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Why a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Film May or May Not Work

on August 02, 2016, 3:00pm

[Warning: This op-ed contains minor spoilers]

On the back of the jacket of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, delivered to this writer at roughly 12:48 a.m. on July 31 (thanks for that, Amazon Prime Now), you’ll find six words:

“The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.”

Of course, it’s only been 19 years for Potter and company. Muggles have had a bit of a wait, too, if not as long. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit bookstores with the force of a charging Patronus in 2007, and the last corresponding film — that’ll be the David Yates-directed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two — was released in mid-July five years ago. Coincidentally, that’s the same week we were given A Dance with Dragons, the most recent book in George R.R. Martin’s Internet-breaking A Song of Ice and Fire cycle that begat Game of Thrones. So it may not seem like Potter fans have had that long to wait, but ask one Martin fan how long it’s been since the last ASoIaF book and see how they react.

Still, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t making the news simply because it’s the next Potter installment. It’s news because there wasn’t supposed to be a next Potter installment. And it isn’t, in at least one sense. This isn’t a novel in the traditional sense of the word. It’s also not, thank goodness, a novelization. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play. Two plays, actually, written by playwright Jack Thorne from a story created by Thorne, Rowling, and theatre director John Tiffany. And both plays are pretty darn good.

The world has somewhat, albeit unexpectedly, been granted another peek into the lives of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and their pals. More importantly, we get to spend some time with their offspring, a choice that feels both earned and honest. The Harry Potter stories dwell in magic, of course, and in the battle between good and evil, but for the most part they’re about kids growing up, often being stupid, but always filled with love, guts, and compassion.

That’s part of what made the films effective. Though not all are great, the Potter movies gave the public a chance to actually watch those kids grow up, thanks to the march of time across the faces of Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and company. It also gave moviegoers a chance to see some of the world’s finest actors on the planet that also happen to have British (or Scottish) accents, from Maggie Smith and Emma Thompson to Michael Gambon and the late, great Alan Rickman. Some things will always be better when seen only in one’s imagination — Fluffy the three-headed dog will always be far scarier in my head — but there are certain pleasures that can only be experienced when an actor steps up and throws down.

In the case of Cursed Child in particular — a story that came to life on the page mostly so actors, designers, and other artists could bring it to life on stage — it practically screams “movie.”

What follows are just a few reasons that Consequence of Sound would love to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child hit the big screen, as well as a few not-insignificant reasons we’d prefer it stay on stage and on the page. Those feelings might be contradictory, but when it comes to the Wizarding World, duality has always been part of the equation.

One last spoiler alert: We are respecting Rowling’s request that secrets stay secret. However, there’s no way to talk about Cursed Child without addressing some of what takes place in its pages. Warning, there are mild spoilers. Anything spicier than mild will be marked as such, but if you want to read the play completely unspoiled, then stop here and see me when you’ve torn through both plays. It’ll keep.

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Why We Want a Cursed Child Movie

01. Scorpius Malfoy is the fuckin’ jam

Every Potter book gave us at least one new, unforgettable character, thanks to Rowling’s knack for creating wonderful oddballs who are just filled with surprises. We meet our share of new faces here, though there are plenty of returning champs as well — most of whom should remain unspoiled — but the real scene-stealer here is Scorpius Malfoy, the offspring of pointy-faced ferret Draco Malfoy (who, unsurprisingly, also returns).

As stated in the introduction to this article, pretty much everything contained within can be considered a spoiler, but Scorpius is pretty much the best from the word go (which, by the way, is very early on). Imagine all the best parts of Hermione, Neville, Ron, and Harry lumped into one and you’ve got a pretty decent sense of the glory of this kid. He’s kind. He’s constantly terrified. He’s super smart. He’s loyal, thoughtful, and unafraid to tell people things they don’t want to hear. And above all, he’s hilarious, in the way that only kids who are addicted to puns and don’t stand a chance in hell of ever being cool can be hilarious.

But honestly, there’s no way to talk about how great Scorpius is without spoiling things. He’s a great character, a great kid, and someone that would be wonderful to see come to life. Team Scorpius, now and forever.

