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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Worst Idea Ever

Actually, I'm not even sure why I used that title. This post is not about the new Harry Potter film (which was excellent, by the way. Go see it).

No, no. This post is about a trailer shown prior to Order of the Phoenix. Some Hollywood asshole has apparently seen fit to twist yet another fantasy novel into a product for Mass American Consumption. This time, the unlucky lottery winner is Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising.

Now, let me just say that as far as books-into-films go, I'm actually pretty forgiving. The directors of the Harry Potter films have my love, as does Peter Jackson, and The Princess Bride is possibly even better than its source material. But this travesty has passed into unforgivable territory, by merit of a seemingly-simple decision: to move the setting from Britain to America.

For non-readers, a quick summary--The Dark Is Rising is the second book of the series of the same name, chronicling the journey of several children (and specifically Will Stanton) toward an epic battle between Dark and Light. Instances of British mythology and lore are used, and on the whole the books are smaller-scale than, say, Tolkien's; the battles take place on eye-level, between opposing personal wills rather than grand armies, and every place location is used for an exact purpose. Cooper doesn't toss her characters into Cornwall or North Wales or Buckinghamshire because the country's pretty--they're there because the grail is hidden in Cornwall, because Arthurian legends have roots in Wales, because Herne the Hunter has no American equivalent.

And here we have an American director, dreaming that it'll be okay to move inherently British characters to the United States. Imagining that the story will still sing; that no viewer will feel anything awry; that a tale so British can be Americanized--modernized, even, for the novels were published in the Seventies and, though not exactly dated, still feel like that time period.

The Dark Is Rising is at its core a love poem to Britain and uniquely British legend and setting and feeling. It cannot, cannot exist in another country. Who would even consider moving Hogwarts to New York City? This film adaptation of Susan Cooper's book suggests a complete lack of care for the source material--an insult to both author and fans. Moreover, the looks of this first film indicate that the rest of the books will not be filmed. Perhaps I should say that the looks of this first film make Cooper fans pray that the rest of the books will not be filmed, because who among us could stand seeing Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch ripped from Cornwall and transplanted into Cape Cod, or The Grey King and Silver on the Tree failing to flourish in, say, Montana?

Someone at Walden Media (incidentally, the people who brought us the similarly-enraging Bridge to Terabithia) is grievously mistaken in their belief that Susan Cooper's settings don't matter. No one can say of her books "the plot's the thing" and ignore the locales. From Kemare Head to Huntercombe, from Tywyn to Greythorne Manor, from Aberdyfi to Stanton Farm to Tal y Lyn and Mount Badon, The Dark Is Rising inextricably intertwines character and plot with setting, resulting in a seamless, truly British whole. This American film version, this shift from specifically British locations to Anywhere, America, is an indignity to the writer and the readers who loyally and lovingly read and reread.

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