The Problem With Potter
I often get quite annoyed when folk break out lines about books being ‘superior’ to film adaptations. Rightly so, in my opinion, as the film is a separate piece of work. Allowances must me made for it fitting into a roughly two hour story arc, I say. It is based upon the original literature, not a simple rehash and nor should it be, I declare. Some films are better than the source book as a result. I’m not entirely sure, however, after watching Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, that has been to the benefit of the the Harry Potter series.
Having been suitably impressed by Part 1, I’ve been left feeling a bit cold by Part 2, despite the critical adulation it seems to be enjoying. Trying to figure out why it didn’t quite work, when I greatly enjoyed the climax on paper 4 years ago, I went back and looked at some plot details and how the last chapters of the book played out online. What I found made it clear to me that, even if the major points are all present and correct, directorial and screenwriter privelege has maybe been used where it shouldn’t have been, and ignored when it might have been more useful. I won’t give any particular details to avoid spoilers, and they are also unneccessary to the point I’m making, but suffice to say that there are some key moments altered or missed out that would have made the story flow better, or at least more clear.
This is not to belittle the efforts of the actors in the films (and all the Harry Potter films), and as a film Part 2 is quite good. Some of the finest British and Irish acting talent of the last generation have passed through these films and done an admirable job in most cases, me being one of the folk impressed by Ralph Fiennes job of bringing the arrogant malevolence of Voldemort to the big screen. The young leads (after a rocky start, I think) have also grown into their roles together extremely well.
The decision to split the final book has proven a double-edged sword, though. It was to the benefit of Part 1, which I thought was one the better films and allowed some great exploration of the characters. However, Part 2 has suffered and neglected a great many characters who were important in the films as well as the books. Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape is a casualty of the desire to pack this film with banally choreographed CGI showdowns and hackneyed declarations of defiance where there was often no such thing in the source text.
And herein lies the problem, the Harry Potter film series, for all the high points (films 3,4,6 and 7P1 for me) it has engendered, has too often been a bombastic ‘York Notes’ version of the books. The leeway afforded to a screen adaptation has been, arguably, used incorrectly to sever sections of each book in turn rather than looking to provide an cohesive interpretation of the whole series. This has come back to bite the series in the backside with the final part, key plot points and moments feeling rushed (odd for 130 minute film of half a book…) as they have not been explained properly in previous installments or missed out altogether as they haven’t been touched upon. The end result is a huge battle with little of the emotional resonance built up over the course of six books (or even the films).
Say what you like about the book series, but J.K.Rowling is clearly a good story teller and has done an excellent job of taking many seemingly disparate elements of the previous books and bringing them together into a coherent and satisfying conclusion. She had an overall vision for the series, and has executed it well. The same idea of an overarching vision across all 8 films is not obvious at all. How could it be with 4 directors at the helm over the course of them? Chris Columbus was initially to direct all the films, after all, before dropping out (don’t bet me wrong, based on the first 2 films I’d rather he hadn’t continued, but there’s no doubt the series could have benefited from a single cinematic vision).
In the case of the Harry Potter series, if you like it, this is the single most compelling reason to read the books regardless of your progress in consuming the series in either medium.
UPDATE: Having somehow ended up rewatching Part 1, it is a lot better I think…