Following the release of the first few Harry Potter novels the film industry quickly jumped on the bandwagon, conjuring up eight movies, a theme park and a merchandising extravaganza to match Star Wars.
Each film was an event, and with the exception of the final two instalments, woefully incomplete.
In all fairness, the confines of the medium should be taken into account. To recreate every scene and aspect of JK Rowling’s novels verbatim for the big screen would be unwieldly and torturous: even the biggest Harry Potter diehard would be hard-pressed to sit in a cinema for fifteen hours without suffering severe fatigue or distraction.
Which is exactly why the medium never suited it. It may have been captivating to see the beloved characters reimagined on the big screen, but there was absolutely no way that any single film could do justice to the complexity of the novels and its multitude of characters.
Truncation was not just unfortunate, it was inevitable by default.
If fans of the books were left writhing, people who hadn’t read them were left highly confused. From roughly Order of the Phoenix onward, the movies became incomprehensible to anyone who couldn’t mentally fill in the gaps left by the hyper compression of the novels.
For one of the most popular series of children’s books ever written, this should be considered nothing less than a disservice. Yet it is a misfortune that could easily be rectified by doing it again, from scratch, on television, in an extended format that would do it justice.
In the decade or so since Harry Potter debuted as a movie, substantial changes have occurred, and film is no longer the automatic go-to for adaptations. Creatives are increasingly turning to television instead to bring amazing stories to life.
Cult show Hannibal ended last week, the latest iteration of Thomas Harris’ novels green-lit after five films, only one of which (The Silence of the Lambs) actually did any service to one of modern literature’s most complex characters.
Having more time to delve into its own mythology, while indulging its actors and audience with luridly long tête-à-têtes between cerebral bromancers Hannibal and Will, the series was a treat for fans who wanted that much more time to explore Harris’ intricately drawn characters.
HBO’s flagship program Game of Thrones remains the most talked-about TV show in the world, roughly adapting one of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels per season. Loved and eagerly anticipated, the idea of first adapting any one or more of the novels into a film, given its already sprawling character-set and geography, would once have been met with disapproval and now with outright derision.
Neil Gaiman’s spectacular novel American Gods has also been imagined as a series in various forms over several years. Ideally styled for either an episodic or more free-flowing TV serial, Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller has wisely taken the helm for the now increasingly accepted form of adaptation, rather than attempting to transform the lengthy novel into an inevitably flawed film.
Not everything suits TV and there are times when two to three hours will do just fine for an adaptation: the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings novels, albeit skipping large aspects of the trilogy, were hugely enjoyable and a triumph in modern filmmaking.
But the Harry Potter films were not.
So much was lost in the desperate race to film compact adaptations; so many Quidditch games, minor characters, potions classes and meaningful moments in the characters’ lives were disregarded or scrapped. The role of Cedric Diggory, central to at least two of the books, was relegated to only a few scenes in one film.
Characters that spanned the entire series including Peeves the Poltergeist and Professor Binns weren’t included at all, while entire sub-storylines involving Hermione, the Weasleys and any number of favourite characters were mercilessly hacked to bits in order to fit a pre-determined running time.
A Netflix series or the like could explore all this and not only let the characters grow at an organic pace, but also provide an opportunity to expand on the Hogwarts universe and give rise to new stories.
It’s been long enough since the movies; there’s an opportunity to do Harry Potter justice. And with shows like Game of Thrones providing the perfect template, TV’s the way to go.