Lost in Translation 437: Harry Potter Remake

Warner Bros. and HBO Max announced that they will be creating a seven-season remake of the Harry Potter movies. How successful can everyone involved expect the remake to be?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published in September 1998, so almost 25 years ago as of the writing of this post. The book became a near-instant hit, with many kids reading about Harry and his friends at Hogwarts, including children who weren’t interested in reading before. The plot of the first book was simple, keeping it readable for children of Harry’s age, about eight years old or so. Harry Potter, who lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, the Durseleys, has a secret even he wasn’t aware of – his late parents were wizards, and the school they went to was trying to send a message to him via owl express. When Hagrid appears at the Durseley residence, Harry’s aunt and uncle have no choice but to allow Harry to go to the magical school. The trip requires Harry to use the Hogwarts Express, a train that uses track 9 3/4 to pick up passengers. During the train trip, Harry meets the key people who will be in his life, from future friends Hermione and Ron to future rival Draco. Hogwarts is a magical place, ever shifting, with ghosts wandering the halls, teacher capable of magic Harry can’t even conceive, and events that no muggle could dream of. The magic captured readers’ imaginations.

The next two books saw the phenomenon grow, with bookstores ordering extra for release day and still running out. Midnight openings of bookstores to allow ravenous readers to get their own copy on release day occurred across the globe. Not everyone was happy with Harry, but they were in the minority. Naturally, studio heads saw money to be made. Warner Bros won the film rights to the Harry Potter franchise.

The first of the Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, was released November 2001. It was an instant hit. The studio made only minor changes to the story, some that may have caused problems in the later entries, but overall, kept close to the book. The title change came from the changing of the first book’s title for American audiences. The American publisher was aware of what a philosopher’s stone was in alchemy, but thought that American readers wouldn’t pick up on it or would complain about the use of magic in the title.

The last of the novels, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out July 2007 to much fanfare. Warner broke the last book down into two parts to end the film series, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II coming out July 2011. Both wrapped up the Harry Potter series. Fans, though, couldn’t get enough and did what fans do best, expand on ideas through art, writing, and roleplay. The Harry Potter fandom was huge by the time Deathly Hallows II came out. The casting of the films helped make the movies successful and launched Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson into stardom.

As mentioned, not everyone was happy. There were people who complained that children were reading Harry Potter instead of the complainer’s favourite obscure piece of literature. Given that Harry got kids reluctant to read to open a book and want to read the next installment, the complaints were ignored. Having children read voluntarily for pleasure is something educators endorse. The other main complaint came from American ultra-conservative Christians – Harry uses magic, not faith, and reading a fictional book about a boy learning magic means accepting the devil into one’s soul or suffering a witch to live or some such. Again, this group was ignored for the most part for the same reason – children were reading.

Time to do the math. Harry Potter has been around for 25 years. The first film came out 22 years ago, the last only 11 years ago. The first film was a short generation ago, but the end of the series isn’t, and anyone born while the film series was being made can have seen the full run, thanks to home video and streaming. The length of time between a film and its remake should be much longer than in the past as a result. The film is still fresh in the original generation’s mind, and they can and have been introducing Harry to the next generation.

The use of a TV series instead of a theatrical release may help with how the story is told and may allow elements that got cut in the movies to remain. Each book represented a year at Hogwarts, and television is far better to deliver that experience than a film that has a limited run time imposed on it. Each season as a school year can be as long or short in number of episodes as needed, no filler required, no random cuts. With the novel series concluded, there’s no worries about removing a character who may become important later, like Neville Longbottom. There’s also no worries about the cast suddenly going through puberty while waiting for the next book to be written. A TV series should be successful.

However, there have been problems surrounding the novels. The fandom is torn over what Potter writer JK Rowling has become. On Twitter, Rowling revealed herself to be a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, or TERF, who rejects transwomen. Fans left the fandom as a result. The past six years have seen attack after attack on the transgendered, including moves to deny proper health care by American states for no reason beyond transphobia, hiding behind conservative Christianity.

Which leads to the other problem. Right-wing Christianity in the US has become bolder over the past six years, having suborned a political party to do its bidding, American constitution be damned. With some of the movement wanting to impose a theocracy on the US, right-wing Christian churches are throwing around their perceived weight to block anything they believe is anti-Christian, and Harry Potter has been in their crosshairs since 1998, from being challenged at school and public libraries to book burnings.

Warner is looking for a cash influx, especially after cancelling a number of projects as tax write-offs. Without those projects bringing in money from theatrical releases and post-theatre revenue streams like home video and streaming platforms, Warner needs money. These days, the box office covers production and marketing costs; the post-theatre releases generate funds. HBO Max had a good influx of money with Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. Warner is hoping a new series will do the same.

The question is, given fans’ reaction to Rowling’s descent to TERF-dom, and the extreme right-wing Christian evangelicals in resurgence, is there still an audience to draw?

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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