McCabe, Bob. Harry Potter, Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey.

NY: HarperCollins, 2011.

This thing is 13 by 10 inches, more than 500 pages thick, and weighs enough to require both hands (and will put your legs to sleep if you try to read it in your lap). It’s also not cheap. But if you’re a Harry Potter fan, especially of the films — and I am — you should buy it and have a special stand made for it in your library.

Seriously, this is an amazing book and it’s very easy to lose a long weekend in it. McCabe is well known as a film critic and historian, as well as a screenwriter, and it’s apparent that Warner Brothers gave him full access to the “official” logs kept on the films, as well as to the actors and directors. There are a great many juicy interview quotes on a wide array of subjects. The first section takes you chronologically through the films, from making the decision to do the first one when the book series itself was only one-third completed and searching the whole of Britain for the three young key actors, to the last day’s shooting of the last scene of the last film. They certainly lucked out in finding the three kids they ended up with, all of whom decided to stay with the whole decade-long project — though there apparently was some hesitation partway through by Emma Watson, who feared for her education (but in the final analysis just couldn’t handle the idea of someone playing “her” role). From the beginning, they wanted to dip deeply into the pool of available British acting talent, and as the franchise showed itself a growing success they had no trouble finding those who wanted to participate, even for very small roles. The three key players ate it up, too. (The adolescent Rupert Grint was suddenly startled to realize that, in one scene, he was alone in a room with four adult actors — three of whom had been knighted.)

I don’t really know that much about the technical processes of filmmaking (screenwriting is something I do know about) but I’ve always been fascinated by behind-the-scenes revelations. “How did they do that?” This book is a trove of inside information on costumes, props, locations, foleys and other special effects, CGI, and the evolution of settings as needed for each addition to the saga — especially the psychological nuances behind the tens of thousands of decisions that were made, and even more especially when the author was always there keeping an eye on things. The level of detail to which everyone worked is frankly amazing, even when it’s something in a quick shot you’ll barely be aware of when you watch the films.

The second section of the book provides extended discussions of all the recurring characters and the actors who played them, the large number of locations used (and when and why they decided to build a set instead of shooting on location, and vice versa), the magical creatures created for the films (“naturalness” was the key, even for goblins and hippogriffs), and the huge number of artifacts created by the properties department. And McCabe is also careful to describe how each new director segued from the work of the previous ones, and how the cast reacted to the changes.

I’ve watched the whole series through a couple of times now: First, as each new film was released, then again, straight through in a marathon session last year (which required a great deal of popcorn). And now, having studied the hundreds of color plates in this volume, I’m going to have to watch them again, just to spot the new things I’ve learned.

Published in: on 31 May 2012 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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