It’s always interesting to look back at movie industry choices with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight; near-miss casting decisions, actors turning down what turned out to be career defining roles – small decisions that could have had dramatically different impacts on cinema.

A recent LA Times article takes a look back at the Harry Potter franchise, in anticipation of the November 19th release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the two-part film which marks the beginning of the end for the boy wizard. One of the most interesting reveals in the article was what the franchise might have been in the hands of the man responsible for some of the world’s most popular movie franchises, Steven Spielberg.

According to the article, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the first four Harry Potter novels for a mere $2 million dollars, prior to the full release of the book series, and its subsequent astronomical success in both Britain and The United States. In the early stages of development, Warner Bros. reached out to Spielberg’s DreamWorks about a financial partnership, but were turned down.

When the book series became an international phenomena, it was DreamWorks’ turn to approach Warner Bros. about a potential partnership – only to be turned down. Warner Bros. president Alan Horn was interested in the possibility of Spielberg helming the films, however.

Spielberg would have been a natural fit for Potter in many ways; as a director with a proven record in both franchise development and fantasy – specifically children’s fantasy – it was a potentially perfect match. Alas, as the fates would have it, creative differences ended the possibility of a Spielberg directed Potter.


Check out Horn’s quote about Spielberg’s brush with the Harry Potter franchise:

“I did think it would be worthwhile for Steven Spielberg to direct…We offered it to him. But one of the notions of Dreamworks’ and Steven’s was, ‘Let’s combine a couple of the books, let’s make it animated,’ and that was because of the [visual effects and] Pixar had demonstrated that animated movies could be extremely successful. Because of the wizardry involved, they were very effects-laden. So I don’t blame them. But I did not want to combine the movies, and I wanted it to be live action.”

Spielberg went on to direct A.I.: Artificial Intelligence for Warner Bros in lieu of Potter, and Home Alone director Chris Columbus took on the first two films in the Potter franchise.

Horn and Warner Bros., unequivocally, made the correct choice. The six Harry Potter films released thus far have grossed a combined $5.7 billion in worldwide theatrical sales. It is the number one most successful franchise in film history. Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones are nine and ten, respectively.

However, it does feel as though there may have been a lost opportunity here. Combining the films would have been an enormous fan disappointment, and would have meant a potentially massive loss of revenue for the studio; it also seems unlikely that an animated Potter would have held the mass appeal (to book series readers and non-readers, alike) that the live-action versions do. Yet, the thought of a Spielberg directed Harry Potter does open up the imagination to a world of possibilities.

The first two Potter films did not quite convey the sense of, well, magic, that one would have expected from the franchise, nor did they realize the full cinematic potential inherent in the books. Chris Columbus made a couple of fine children’s films, but Spielberg had the capability to convey a sense of whimsy, mystery, and yes, magic, that would appeal to both children and adults. Had the director tapped into the same sense of wonder and possibility that defined E.T., there is no telling what he could have made of the world of muggles, wizards and prophecies.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was an interesting concept, but a fairly forgettable film; and as much as I love the franchise, the Harry Potter movies did not really come alive for me until the Alfonso Cuarón directed the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

We are left to wonder what might have been if Warner Bros. and Steven Spielberg had come to a compromise ten years ago. Too bad we have no Delorean to go back and set things right; though, perhaps, all is already as it was meant to be.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 zips into theaters on its Nimbus 2011 on November 19th.

Source: LA Times

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