02. Time travel, and lots of it

“But all the time-turners got destroyed in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries,” you cry! Yes, but what if, as is incredibly logical, some wizard thought, “Fuck it, I’ll just make my own and see what happens”? Ask yourself that question, and you’ve got an idea of how the Cursed Child gets moving. Not all the Potter films are great, but it’s hard to deny the charms of the Alfonso Cuaron-directed Prisoner of Azkaban, the centerpiece of which — on the screen and on the page — is the sequence in which Harry and Hermione change the timeline while trying real damn hard not to step on any Flutterby bushes.

So, hell yes, we want to zip all over the place in the Potter timeline. Give us that makeshift Time-Turner. Let us loose in the Wizarding World. These people can do magic. It’s always nice to see them do some really complicated stuff, and it’s even more fun when they fuck it up, as time-travelers almost always do.

03. Hermione Granger, still ready to piss people off

You shall not find a single spoiler about what Hermione Granger has been up to since the Battle of Hogwarts in these pages. Suffice it to say that she remains as badass as ever, all full of smarts and fueled by a refusal to accept others’ bullshit.

Beyond the many charms of her character, however, there’s a chance that a Cursed Child movie would allow Hermione to fight the good fight in a more unusual way. When casting for the play was announced, certain segments of the population worked themselves up into quite a froth over the news that Noma Dumezweni, an award-winning stage performer who also happens to be a woman of color, would be stepping into Emma Watson’s shoes.

J.K. Rowling jumped into the fray pretty much immediately:

In a June interview with The Observer, Rowling described what it was like to hear the outraged howls about Dumezweni’s casting, saying: “I had a bunch of racists telling me that because Hermione ‘turned white’ — that is, lost colour from her face after a shock — that she must be a white woman, which I have a great deal of difficulty with. But I decided not to get too agitated about it and simply state quite firmly that Hermione can be a black woman with my absolute blessing and enthusiasm.”

So please, bring on the Cursed Child movie, cast Dumezweni (who has also done loads of British television), and show kids everywhere the same hero with a new and brilliant face.

04. Cursed Child, meet Hamilton. Or don’t, because you can’t get tickets

Currently, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been welcoming audiences to London’s West End since early June, and it’s currently sold out through the end of May 2017. No additional extension has been announced, although it’s likely to get many, many extensions. And it’s a sure bet that once those tickets become available, they’ll be snapped up faster than you can say Quidditch. That’s assuming you can get to London in the first place.

North American audiences will likely get a shot at Potter, too. The New York Post claims that Broadway insiders suggest that Cursed Child will likely hit either Toronto or New York in 2017, at which point it’ll almost certainly go straight Hamilton. So yes, lots of people will get to see this play. But go ahead and try to buy a Hamilton ticket right now and see what happens.

Of course, you can read Cursed Child right now. But plays are meant to be experienced. They only truly come to life off the page. As wonderful as it might be to think that everyone who wants to will get a shot to sit in a theatre and watch the lights come up on Platform 9¾, that’s just not going to happen. There are issues of availability, certainly, but also of travel and of economic feasibility.

So let’s let the magic happen on stage for a while and then share this story with all the people who won’t get a chance to experience it firsthand.

05. You’re going to want to see this

After Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit theatres, reading one of Rowling’s books became a different experience. Turning the pages would bring to mind Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, or Alan Rickman. A particularly dazzling sequence — say, Harry dodging around the Hungarian Horntail in Goblet of Fire — would cause some readers to imagine what it would look like on the screen, rather than in their heads. There are ups and downs to this, but it can’t be denied that there are elements of the Potter series that came to life in a new way once audiences were experiencing them visually.

Cursed Child, however, isn’t a novel. As stated above, plays only truly come to life when they’re seen, rather than read. And this is not an exception.

Here Be Some Spoilers:

Among the many sequences just begging to be experienced visually: a truly thrilling fight with a bookcase. Yes, a bookcase. Or how about a daring trek atop the Hogwarts Express? A battle in an ancient church? A trip down the plumbing in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom? Come on. This stuff has to come to life. The public wants to see a fighting bookcase, dammit, and we will not be silenced.

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Why we don’t want a Cursed Child movie

01. The Potter movies are done. They should stay done.

There are things that can be discussed about Cursed Child without spoiling elements of the story — #TeamScorpius — and things that can’t. This is one that can’t. I won’t be overtly spoiling anything below, but even bringing up the topic is likely to give things away, so again, if you want to have the whole, wonderful experience of reading or seeing it unspoiled, skip down to item two.

