A long time ago in a magical galaxy far, far away, legendary director Steven Spielberg was in talks to direct a little film entitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The LA Times, in their piece, “A Hollywood History of the Harry Potter Property”, explains that Warner Bros., having just purchased the rights to J.K. Rowling’s novels (for only $2 million!) back when Potter was little more than an overseas sensation, contacted DreamWorks in the hopes of securing a financial partner. DreamWorks was reluctant at first, but jumped on board once the books became a worldwide phenomenon, and suggested that Spielberg direct the first film.
“I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct,” Warner Bros. president Alan Horn said. “We offered it to him. But one of the notions of Dreamworks’ and Steven’s was, ‘Let’s combine a couple of the books, let’s make it animated,’ and that was because of the [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don’t blame them. But I did not want to combine the movies, and I wanted it to be live action.”
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As we countdown to the finale of the most successful film series of all time, many a website are offering a look back at the extraordinary Harry Potter franchise, which kicked off way back in 1997 with the overseas release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. At this point, it’s intriguing to imagine the various roads the franchise might’ve gone down had it fallen into different hands.
Personally, I’m glad The Beard’s take didn’t pan out. An animated adaptation of the popular wizard would’ve looked handsome on the screen, and would’ve been quite popular to boot. Yet, part of the fun afforded by the films was watching stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson literally blossom into full blown movie stars right before our eyes. An animated film would’ve jettisoned all of that in favor of pixilated incarnations of Harry, Ron and Hermione – ironic when you consider Spielberg is currently adapting The Adventures of Tintin with such a process.
And what if Spielberg had gotten his wish and combined several of the books into one narrative? Imagine four or five Potter films as opposed to the current seven (well, eight when considering Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts One and Two). Imagine what parts of the books might have been jettisoned.
Granted, Rowling’s long-winded narrative might have benefited from such a compact technique. I always felt that many parts of Order of the Phoenix and Goblet of Fire were unnecessary. A tighter narrative might have resulted in fewer dollars earned, but it might also have made the series stronger. Or maybe not.
As is, I think Harry Potter is a terrific series. Uneven, to be sure, but ultimately charming, exciting and faithful to the books, which is all we can really hope for.
Still, it’s fun to explore the possibilities.
Spielberg went on to direct A.I.: Artificial Intelligence with Haley Joel Osment (who was at one point was being considered to play Harry Potter), whilst Home Alone director Chris Columbus was brought on board to bring Rowling’s magical world to life.
Oh, what might have been.
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