One of my favourite scenes ever in a film is one that wasn’t in the book it was based on. In most cases I wouldn’t know what an adaptation left out or added, but in this case the book also happens to be one of my favourites. The scene appears near the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Ron has abandoned his friends, who now sit depressed in the English wilderness. Harry, while contemplating his situation, hears a song coming from their tent. He walks in to find Hermione sitting there listening to Nick Cave’s “O Children” on the radio. He goes to her, takes her by the hand and begins to dance. The scene is only about two minutes long, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of that first half of the book. And it’s completely invented for the film.
The themes of friendship and feeling lost are right there in one beautiful scene. It’s beautifully filmed, beautifully acted and the song choice is wonderful. What I love most about it is that the screenwriter and director found a way to do something new and truly cinematic. It’s a scene that wouldn’t work as well in a novel anyway. It’s all visual and aural. It appeals directly to visceral emotion. They took the very heart of the book and translated it into filmic terms and came away with the best scene in the entire franchise.
This wasn’t the first time the Harry Potter series had added scenes that weren’t in the books. The previous film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, expanded a scene from the book in which Slughorn tells a story about Harry’s mother when she was a student. It’s a tiny addition, but it speaks so well to the emotion that underlies the series at this point in the journey. Again, an invented scene that’s better than any scenes which originated with the novel.
I wish more films would do this. The Hunger Games featured scenes that weren’t in the book, though they were all hinted at or described in the book and the sequels. Still, one of the major scenes in the film showed a small uprising in District 11, and it was one of the few moments where the film where the emotion was sold for me. It’s a scene discussed in the second book, but inserted into the first film it has a greater power.
Another great example of new/altered scenes in adaptations is Watchmen. That’s a film famous for its incredible faithfulness to the source graphic novel. It’s faithful to a fault. But one area where the film isn’t literally faithful is with the twist at the end. The spirit of the book’s ending is there, but the film brings it back to the characters, and makes it more believable. Most things in the movie are not as good as the book, but the ending is actually better, more emotional and ultimately more profound. It’s a change from the book, where the people adapting it saw a way to do right by doing different.
In the Coen brothers’ True Grit there’s a scene where the character bump into an eccentric man in a bear suit. It’s a small scene, and the character is very weird. At first I thought of it as just a little comic bit to break the tension. The scene certainly plays that way, but upon further reflection and subsequent viewings I’ve come to see its thematic importance.. The man in the bear suit is a vision of what a person becomes when completely removed from society. He’s the ultimate loner. He is what the main characters threaten to become. It also happens to be one of the few scenes in the film that are completely invented. Maybe not the best scene in the film, but a great one nonetheless.
I think what works so well about all these added scenes is that they are products of writers and directors addressing the thematic core of the source material. Purely adapted scenes are filtering the source, but these new scenes feel more like responses. This gives them the room to do something more cinematic, or to address themes through totally new eyes.
I’m sure there are examples I wouldn’t even know about due to not having read the novels. Do you have any favourite scenes that weren’t in the original source? Tell me about them in the comments.