Here Be Some Spoilers:

Because Cursed Child plays with time, we revisit some places and faces we’ve seen before. In some cases, that’s okay. And it’s certainly fine on stage, since it’s an entirely different medium. But there are parts of the Potter story that just shouldn’t be revisited without directly connecting to the cinematic universe already in place.

We don’t meet Gilderoy Lockhart at any point in Cursed Child, so he’s safe to use as an example. Can actors who are not Kenneth Branagh play Lockhart? Of course. Please, give me a Lockhart prequel play. I want to see him as the villain, running around erasing people’s memories, maybe with some scrappy, little witch whose memory wasn’t erased properly on his tail, trying to catch him in the act. Make that play and take my money.

Do I want to see that story on film with anyone other than Kenneth Branagh? No. We’ve already been granted an eight-movie series in which very few roles were ever recast (RIP, Richard Harris), and that movie now corresponds with the truly magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter, now a part of Universal Studios in both Florida and Los Angeles. Yes, another Lockhart story would be great. But a Lockhart story on film that doesn’t enrich what fans currently have and isn’t enriched by all that material in turn? Not something that needs to happen. Yes, it could happen. But it wouldn’t be the same.

That’s the case with Cursed Child, too. I won’t reveal any of the people or places it revisits, but suffice it to say that I want those things to exist as they exist now: on the page and on the stage, in the hands of capable artists who are creating their own thing, not creating the latest in a franchise. They’d be creatively constrained by the existing legacy. They’d have eight movies and a theme park with which to sync up and compete. Not fair for them and not great for audiences, either.

02. Cursed Child is a play. It should stay a play

Great plays can also make great movies. There have been loads of them. But sometimes what’s magical on stage just doesn’t translate to another medium. Take Into the Woods, for example. A good production of Into the Woods can be a borderline transcendent experience. It’s so smart, so funny, so moving. Even a so-so take on it onstage will likely still be pretty moving.

The movie didn’t work, and it had Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep.

There are certain stories that work best when you’re in the room where it happens. Granted, I have not seen Cursed Child, but it’s not hard to imagine what it’s like on stage as you turn the pages. Thorne and Tiffany have created an incredibly immersive experience, and that’s something that’s obvious without even coughing up the dough. There’s one particular example that must be pointed out, so here goes.

Here Be Some Spoilers:

Dementors. One of the most frightening things ever dreamed up by a smart lady riding a train. Creatures that feed on fear and unhappiness, that suck the joy from you, that can actually remove your soul from your body and leave you a shell. That’s some scary shit. They’re terrifying in the novels. They’re pretty darn frightening in the films as well.

But here’s where theatre can be magical: In Cursed Child, when the dementors show up, they invade through the audience. People watching the play are, naturally, filled with dread for the characters. But as they know what dementors are and what they do, that fear becomes a part of the play. The fears and sorrows of the people in the room are both created by the story, and, because they’re watching it happen live, created by the dementors as they float menacingly past. It’s so easy to then imagine that none of it has anything to do with the story, that instead joy and hope are being sucked from the room by these monsters. From there it’s a small leap to realize that the audience’s emotions are also making the dementors stronger. The empathy of the people in the room is then twisted and used for evil.

That is so, so much scarier.

You Can Start Reading Again Here and Be Unspoiled:

The musical version of Peter Pan, which snagged three Tonys in 1954, famously asks audiences to clap to bring Tinker Bell back to life. She’s dying because someone doesn’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says they don’t believe, a fairy dies. So Peter turns to the audience and asks them to clap if they believe, to clap so that Tink knows she’s real and loved. Peter Pan isn’t a great musical, but that moment is iconic for a reason. It depends on you being in the room, on giving audiences a chance to suspend their disbelief so much that the little floating light on stage depends entirely on how hard you clap. You can save Tink. You, in the third row. Just clap and believe and all will be well.

There’s no “clap for Tink” moment in Cursed Child, but it’s magic all the same. If reviews are any indication, the fact that the magic can’t be attributed to CGI makes it that much more affecting. That’s an amazing thing. That makes this play a chance for kids and adults alike to exist, just for a bit, in a world where magic is real.

This reason trumps all others. It means all those who love the story should start figuring out a way to get to London, or Toronto, or New York, or any of the many other places it will undoubtedly run. We should all get to experience magic. Let the movies be the movies, and let the Cursed Child play.

 

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