Harry Potter, circa 2040

Nov. 21, 2005, midnight | By Armin Rosen | 18 years, 4 months ago

A second chance

It's impossible to say which elements of this bloated pop culture of ours will find traction in a future whose tastes we can only predict. No one can say for sure if Harry Potter will join Sherlock Holmes, Frodo and Dracula on the short-list of great British fictional characters, or if the works of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis will be held in equal esteem. But this is a distinct possibility. It wouldn't surprise me either if future PhD theses explored everything from the septet's religious symbolism to its social and political allegory to its treatment of the teenage psyche. There hopefully won't be a lot of it, but there will be Harry Potter scholarship. One of these days.

It's not hard to see the Potter saga having the same cultural relevance in the future that "The Chronicles of Narnia" or "The Wizard of Oz" have today. It probably won't be considered great or classical literature, but literature doesn't have to be great or classical to endure. And my money's on Harry Potter enduring.

If it does, it isn't much of a stretch to think that at least one film studio will decide to right one of history's great cinematic wrongs: give the books the second chance on screen that they probably don't deserve, but desperately need. And to be successful, all it will have to do is:

Recognize that it's dealing with source material that was never meant to be put on film.

There are, I believe, certain works that should never, ever be adapted for the screen. Who, for instance, could play a tortured Holden Caulfield? What director in his right mind would negotiate the twists and turns of William Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness, even if it masks some of the most compelling stories ever told? What special effects wiz would conjure the tentacle-faced Cthulu, and what screenwriter would dare wrap his mind around "Tristram Shandy" or "Ulysses?" The Potter films are a perfect illustration as to why J.D. Salinger hasn't yet granted film rights for "The Catcher in the Rye": because some things are more powerful and meaningful in our imaginations and in our intellects than they are on screen.

With the damage already done and that barrier between the mental and physical world irrevocably breached, makers of any future Harry Potter movies cannot repeat the current directors' straightforward and uncreative portrayals of books that make such grueling demands on our imaginations. Harry Potter is one long appeal to the mind's eye—that's why we love it. But his world has received no drastic reinterpretation in the present films, only a bland and vanilla depiction that shuffles the viewer from one overdone special effects sequence to another. Cut back on the visual effects, provide an interpretation that isn't generic enough to work for the majority of viewers and give greater attention to the subtleties of plot and character development, and you've made marked progress in filming the unfilmable.

Find one director and settle on him.

By the time the fifth movie is completed, Daniel Radcliffe and friends will have been directed by four different people: Chris Columbus ("Sorcerer's Stone," "Chamber of Secrets"), Alfonso Cauron ("Prisoner of Azkaban"), Mike Newell ("Goblet of Fire") and David Yates ("Order of the Phoenix"). While there's little differentiating the directors' approach to their source material, I can't help but wonder how these movies would have been different as the single, unified vision of an individual filmmaker accustomed to his cast and crew and motivated to complete an almost Herculean feat of filmmaking.

It is essential that the future Harry Potter remakes be the undertaking of a single director. This really can't be stressed enough. There must be one artistic vision guiding the close to a decade-long process—not four.

Don't worry about commercial success.

Fifty years from now the current series will serve as testament to the powerful influence of Pottermania, and the first four movies have shown us exactly what we as Pottermaniacs want to see: occasionally the dark, but usually the bright, the whimsical and the magical.

As a result, they've brilliantly moved product and sold the Harry Potter brand name, as the mere fact that the books have been brought to life gives credence and justification to the inconceivable commercial campaign that's accompanied the books. With video games, clothing and Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans for sale, it's clear that the movies are the focal point of this campaign. The remakes will luckily have no such campaign to be the focal point of, a fact that our re-makers must use to their advantage.

And lastly, remember the words of the great Albus Dumbledore: "Soon we must all have to face the choice between what is right, and what is easy."

This is a choice that the current Potter filmmakers' have repeatedly and brazenly gotten wrong. Each has done what is artistically easy, and shied away from doing what is artistically right. The re-makers must not. Or else there might not be a third chance.

Armin Rosen. Armin is a Seeeeenyor in the Communication Arts Program. "I am a journalist and, under the modern journalist's code of Olympian objectivity (and total purity of motive), I am absolved of responsibility. We journalists don't have to step on roaches. All we have to do … More »

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