Estimates for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’” weekend haul are now hovering around $135 million, driven by yesterday’s jam-packed midnight screenings, which conjured over $35 million in ticket sales and another $1.4 million in IMAX grosses. Not a bad first act in the teen wizard’s epic swan song. Clearly the franchise has benefited from the kind of careful, doting custodians looking out for its best interests that Harry himself so sorely lacked.
But the laws of entropy governing any creative endeavor dictate that there will always be missed opportunities and missteps along the way. So we’ve zeroed in on the one variable most responsible for each film’s success or failure: the filmmaker. And in the interest of exploring some of those alternative universe versions of J.K. Rowling’s beloved septet, we’ve assembled a selection of some of the most interesting directors to have circled various Harry sequels and our thoughts on how those versions might have turned out. So go ahead and join us in a bit of armchair blockbuster producing and weigh in with your own fantasies (or nightmares) of woulda, coulda, shoulda versions of the most successful book and movie franchise of all time.
Terry Gilliam’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Backstory: The Monty Python alum, known for creating visually baroque alternate realities in films like “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys,” was J.K. Rowling’s first choice to direct her first-born installment of Potter saga but Warner Bros. vetoed her suggestion in favor of the more mainstream and safe choice, Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”). Revisionist Harry: Imagine Gilliam taking all the Dursley sequences — particularly the one in which Hagrid rescues Harry from the Dursleys and gives young Dudley a pig’s tail — to their absurdist Python-esque extremes. Nobody does malevolent buffoons better than Gilliam; and this Potter is full of them, from Draco Malfoy and his devious dad, Lucius, to the spineless Dark Artist Quirrell. And just imagine the ghoulishness of Gilliam’s three-headed dog.
Steven Spielberg’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Backstory: Spielberg had discussed directing an animated version of the book with Haley Joel Osment (the kid from “The Sixth Sense”) playing Harry, but he ultimately decided not to pursue the project. Revisionist Harry: Big sweeping scores, a very photogenic, adorable Harry, and Quidditch games full of kids shot in silhouette as they fly in front of a full moon.
Tim Robbins’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Backstory: By far, the biggest wild-card candidate in the bunch, Robbins was still riding the momentum from his Best Director nom for “Dead Man Walking,” five years earlier. Revisionist Harry: Ultra verite, improvised scenes depicting Harry’s persecution by the Dursleys. Robbins’ Harry is very in touch with his anger, which he channels into kicking ass at Quidditch and protecting himself and his two best buddies. In Robbins’ hands, Harry Potter becomes an orphan’s redemption story set to a score by Tom Waits and Richard Thompson.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Backstory: Del Toro was offered the gig and turned it down claiming the story was insufficiently dark and twisted to spark his interest. Revisionist Harry: Del Toro’s Dementors would have been so heart-stoppingly scary, half of the kids in America would have been sleeping with their lights on for the next three years. And judging by what Del Toro did with “Pan’s Labyrinth,” that journey into the Whomping Willow: A tense trek into the sinisterly beautiful heart of darkness from which our three heroes would have likely not recovered for quite some time.
Kenneth Branagh’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Backstory: The British actor-director best known for his visceral, accessible Shakespeare adaptations like “Henry V” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” was also in the running for the Potter in which the Hogwarts trio first hits puberty. Revisionist Harry: More time spent exploring the complexities of a triangular friendship than battling werewolves and Dementors.
Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Backstory: The French filmmaker, best known for fanciful surrealist allegories like “Amelie” and visually stunning action flicks like “Alien Resurrection,” turned down the job claiming he prefers to work with more creative freedom than a big tent-pole like this one would allow. Revisionist Harry: Jeunet’s take might be full of stark contrasts between dark and light, sinister and sweet. Luna Lovegood would be the kind of captivatingly mysterious sylph who bewitches audiences for days after they leave the theater. And yet the battle of Death Eaters would be so bone-rattlingly intense, the film might come with special rating cautioning audiences about potential sensory overload.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Backstory: Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”) expressed interest in taking the helm of this, the second-to-last Harry Potter sequel. But Warner Bros. was committed to British TV director David Yates, who had directed both “Order of the Phoenix” and “Half-Blood Prince.” Revisionist Harry: It would be impossible to know who to trust in this extended-play denouement of the entire series, and even more so as played out through the prism of Shyamalan’s eerie sensibility. Whatever happens among the trio of teens and the friends and foes they encounter in their efforts to evade Voldemort, Shyamalan will find some way to throw in a confounding twist at the end. Wait, you mean Harry is Voldemort?
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