Miles Kington: How to enjoy the Harry Potter film: wait 40 years

'The Harry Potter people can take courage from the "Radio Times" summary of "The Running Man" '
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The Independent Online

My wife and son and I went to see the Harry Potter film on Friday, and we trooped out of the cinema after two hours hardly daring to look at each other. It was one of the feeblest, thinnest films we had ever seen. The acting was either wooden or cosy, or both, and the famous names involved restricted themselves almost entirely to their trademark gestures – the Maggie Smith pursed lips, the Alan Rickman stare, the Robbie Coltrane hearty laugh (someone has to have a word with Coltrane before he turns into Brian Blessed). The special effects were sometimes impressive, in a sub-Gormenghast sort of way, the quidditch game was very well done (my wife said that she could never quite understand the rules in the book, but the film made it clear), but all in all it was about as stirring as a plate of cold porridge.

My wife and son are Rowling addicts and felt that the film betrayed the books badly. Not being a Potter convert, I was disappointed for different reasons. I simply felt it was a poor film without any real characterisation – all the characters are presented as goodies or baddies, with no reason given – and about as much storyline as a half-understood video game. They were additionally crestfallen because the film gave no real idea of JK Rowling's world. All the niceties had been dropped, all the little significances of plot, all the things looking forward to the next episode, and all that was left were the stage trappings.

"Also, Professor Dumbledore is meant to be a fearsome character," said my wife. "He is the one person of whom the villain is afraid. Yet he was played by Richard Harris as a nice old cleaning lady."

"When I get home," said my son, "I'm going to get out the JK Rowling book and read it again to make sure that it is as good as I remember it to be, because if the film is right, I have made a terrible mistake."

I thought I would choose a different path out of depression. I would look through the Radio Times to see if there were any films coming up that I could watch with unalloyed pleasure to let me forget Harry Potter and The P's Stone. And blow me down, there on page 91 they said that today, Monday 26 November, I could watch The Running Man on Channel 4, starring Laurence Harvey, Alan Bates and Lee Remick.

I have always wanted to see The Running Man again, because I was there when it was made. In the early 1960s, when I was a poor student, I got a vacation job playing double bass in a jazz piano trio in a night club in a small village in the Bay of Algeciras, in the south of Spain. It was one of those wonderful summers. We played at night and played around during the day. The border between Gibraltar and La Linea was still fully open. It was the year when El Cordobes, the charismatic "Beatle of the bull ring", first sprang to fame and we all went to see him fight at La Linea. It was also the year they made The Running Man in the country round there, and we made friends with the film crew, and even, if I remember correctly, played at one of their parties.

(We never met Laurence Harvey but we made friends with Roy, his stand-in, whose hair had been dyed a sort of orange, to tie in with Harvey's character. One day we saw Roy walking down Gibraltar Main Street. "Roy!" we shouted. We shouted again and again. Finally he turned round and scowled at us deeply. Unfortunately, it wasn't Roy. It was Laurence Harvey.)

And when we got home, we all went to see the film and it was terrible, even though John Mortimer had done the script and Carol Reed directed. The film guides still agree. "Extremely routine thriller about an insurance swindle," says Time Out, "in which the scenery takes first place." Halliwell agrees. "Flabby, expensive suspenser," says the 2001 Halliwell. "Both plot and character take a back seat to scenic views".

Blimey. Sounds a bit like the new Harry Potter film. Still, the Harry Potter people can take courage from the summary of The Running Man that appears in this week's Radio Times. Not routine or flabby any more, it seems: "Armed with a clever script by John Mortimer, Carol Reed has managed to turn a run-of-the-mill potboiler into a hugely entertaining thriller."

Well, if The Running Man can improve so dramatically over the years, there's hope for Harry Potter yet. Meanwhile, I shall be sitting in front of the TV today at 1.20pm. The scenery should be worth it, if nothing else.

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