As all bibliophiles know, there are always differences between books and the movies that are based off of them. Some movies do their books justice, and others not so much. But why are there differences? Why wouldn’t the director want to stay entirely true to the novel? It is a rather daring task that a director takes on when they decide to make a book into a film, because they have the responsibility to the fans of the book to remain as true to the story as possible. As a reader and avid fan of the Harry Potter novels, I notice all too well the differences between the books and their movie counterparts, and there are many changes, so that is no small feat. The first novel in Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, has many changes and even parts left out in the movie, and I have a few theories as to why that is. There are a few reasons off the bat that I can imagine a director leaving parts out of the movie for: save screen time, difficulty of creating the scene with CGI, or a more coherent story or plot-line, but the reason can vary from scene to scene.
The biggest and most noticeable difference right off the bat is that the director, Chris Columbus, decided to leave half of the first chapter out of the movie, which is the entire introduction to the Dursley family (Harry’s aunt, uncle, and cousin, with whom he lives). This seems to be an important part of the book, giving some of the more prominent characters a backstory, but he chooses to leave them out and gives the audience a “bare-bones” introduction a little later on. In the novel, this is what Rowling begins with. She starts chapter one by following Mr. Dursley, Harry’s uncle, through his day, to understand who he and his family, Petunia and Dudley (Harry’s aunt and cousin) are. This gives the readers and audience a fundamental view of who these people are, psychologically, and it develops a basis for the audience to understand the rest of the story. Everything is relative to something else. If you are to just experience a good thing, it is seen only as good. However, when you experience a good thing after having experienced a negative or bad thing, then the good thing is even better. The Dursley’s are the negative that makes the positive (Harry) that much better. It creates a stronger attachment between the audience and the hero.
For this specific instance, the only reasonable reason that I can imagine for leaving out this part is that the director felt that the audience would understand clearly enough the family that Harry was living with and the characters themselves without the introduction. It does not seem that following Mr. Dursley to work is necessary, as it does not appear anywhere else in the novel, however, his interactions with the “funnily dressed” people is something that I feel would have been better to leave in the movie because it really emphasizes how the magical community lost all of their inhibitions and were breaking the statute of secrecy that they have by appearing in the “muggle” (non-magical) society dressed as witches and wizards. Without seeing this aspect of the celebrations, it is more difficult to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation that Rowling is leaving for the audience upon the death of the worst dark wizard of the time. It must have been to save film time by choosing to only introduce the family and the wizarding world later in the movie. This underdevelopment creates a weaker attachment between the audience and the hero. The fact that there is still an attachment, regardless of the strength, made this scene inconsequential to the director.
There are a few smaller instances throughout the middle of the novel where bits are left out or changed, but none so big as removing a character with a rather sizeable role: Peeves the Poltergeist. His role in the novel was really one of a scapegoat. He was blamed for happenings in the castle that wouldn’t have any other reasonable explanation, such as the troll that was let in during the Halloween feast, and for just making a few smaller twists and interesting parts to the plot. This is a big deal for the Harry Potter fans, especially because later in the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Ron’s twin brothers actually leave Hogwarts early, and as they are on their way out, they turn to Peeves and tell him “Giver her hell from us!” (her being Dolores Umbridge, the self-appointed headmistress who has taken over control of Hogwarts in a bad way), and Peeves returns the order with a salute. This is the first time that Peeves has ever taken a command from anyone, especially a student, other than The Bloody Baron. Getting back to the first book, however, Columbus decided to eliminate Peeves completely and he rewrote the small scenes so that there were caused by others or that there was just no issue.
As to the reasons that Columbus removed Peeves, I can only imagine that it was to conserve time and CGI effort. One would think that if you can digitally create a Quidditch game, then in would be no problem to create a little floating man. There are articles and documents on the web stating that Peeves almost wasn’t removed from the films, but it was decided that he would be left out. Many have argued that he was left out of the films because of his inconsequence to the movies, but this is where it all becomes up to opinion. Had I been the director, I would have left everything in the movie and stayed true to the novel, because that is how the author intended the story to go. There is a reason that she wrote it as she did, but, others can feel, and have felt, that there are things that were irrelevant and unnecessary to the plot and therefore could be removed. Unfortunately, Peeves was one of those things.
The other most important and most noticeable difference in the movie and the book is towards the end when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are overcoming the obstacles that were laid forth to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone in Hogwarts. Columbus again leaves a scene out from this part, where Harry and Hermione are faced with a logic puzzle that will allow them to either advance towards the stone or return in the direction they came. In this scene, Hermione is the one who solves the puzzle. In the other challenges faced, Hermione solved the Devil’s Snare, Harry overcame the room with the thousand flying keys, and Ron won the chess game with his sacrifice (no, he didn’t actually die, he just got knocked out. He lives on to help in the following six novels).
So why was it, in this case, that Columbus decided to remove the potions logic puzzle scene? Well, we can eliminate the idea that the scene was too hard to recreate with CGI because it only included seven small bottles of potion, and the fire that appeared and blocked their way was easily shown in the following scene with Professor Quirrell. However, that raises another thought. Perhaps because there is fire used in the following scene, Columbus felt it would be redundant to use the fire two scenes in a row. Otherwise, a logical conclusion could also be that because each of the characters, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, had already overcome an obstacle, it would be unbalanced for Hermione to solve another. By leaving out this last and rather inconsequential scenario, the storyline remains the same and there is a balance where each of the heros has a chance to shine.
These reasons are only speculations as to why Columbus would leave these parts out, along with other parts throughout the novel as well. There could be many reasons as to why the director would choose to eliminate scenes from a novel when making the film counterpart, but the most common reasons seem to be that the edits and eliminations made are to simplify and streamline the story line, as well as remove the inconsequential moments that can be deemed unnecessary to the development of the plot. This is exemplified by the elimination of all of the scenes or characters mentioned above. It was simpler for us as the audience to meet the Dursley’s when we met Harry as well; It was simpler to take Peeves out of the story and just have other characters take over the little parts he had or ignore those instances entirely; It was simpler to remove the fourth obstacle scenario from when Harry and Hermione were faced with the logic puzzle. None of these revisions affected the story in a negative way, or altered it to where it was not true to the novel. As nice as it would be to have the entire book made into a movie, exactly as written, it can be argued that it is better to remove or change the inconsequential moments. Thus comes the variations between books and their film counterparts.