The Lost Plots Of Harry Potter

Image for The Lost Plots Of Harry Potter

The Harry Potter films have been remarkably faithful to their source books – to the extent that they’re some of the longest family films around because they cram so much in. But a few things still had to fall by the wayside, so here are some of the most iconic scenes that were lost between the page and the films’ theatrical release…

Film: Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone

In the book...
The Sorting Hat doesn’t just assign you to a school House; it sings a little ditty for good measure. In a decision we will be forever grateful for, Chris Columbus and his team cut out the warbling headgear. Nothing of narrative value is lost here, after all: the Hat still talks, and has a little chat with Harry about which House he’d like to join. But no yodels.

Good decision?
Hell yes – the first film was already so long we’d lost feeling in our toes by the time it ended. Also, headgear should never sing. Not even novelty beer hats can get away with that.

Film: Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

In the book...
Harry eventually learns that the four names on the cover of the Marauders’ Map refer to (respectively) Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and Harry’s father James Potter. The latter three, in sympathy for their werewolf-bitten friend Lupin, taught themselves to become Animagi (able to transform into animals) and could become (again respectively) a rat, a dog and a stag. While the names are visible on the map, the history of the four is never fully explained onscreen.

Good decision?
In terms of simplifying things and hurrying things along, yes, probably. But it’s a nice background story that we kinda miss.

Film:* *Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

In the book...
Hermione decides to do something about the woeful working conditions of house elves at Hogwarts and sets up the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare (SPEW). Did you know that the wizarding school employs slave labour? Behind that cuddly exterior is the blatant exploitation of the elvish proletariat. It’s all very well having these gigantic feasts at the start and end of every term – but they are carried on the broken backs of magical labourers bound by the chains of capitalist oppression (except that most of them, being house elves, are entirely content with the status quo, and Hermione has her work cut out getting them to rise up and overthrow the system).

Good decision?
It’s a cute little Hermione character note, showing that she has a much keener sense of justice than her male friends, and it’s a favourite little interlude for many readers, but it would slow things down.

Film:* *Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix

In the book...
While Snape trains Harry to protect his mind from Voldemort, Harry inadvertently enters his teacher’s mind and learns that Snape was bullied by James Potter while at Hogwarts as a teenager. Along with Sirius Black, Lupin and Peter Pettigrew, James taunted and tormented the greasy-haired Snape – and was only stopped by Harry’s mother Lily, who disapproved of this bullying and stood up for Snape. This is hinted at in a very brief clip in the film, but Lily’s role is entirely overlooked. And, as readers will know, that role might be important later on.

Good decision?
We still get enough to sense why Snape has a problem with Harry – but whether it’s quite enough depends on how much of the back story we get in Deathly Hallows: Part Two.

Film:* *Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

In the book...
Harry and his friends go to visit Mr. Weasley at the wizarding hospital of St. Mungo’s. There, they meet the amnesiac Gilderoy Lockhart, and go with him onto a closed ward for magicians with mental health problems. They see Neville Longbottom and his grandmother visiting Neville’s parents, both of whom were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange’s use of the Cruciatus curse during Voldemort’s previous reign of terror. While Harry is already aware of the Longbottoms’ valiant and tragic history, it’s the first his friends knew of Neville’s family history.

Good decision?
Again, you can understand why it’s gone in terms of pacing and given the expense of building the St. Mungo’s set. But it was a nice moment that reminded us again that Neville may well be more kick-ass than Harry, in his own quiet way.

Film:* *Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince

In the book...
The very opening scenes of the sixth book see new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour (eventually played by Bill Nighy), visit the Muggle Prime Minister and reveal that the wizarding world is in turmoil because of Voldemort’s forces beginning their rise, and that it’s beginning to seep over into the real world, what with bridges collapsing and stuff. It’s a cute little scene that addresses a question that may have perturbed readers: how much effect does all this faffing about on broomsticks have on the Muggle world?

Good decision?
Yes: while the scene works on the page, it’s a break from the normal tone and a little out of place on film. Also, the old screenwriting maxim “Show; don’t tell” means that it’s a much better idea to open the film by actually showing us the bridge attack.

Film:* *Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One

In the book...
At the beginning of the Deathly Hallows, the Dursleys are warned that they are not safe once Harry turns 17 (at which point Voldemort could attack him at home) and leave their house in a hurry under the protection of Aurors. But before they go, there’s an almost touching moment where Dudley admits to Harry that he no longer despises him, and even thanks his cousin for saving his life. Aunt Petunia, too, has a momentary urge to say something kind to her ward, although she doesn’t quite manage it. Still, points for at least thinking about it.

Good decision?
This one we really missed: if we were into cod psychology, we’d say it’s an important step for Harry to get “closure” towards his nasty relatives, and it humanises the sometimes cartoonishly hostile family. Hopefully it’ll turn up as a deleted scene.