was at home; no smartphone, no laptop, no internet. So, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets became my companion in the otherwise lonely and bleak home… and I was hooked.


Soon after, I started buying and building my Harry Potter book collection, and started watching the movies. Today, I am a self-proclaimed Harry Potter fanatic solely because of the books. I still think the movies suck though. I owe so much to JK Rowling, her awesome imagination, her writing and her books for putting me in an invested relationship with the characters for years.


Reading gives you more details.


The first book starts off about Harry Potter’s uncle Mr. Dursley thirteen years ago, on the day he found Harry abandoned on his doorstep. The writing style is hilarious; and the recollection of funny happenings that day was told in detail. The book gave me insight to the character; his thoughts, his motivation, his fears and worries. The big screen version of Mr. Dursley was just simply an angry uncle, who for some unknown reason, held some pretty intense resentment for his nephew.


In the movie however, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone starts off dark. An old man (“oh my god, is this Gandalf?”) appears on the street, somehow turns off all the streetlights and talks to a cat which then later transforms into a woman. For someone who doesn’t get it, it will just be that.


For people who have read the book, they will know that that man is the great wizard Dumbledore, and he has a magical lighter that can turn on lights anywhere and that the cat’s fur markings are in the shape of spectacles because it is actually a professor who is also an animagus which is your animal counterpart you can transform into with magic, but one needs to have a license to be a legal animagus, and that can be done through registering with the ‘Ministry of Magic’.


See how much difference reading the book makes? That’s only the first 5 minutes of the movie.


When you watch a movie, there are certain things that are limited to the film’s timeframe. When you read the book, you can find out more about the significance of certain things. In the book Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, there was a lot of information about the villain Voldemort. It talks about his childhood and how he became what he was. In the movie, it was really just touch-and-go superficial information. Even the last book had to be divided into two movies, each a year apart. Still, it was disappointing.

Books take your imagination out for a jog.


When I was reading all the Harry Potter books, it brought me into a world of magic. When I was watching the movie, it dragged me into the hells of boredom. The book was witty and funny, while the movie felt more like a supplement for those who already read the book. When characters and places are not yet given a face, it can become anything and that is one of the best parts about reading the book. For me, I can imagine all of the male characters as unbelievably handsome and all the girls breathtakingly beautiful, and no one can stop me.


Movies let you watch someone else’s interpretation.


After reading the books, I was a tad more excited about the movies. Watching the magical objects come to life, such as the moving staircase in the school which is never at the same place you left it, the animated portraits, or even the hippogriff. I guess you could say I became more invested. The movies served just as a treat to the visual senses, a tickle for my obsession with the books.


I was also excited to see how the producers interpreted the supporting characters and who they cast for the role. For example in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, there were a few new characters that I couldn’t wait to see. The enchanting Fleur Delacour who was supposedly the most beautiful ‘creature’ ever, also spoilt, was plain and quiet in the movie.


Which parts did they change?


In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, they cut out a huge chunk of the story involving a house elf. Many times, the parts of the story were left out of the movie to make it fit into an hour or two. Then, there’s the visual-versus-intellect factor where movies are made to stimulate the visual senses. The fight and action scenes are exaggerated by using drama and special effects. It is just not the same with books.


Sometimes, the book is better off being read by someone else and then made into an awesome movie for the rest of us.


Although I do not agree with the above statement for the Harry Potter series, a book can be so unreadable, that only special interested people can read it and then turn it into a “chewable” movie for the rest of us. Ditto Cloud Atlas. I loved the movie so much that I went to the cinema three times, sat through the 3-hour long movie each time without a blink and then went home and watched it a few more times again with the same intensity. It was so brilliant, I downloaded the e-book but I didn’t make it past two flicks (as in page turns).

What books do you want to see turned into a movie?

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