Harry Potter and the Mediocre Film Adaptations

I'm just coming up for air after roughly three and a half weeks immersed in a complete re-read of the entire Harry Potter saga -- which, for those keeping score at home, works out to approximately 35 hours of Harry per week, if you include the time I spent re-viewing movies five and six. With regard to that figure, I have just two things to say:

  • I actually did get some other things done in the last three weeks. Honestly. Some things...
  • I never claimed to have a life.
So obviously I either started my re-read too soon or proceeded through the books too quickly, since there's still more than a month left before the next movie comes out. But I'm not too fussed about it, because I've realized that the chances of me actually liking the movie are next to zilch. I will of course go to see it anyway (although perhaps not at the midnight opening), out of curiosity over the choices the makers made in translating the story. 

See, as I was re-reading the sixth of the books (HBP to those in the know), it dawned on me that the forthcoming movie is number seven, and yet I had no recollection of having watched movie number six. I racked my brain and dredged up a memory of driving to the theater to watch the movie, and of driving home from the theater after the movie, but nothing about the movie itself. Further mental effort yielded a fuzzy image of Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, but still nothing of the action of the movie. The scenes I thought I recalled from the movie actually all came from the previous installment, Order of the Phoenix (OotP). 

I was puzzled at this lacuna in my memory, so of course I watched the movie again, and promptly discovered why I had entirely forgotten it: It is eminently forgettable. The adaptation of the story manages at once to be so slavishly bound to the book that it fails to hold together as a work in its own right, and yet at the same time introduces departures and abridgments that at best fail to advance the storyline and at worst are incoherent. Much of the dialog is painfully wooden. In sum, I think, the rich imaginary picture that I had of this story from multiple readings of the book simply overwrote the enfeebled version that the movie offered, obliterating the latter from my memory as surely as Gilderoy Lockhart's self-important shenanigans on the wrong end of a malfunctioning wand. 

It turns out, the only movie adaptation of the Harry Potter books that I thought was any good was the fifth one, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which also happens (not coincidentally, I'm afraid) to be the only one not adapted for screen by Steve Kloves. Kloves seems to be too fearful of the ire of the book's legion of fans to actually write a movie out of his source material. At least Michael Goldenberg, writer for OotP, managed to give the story a thematic unity and a comprehensible through-line that enable the movie to stand on its own -- all the more remarkable an accomplishment seeing that the book version of OotP doesn't really stand on its own. (I love the whole HP canon, but I think the only installments that work as stories in their own right are the first three books -- parts 4-7 really only work as steps in the broader seven-part story arch.) 

So, alas, I expect I am bound to be disappointed by the final two movies in the series. But, loyal fan that I am, I will continue to make JKR and Warner Bros richer by going to see them nonetheless. Besides, I can't really complain about an excuse to re-read the books. (Note to self: you can never again make fun, even in your own head, of your friends who re-read The Lord of the Rings on an annual basis.)

Speaking of adaptations of classic seven-part children's fantasies laden with Christian symbolism and written by British authors, this is one movie I genuinely am looking forward to seeing this season. Given that both the source material and fan expectations are of a more manageable scale than the HP franchise, I suspect that these filmmakers will have an easier time making something worth seeing.

2 comments:

Steve Lansingh said...

That's funny. The Half-Blood Prince was the only HP film that I've watched a second time because I enjoyed it just so much.

http://www.stevelansingh.com/2010/06/half-blood-prince.html

alpineflower said...

I just listened to all of them on audiobook and after HBP I watched the film, and totally agree with you, Rachel (sorry, Steve!). So. Boring. And I discovered that I, too had seen it before and had forgotten it. DH looks better, but we'll see - the good stuff may have all been in the preview.

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