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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Film was done by the book, with author as consultant

By Audrey Woods
Associated Press

LONDON — They were entrusted with a story loved by millions of children — a book many young readers just about know by heart.

So the Hollywood filmmakers who transferred Harry Potter from the printed page felt a huge responsibility not to mess it up.

"It worked on its own and it worked for millions of people — millions of readers, adults and children," says director Chris Columbus. "I felt to change it would be just foolish."

Many moviemakers over the years have wrestled with how to adapt a beloved book, with varying degrees of success. Filmmakers naturally approach a story differently than a novelist does. Yet major changes could alienate an audience that is emotionally attached to the book.

In the case of Harry Potter, the filmmakers worked closely with author J.K. Rowling. But she didn't see the finished film, written by Steve Kloves, until recently.

"I was as nervous a producer as you could imagine," producer David Heyman says of showing Rowling the film.

Kids' verdicts on "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" won't be known until after the movie opens Friday. Rowling has already given hers — an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Instead of relegating her to the shadows where original authors often end up, producer and director said they welcomed Rowling on board as a much appreciated collaborator.

"If you were going to do 'Dracula' and you had access to Bram Stoker, why wouldn't you want to talk to him?" Columbus says.

There is a Hollywood history, however, of departing from text. Sometimes the result is just fine: Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" in 1964 bore as little resemblance to P.L. Travers' books as the bubbly Julie Andrews did to the rather dour governess so beloved of a generation of readers. Yet the movie and its star were a huge success.

As with Harry Potter, the makers of the movie "Gone With the Wind" were working with a hugely successful, recently published novel that many readers had taken to heart. Producer David O. Selznick was determined to create a faithful adaptation, even risking criticism for being too faithful.

Censors had objected to the language in Rhett Butler's famous goodbye, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," but Selznick insisted it stay. Under pressure from the NAACP, an unofficial adviser for the movie, he did agree to remove some of the novel's racist language.

Rowling has finished four Potter books and promises three more, so the whole Hogwarts crew is a work in progress.

Fans know the books inside out. They know the secrets of Harry's heart, the complex character of Ron Weasley's pet rat and exactly how Hogwarts look. And they aren't going to be fobbed off with an imitation.

Columbus says he resisted any Americanization of dialogue or characters. If Ron says "Brilliant!" in the British edition of the book, then that's what he says in the film — not "Wonderful," as in the American edition.

"I vowed to make the film as British as possible," the director says.

"Did they redub 'A Hard Day's Night?' Did they redub 'A Man for All Seasons?' No, and we're not going to do it with this one."

As with the book, the film's title is different on either side of the Atlantic, however; in Britain, it's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone."

Some in Britain worried about whether an American director could be trusted with a British hero. Many British moviegoers and critics have chafed at Hollywood's past treatment of British stories.

"The worry was that if ... (Harry Potter) became Americanized it would be dated. Suddenly he'd be chewing gum" and wearing running shoes, says actor Robbie Coltrane, who plays Hagrid the lovable giant.

The broad humor in Columbus' best-known work — "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" — made some wonder how he would handle Rowling's wry and mischievous humor.

"I was concerned to begin with," Coltrane says, adding that he had decided not to take the part if, after meeting with Columbus, he didn't think the director was right for the movie. "But I was utterly convinced, just from the way he talked; I knew he completely grasped the whole thing."