My Two Knuts

An Open Letter to Geoff Boucher of The Los Angeles Times in Response to “Steve Kloves Speaks”:

I’m not the most unbiased of Harry Potter fans; I don’t pretend to be. The Harry Potter series was a mainstay of my life for seven years, and continues to ripple through it even after the final book was published. I was a part of the online community that Steve Kloves fears so much. I own a ton of Potter merchandise.  It’s not an exaggeration to say I probably wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for Harry Potter.

But I am a writer, and as a writer who has attempted adaptation before, I know how difficult, if not impossible, the process can be. I give Kloves credit for what must have been a Herculean task – but that doesn’t mean he always made the right choices. Which is why this line from your Los Angeles Times article feels like a condescending slap:

Fans, though, don’t always appreciate the cuts and compressions needed for Hollywood purposes.

The implication there is that the fans might not appreciate the requisite craftsmanship, but filmmakers and other auteurs can. In other words, the intended audience is a bunch of whiny know-nothings, but industry people with their heads up their asses more than make up for it.

Let’s not forget who these movies are made for. There may be people watching the films who haven’t read the books, but they’re few and far between when compared to the legions of Potterphiles flooding the theaters, in some cases waiting in line at midnight, like myself. I’m sick of being treated as if my passion for something makes me some kind of parasite with no objectivity.

If Kloves seems uncomfortable with a broad audience the reason is obvious. He has been “No. 1 Undesirable” to some fans of “Potter,” a fierce and global constituency that winces when Rowling’s thick books are pruned into brisk blockbusters.

First of all, if you’re trying to make a reference to Deathly Hallows, Mr. Boucher, it should be ‘Undesirable No.  1.’  Second, being a fan doesn’t make me stupid, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that an 800+ page book is going to lose something in the translation to a 120 page script. The math isn’t that complicated.

Third, from a writing standpoint, I understand why cuts and compressions are made – for example, it made perfect sense to me that the House Elf Dobby was cut from the 4th movie, and the job of giving Harry the necessary MacGuffin to survive the 2nd Tournament task fell to secondary character Neville Longbottom. I could ‘appreciate’ the choice just fine. I don’t object to changes in plot, even if I don’t agree with them, as long as they suit the story.

What I don’t ‘appreciate’ is when changes are made in character or story that do absolutely nothing to serve the plot, and then the person behind them attempts to justify the arbitrary choices while spitting on the fan base.

It’s my belief, as both a fan and a storyteller, that the writer of an adaptation has a responsibility to fans of the source material. Not to cater to their every whim – but to realize the spirit of the story they love so much on the big screen.

“If people like a ‘Harry Potter’ movie, it’s because of the book,” [Kloves] said. “But if they don’t like it, then it’s my fault.”

Well, yeah, since he’s the one making changes. We already loved the books. If we don’t like the changes, then, generally, we’re going to blame the man who made them. Most of the films don’t even make sense without having read the books – too much is left out. However, the screenwriter is the most underappreciated part of a movie-making experience, and usually has little influence over the final product, so I don’t imagine that everything I’ve disliked about the movies is Kloves’ fault.

In this newest film, Kloves has added a scene that presents a tender moment between Harry (Radcliffe) and his friend Hermione (Watson) that was never in the books. The young wizards, on the run from dark forces and their own despair, share a dance — there are layers of emotions, tension and shared history that charge the air as a forlorn song crackles from a small radio. Kloves fought for the sequence — and quickly won over the “Potter” brain trust that includes Rowling — but knows that many purists will attack him for it.

If Kloves knows the ‘purists’ will attack him for something he inserts into the story which doesn’t belong there, then the only explanation for including it is a level of selfishness that the adaptor of beloved source material cannot afford. He calls it “courage,” “pushing the envelope.” I call it bullshit.

Sorry, but this is no ordinary adaptation. This is Harry Potter. This isn’t Wonder Boys, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, or Eat, Pray, Love, books which undoubtedly all have their own devoted fans. They are not like Potter fans, and Mr. Kloves is kidding himself if he thinks he doesn’t owe the fans some courtesy or respect.

