Story Time (Or: Quick takes on the new Harry Potter movie)

My capacity to absorb narrative is under some strain. Just as I was in the middle of reading A Study in Scarlet for the sake of better appreciating A Study in Pink, the new Harry Potter movie was released AND I got the notice from my library that the copy of Mockingjay that I had reserved was now available. Such fun! But my head is starting to spin.

(Re: the Sherlock Holmes references: if you missed the Masterpiece Mystery presentations of the new modern adaptation of Sherlock on PBS in October and early November, you should know that you can watch them on the PBS website through December 7, and that doing so is a very, very good idea. They are GREAT FUN.)

Saw HP7.1 yesterday afternoon; finished ASIS last night. Now then, to protect my poor head from any more story overload, I'm going to record my initial impressions regarding HP7.1 here before diving into Mockingjay.

Regarding SPOILERS: If you haven't read the book yet, you have only yourself to blame. I don't think the following gives away anything important about the movie per se, but if you want to watch it free from the mental clutter of other people's opinions, well then you probably don't want to read ANYTHING about it before you see it, do you?

-1-
I was not nearly as disappointed with this movie as I was expecting to be. I want to see it again.

Splitting the novel into two parts evidently gave screenwriter Kloves the breathing room he needed to develop an essentially faithful yet appropriately innovative screen adaptation. There seem to be somewhat more deviations from a strict retelling of the book than there were in earlier installments, which is a good thing: a movie is a different medium, and making a good movie out of a book requires respecting the differences between the media. I was frequently delighted to notice points that were different from the book, but that were well chosen and cleverly executed.

-2-
One of my chief complaints about the HP movie franchise as a whole is the dialogical pacing. Scenes in which it would be natural for the characters to be reacting immediately are instead laden with pauses which I suppose are supposed to be pregnant but in fact are just annoyingly slow; scenes where it would be natural for the characters to need a moment to take things in are instead rushed without so much as a beat to absorb their gravity. This movie still has some of those pacing problems, but it is not as bad as most of the previous installments.

-3-
One departure from the book actually represented a correction of a mistake in the original text, and I would not be surprised at all if JK herself were to adopt the movie's "reading" in future editions. The opening sequence of the movie shows the three central characters soberly preparing to depart on their quest, including a very moving image of Hermione wiping her parents' memories of the fact of her very existence. When the trio encounter Death Eaters in a London cafe several scenes later, Ron references the earlier spell by suggesting that Hermione should wipe the Death Eater's memories, since she's the best at it. In the book, when Hermione performs the spell on the Death Eaters, she claims that she has never done a memory charm before.

-4-
I only noticed a couple of key events that I thought were really important in the book that got left out of the movie: First and foremost, Harry's use of expelliarmus in the flight from Privet Drive. I do like what the filmmakers did instead, but it's at the cost of the rich symmetry between the first and last battles in Deathly Hallows.

Second: the cost of Wormtail's mercy was an important moment in the arc of the books, so I was disappointed not to see it in the movie. But upon reflection, I suspect that the necessary antecedents are missing in the film version of the Potterverse, which would make the depiction at this point superfluous. It's been a long time since I've watched the film versions of Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, but I think they lack the set-up for this moment to make sense in the film. Also, the whole Harry/Wormtail thing is such a blatant rip-off (or should I say homage? that sounds better) of/to Frodo/Gollum that I'm ultimately content to leave it to LOTR.

-5-
I know the book so well that I can't help fill in the exposition and backstory that are missing, which leaves me mystified as to whether the movie would make any sense at all to a viewer who is not already familiar with the story. In this sense I am woefully unqualified to review to movie, because I am simply not capable of considering the movie on its own terms. I must rely on non-fan viewers to tell me whether and how it works without 759 pages of commentary read a dozen times over.

Unfortunately, I very quickly get very annoyed at reviews and commentary by writers who clearly have not read the books. (No, "fans" will not be "amazed" to find that Hogwarts doesn't figure in 7.1; fans read the book three years ago and already know that Hogwarts doesn't come into view until the final battle.) If they could stick to the film itself I would be pleased, but I find transparent displays of ignorance to be irritating. This article, for example, was evidently written by a reporter who saw an advanced screening of the film, then described one scene from the film incorrectly to several knowledgeable Potter pundits who had not yet seen the film in order to get their reactions. If the reporter had been sufficiently familiar with the book, she may have been able to give a less confused description, or if her "experts" had actually seen the scene in question, they would have been able to give a more reasonable responses. As it was, however, the entire exercise is a piece of rubbish and a waste of time for everyone involved, including the reader.

-6-
I can't help thinking that director David Yates is intentionally trying to make the relationship between Harry and Hermione more ambiguous than it is in the book, and I can't quite figure out why he made that choice and whether it, in any sense, works. The scene where Harry cheers up a dejected Hermione by drawing her into a playful dance is a sweet interlude and a nice tension break, but some of my fanfriends are correct to point out that it, combined with Harry's failure to reassure Ron after his epic fight with the Horcrux that he "love[s] her like a sister," (HP&DH, 378), leaves the question of Harry and Hermione's feelings more open than Rowling ever meant it to be.

I wonder if perhaps Yates is somehow trying to inject the romantic tension of an implied love triangle for the sake of film-only viewers without making it so overt (e.g., by having Harry move in for a kiss after the dance, as you almost always see in such sequences on film) as to raise an outcry from us purists. But again, I can't fathom what the point of that would be. Does this film need more tension? (I know, some argue that it does -- which I really don't get -- but if so, is this the tension it needs?) Or can our imaginations really not handle the depiction of a genuinely platonic friendship? It's confusing and mildly disappointing, but not really that big of a deal.

-7-
A really minor point: as a hardcore Tonks/Lupin shipper, I was disappointed that more of their appearances didn't make it into the movie -- although, artistically speaking, I think almost all of these cuts were the right choice. Given these cuts, I was pleased that the filmmakers threw fans like me a bone by having Tonks almost, but not quite, announce her pregnancy to Harry at the beginning of the Seven Potters scene.

Enough already. Those are my major reactions on a first viewing, although of course there's plenty more that could be said. But I have a new YA novel to read, so TTFN.

P.S. Oh, yes: the animation on the Tale of the Three Brothers was awesome.

2 comments:

Wendy said...

Well said. I would make pretty much the same points you did. Part of what bothered me about not having the expelliarmus spell give Harry away (or the wormtail hesitation) is that it is a character thing. Harry is merciful. He goes for the disarm. He didn't kill Wormtail. He is a truly nice/good guy, his mother's son. (This is also what drove me crazy about #4--they didn't have Harry and Cedric cooperating at the end--both were still competing, trying to win.) Probably the exclusion I was most wistful about was showing how Harry changes his treatment of Kreacher and Kreacher responds to the human kindness. Again, they are moments that give insight into Harry's character.

My partner has not read the books, and he seemed to follow the movie well enough and he enjoyed it.

Rachel said...

Wendy, you're absolutely right. I think that's a huge piece of my ambivalence (at best) about the movies -- they lose so much of the moral center of the stories, which is really what I love most about them.

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