An Open Letter to David Yates
by Lady Lupin
Dear Mr. Yates:
Congratulations and kudos to you for taking on the enormous task of bringing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to the big screen. As you are probably aware, you are venturing into a Forbidden Forest of sorts, where people stand outside all night to buy a book, where acronyms like DADA, DD, HP, PoA, OotP, HBP, PS/SS, H/G, R/Hr, DoM and, of course JKR, are as commonly used and understood as UK and USA. We give ourselves names like “Lady Lupin” and analyze the books ad infinitum. The word Canon is thrown around our meeting places as though we were speaking of the Bible or Shakespeare.
Since we cannot agree amongst ourselves whether House Elves should be in the movies, whether Quidditch gets too much or too little screen time, whether students should wear uniforms or jeans, how any particular character should or should not look or who Harry’s love interest should be, you cannot be expected to please all of us. It sounds to me like you are far too intelligent to try.
We only ask that you do not underestimate us – neither our numbers, nor our capacity to drink up Harry Potter in quantity, as long as the quality is high. Contrary to what our critics say, we do understand that a book is a different medium than a film (at least, most of us do). The majority of us, I would venture to say, are not looking for an exact replica of our beloved books. We are willing to let go of various subplots that may not bear fruit in the current film/book, and we are willing to see our familiar characters assume each other’s lines and actions at times for the expediency of the film. We know that the wind up is different in film than in print, and we are happy to be surprised with the inventive ways that you and your writers will bridge that gap.
I do have one major, heartfelt request to lay humbly at your feet: please do not cheat, gloss over or otherwise destroy the ending of Order of the Phoenix. Now, I understand that is a rather broad request, and different people may have different attitudes about what would constitute destruction, so please – allow me to explain.
First, I should state that I have enjoyed every Harry Potter film very much. Each one has had aspects that left me dry, irritated or simply didn’t make sense to me, but I have enjoyed them all. They feature the finest actors of the British stage and screen, and the young actors who have taken on the monster roles of Harry and his friends have done a tremendous job. It has been a delight to watch them grow up on screen and watch their acting craft develop over the films. They have certainly had benefit of learning at the knee of some of the greatest in the business, and that privilege has paid off. You have a strong cast to work with, no doubt.
If I had to choose one prickly point that I have felt after every single HP film to date, it is that JKR’s magnificent climax/conclusion/coda endings have been given short shrift. I do not know whether this is a screen writing issue, a directorial issue, or an editing room issue, but I beg you to take it in hand.
In PS/SS we had Harry actually kill Quirrell himself, rather than Dumbledore interceding. So, since he has killed already, why would he be upset about the Prophecy telling him he has to kill again? That said, at least we got to decompress with Harry after his first big adventure, when Dumbledore visited him in the hospital.
In CoS, we lost the magnificent moment of Harry, Ron, Ginny and Lockhart bursting, wild and filthy, into Dumbledore’s office, emotions high and danger still in play, not to mention Ginny’s horror when she wakes up and realizes what she has done. We lost Mr. and Mrs. Weasley’s worry and Mr. Weasley’s famous and wonderful line, “Don’t ever trust something that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” It took away much of the excitement of the book. But, again, we got to take the time to wrap up the plot and exhale with Harry after the Diary adventure. I fear that we haven’t breathed out since.
PoA, while a wonderful and satisfying movie in many ways, was completely confusing to my friends who had not read the book. Again, this was largely because of a condensed and watered-down ending. There was no explanation of the Marauder’s Map and who wrote it, no explanation of how Sirius found Peter (so why was the photo of Egypt included at all?), no explanation of the Marauders’ friendships or the stag Patronus, Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, no marvelous explosion and chaos from Snape when Sirius gets away. In both CoS and PoA, I felt that JKR gave the filmmakers much better material for a climactic ending than what was used.
This past year, we were treated to GoF. Again, a marvelous film in many ways, and I certainly enjoyed it. But this time, the ending pushed my limits. The end of GoF is one of the best things JKR has written, and so much was completely lost. Dumbledore’s explanations to Harry and Sirius, the hospital scene, the confrontation of Snape and Sirius, Harry’s moment with Mrs. Weasley, the reorganizing of the Order (and that doesn’t touch on the Rita Skeeter plot)… We lost, not one or two of these momentous exchanges in Harry’s life, but all of them! These are not just plot points from the book that rabid fans want to see. They also would have made an exciting and more complete ending for a very entertaining film. Instead the ending was chopped off as if to say, “Well, we’ve given them the maze, the graveyard and Crouch, Jr., so we’d better wrap it up before we lose them.”
Such truncated endings leave many of us feeling that something is missing. We need the exhalation, the Coda. We need to pull the threads back together and follow the characters through their various impressions of their experiences. The ending of GoF felt to me as though I was being hustled out of the theater.
Now, you are tackling OotP. Again, as with PoA and GoF, the book does not have one, single, climactic moment that ends all at once. It has a constantly increasing level of tension, from Umbridge’s office to the Forbidden Forest, to the Thestral ride, to the great battle in the Ministry, to Sirius’ death, to the Voldemort/Dumbledore clash, to the Harry/Dumbledore clash, to the revelation of the Prophecy. It then begins a gradual exhalation from the shock of grief, to unexpected comfort and the eventual standing up and walking on to the next adventure. My fear is a film that focuses entirely on the Ministry scene to the detriment of the scenes that lead up to it, and the scenes in Dumbledore’s office and beyond. This would seem to fit the pattern of those directors who have gone before you. The Ministry scene is marvelous, and I’m sure it will be a huge and exciting moment. It is my wish that you will also allow Harry the rest of his very trying journey to King’s Cross and the realization that he has friends who will not ask him to stand alone. I realize that including everything is impossible, but I do feel that we are capable of digesting much more than we have been previously given credit for.
We will be grieving with Harry at the end of the film, and we need the walk-through that Harry has with characters such as Hagrid, Nick and Luna to come to accept what happens. Don’t kick us back out into the fluorescent lights and fake butter smell of a crowded theater lobby without taking us fully through this crucible with Harry.
“But the film will be so long,” you say? Trust us a little. Since revealing to my readers that I am not a teenager (I’m nearly 46) and that I am hopelessly devoted to the HP series, I have received emails from countless fellow readers, ranging in age from about twelve to seventy-five. I have heard from grandmothers and grandchildren, from grammar school and high school students to PhD candidates. I have heard from fellow writers, aspiring filmmakers, scientists, a priest, mothers, fathers, nurses, firemen and retired policemen. I have heard from one woman whose eight-year-old child said to her in worried tones, “Mommy, the books aren’t real.” I have been honored to have many people bounce their own HP sleuthing ideas off me, and have been told stories of many parents who began to read HP to their children, only to be completely sucked in and enthralled themselves. I have been greeted by HP fans from Russia, Indonesia, India, England, Finland, Norway, Scotland, Hungary, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Nigeria, Brazil and many other places as diverse and far-flung as the fans that live there. And I am neither JK Rowling, nor an HP film star. I am simply a reader who has made a hobby of talking about these books with other readers. And I have learned a few things about my fellow HP readers. We are insatiable. We are devoted. And we are a Force.
We have very long attention spans where HP is concerned. Give us a beautifully crafted film and we will easily be able to sit for three hours, or even more, to let it play out effectively. We want the full, multi-course dinner. My own nephews were small children who had never read Tolkein when the Lord of the Rings series was made. They sat, riveted. We will do the same. Risk a little on us. We will not fail you.
We wish you and your cast and crew only the best as you undertake this big project. We wait excitedly for the final product, and thank you for listening.
Best personal regards,