Adapting seven books (or six, in his case) that have affected the entire world is not a light task. I’m sure he knows this. As your article pointed out, there were times that he regretted it. But he persevered. He continued, and in so doing, it seems to me that he agreed to a contract. Not just whatever he had to sign with Warner Brothers, but a contract that acknowledged he was doing it because he wanted to. And therefore he should have a little more respect for the people who fill the seats in the theater. He should realize it’s not just his story to play with as he likes. It’s not even just J.K. Rowling’s story anymore.

He doesn’t have to give in to the demands of the ‘purists,’ but he at least owes us the courtesy of remembering that it’s our story too.

For the interested, there’s an audio version here: My Two Knuts

This article has 4 Comments

  1. I think it’s acceptable for Kloves to add a scene–just as he can change a scene or take one away–even if there will be some “purists” who will object. He has to balance being faithful to the source material with making the best possible movie he can, and there will always be some people who disagree with the compromises he makes. He didn’t say that he added in a scene which he knows all fans of the books will hate–that would be a bad move indeed. He added a scene which he suspects “many purists” (how many is “many”? a double-digit percentage? a single-digit percentage? a couple thousand people?) will attack him for it. This is probably unavoidable for anything he does, and isn’t a sign of selfishness. Just because “many” of the “purists” may object doesn’t mean that many more fans won’t love it. As long as it’s a good scene, I don’t care if it wasn’t in the book. There are probably “many purists” who pine for Glorfindel and turn their noses up at Arwen in Fellowship of the Ring, but it was such a good movie, most fans don’t care.

    That said, he is being too condescending. I agree that we fans of the books do understand that things must be cut and altered to fit into a movie, so that first quote is offensive. Our view of what is and isn’t important in the story is no less valid than his view, just because he gets to be the writer. And if we don’t like a movie, it’s not just the screenwriter’s fault, it could be the fault of the whole production (in fact I think generally the director receives most of the blame from dissatisfied fans–Kloves flatters himself). If we like a movie, it is partially thanks to the book (we already know we like the story and characters), but we also recognize that the movie adaptation is a good one. For instance, it was my opinion that the 6th movie was a particularly good adaptation, since the 6th book hadn’t stood out in my mind as one of my favorites, but the movie was one of my favorites. The writer, director, producers, actors, casting directors, special effects teams, etc. etc. can all pat themselves on the back. Some fans of the books may be the ignorant, fussy “purists” that Kloves talks about, but to group us all with them is a form of prejudice, and the article does all fans a disservice with its narrow representation of the issues it discusses.

    1. I’m trying to reserve judgement on the addition of this scene until I’ve seen it, but from the sound of it, this ‘tender moment’ between Harry and Hermione doesn’t add to the movie so much as it represents Kloves’ personal wishes of what had happened in the books. There are many, many scenes in the books that can add layers to the movie, that don’t require inventing feelings between characters that have never existed. I don’t have a problem if a screenwriter adds material. I love the Lord of the Rings movies, even though they don’t stick like glue to canon – they’re beautifully crafted as films. But because I know Steve Kloves prefers the idea of Harry and Hermione together, I worry that this scene of his will mislead viewers. And one of the things I loved about the seventh book is that there never was a Harry/Hermione/Ron love triangle. Not even a hint of it – and, in fact, Harry comes right out and says that he never had feelings for Hermione beyond friendship. Adding a love triangle at this stage seems gratuitous.

      I’m also affected on another level, one that I can’t expect most people to get. I can’t even try to explain it to anyone outside the fandom without sounding totally insane.

      But I don’t know how the scene really plays out, so I’m holding that rant in reserve until next week.

      1. Emma said something in an interview about that scene which made it sound like it could work. I think she said something about the need to relieve tension and relax and keep their spirits up, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t have romantic implications. I really don’t see how any scene that even hints at H/Hr romance could have “won over the ‘Potter’ brain trust.” I’m staying cautiously optimistic.

        1. I’m doing my very best not to think about it any more. I’m focusing on the fact that I’m going to see it with you at midnight :)

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