Harry Is Here
And Fact Monster goes to the movies
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It's the $125-million question, if rumors about the movie's budget are true—will Harry's fans love him onscreen? The answer may be yes. The movie is close enough to the book to satisfy those who worried that mincemeat would be made of our hero's story, yet it's also a vivid, and sometimes enchanting, film experience.
Filmmakers were in a bind. Millions of fans wanted the movie to closely follow the book—and so did author J. K. Rowling. The film couldn't take the sort of liberties as did, say, the Wizard of Oz movie, which was made decades after the book's release (and the author's death). The Harry movie makes few changes, and these are generally fine; the London Zoo scene may be even more fun onscreen, and Hagrid's house looks just right made of stone rather than wood. Peeves is absent and the Sorting Hat doesn't sing, but to fit in everything would have taken a miniseries or two.
On the other hand, the filmmakers were golden. They had a huge budget and a project that attracted stellar actors. The cast is the best thing about the film—it's excellent, from newcomers to big names. Standouts include Alan Rickman as the spine-crawlingly loathsome Snape and Emma Watson as a complex and endearing Hermione. As Harry, Daniel Radcliffe projects a perfect blend of bewilderment and maturity. Some famed character actors appear for just minutes—the fine Julie Walters plays Mrs. Weasley in one brief scene. It's terrific to see a kids' book get this kind of treatment.
Are there surprises? Not really. But the movie does the job, which may be praise enough. Some of the sensory details are wonderful. The fearful clashing of Fluffy's three jaws; Hermione dwarfed by Hagrid's giant chair; students plotting over their great greasy English breakfasts; Harry sitting in a moonlit window, stroking Hedwig's snowy feathers. These are pleasures that film can offer. And the Quidditch scene, with its whizzing, whirling players, makes clear why sports are best watched live.
In striving to fit in all the key scenes, the movie becomes a high-action recap of Harry's year. What gets lost is the small stuff—which is also the potent stuff. Gone are the sly humor and wordplay; Harry's range of feelings; the fact that he is an ordinary boy with struggles that resonate with children and adults alike. As a result, the movie probably won't have the wide appeal that the book enjoys. A book is an open-ended adventure, in which readers of different ages can make their own connections. The movie is fun and it's eye-catching. But it's just one vision (among many) of Harry's world.