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Writer's Block

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Harry Potter's Murky Matters

Writing screenplay from an already published material is an art - be faithful & at the same time be unfaithful to the source. Good writers/directors appreciate the fully developed characters in the book (or a comic strip or a theatre play or a short story), capture the essence and carve a new character that retains the juice of it's book counterpart. Movie being a visual & audio medium, it has it's pros & cons over the print medium. A book has the freedom to elaborately go on about how a broken girl feels; if the director of the movie decides not to use a voice-over, he has to employ visual techniques & background music to bring out how she feels. To ask a screenwriter to be supremely loyal to the source essentially kills his/her artistic creativity & could very well result in a bad product.

The problem with adapting a phenomenon like Harry Potter to the screen is in figuring out what to excise & what not to. Steve Kloves, the man behind the scripts so far has had a demanding job because of humongous expectations; and we know the corollary: when the expectations are huge, there is bound to be disappointment. A hardcore Potter fan's disappointment is justified when he sees a movie that's different from the one that has run in his mind - which is essentially a validated compomise in writing for screen. But my disappointment (a casual Harry Potter reader) arises because of a confused, and a somewhat incomplete adaptation. The movies are entirely understandable only to those who've read the books. Whereas as good screenplay would have invited the viewer (who hasn't read the book) to take a shot at the book.

J.K.Rowling is one hell of a story teller. Yes, some of her ideas are age old and some of the plot points border on illogic; but she is a model of narrative continuity. Not at one single sentence in the four books I've read so far have I scratched my head in terms of the flow of the story. My wife, for example, forgets to blink while re-reading Potter - that's how captivating is the world of magic she has created. But Kloves gives no care to the niceties. Here's a list of fouls committed by him in the fourth movie, 'Goble of Fire'. He conveniently takes it for granted that the viewers already know about the characters - he forget to establish them. And worse, there are places he gives a wrong impression: Dumbledore is seen as a tense man near the end of the movie, while the book always paints him as a wise old man who knows what to do when things go wrong. In order to economize the number of actors, side characters from the book are cut & their lines are given to super-side characters: house elf Winky is nowhere to be seen. Timelines are confusing, which reduces the power of the story: Dumbledore informs the students of the return of Voldemort & then has a soothing chat with Potter. One line explanations of interesting ideas that will make the one's who haven't read the book go haywire: 'Priori Incantatem'.

In a time when print publishers are losing business & sleep, this series revolutionizes the industry and instills the habit of reading books in kids who're increasingly addicted to www. I find it very essential for the filmmakers to be passionate about the subject. Peter Jackson breathed oxygen into 'Lord of the Rings', because he was crazy about Tolkien's masterpiece since he was a kid. Spielberg asked Zallian to rewrite 'Schindler's List' a number of times until it matched his vision. Though there are hundreds of Shakespeare's renditions on screen, the one they talk about is Kenneth Branagh's, because he proclaims himself to be a supreme fan of the greatest bard. If Warener Brothers just wanted to make some Harry Potter marketing buzz and ride on the maniacal hordes' irresistance to read the visual book, let them; but it won't be remembered. Definitely down the timeline, we're going to see a Potter fanatic who'll have all the details down to the colours of corner pixels who will sweep us all - and that one will stand the test of time.

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