The Burrow: Sketch of a Sketch of a Series Finale

by Robbie Fischer

All the Harry Potter movies that have come out so far have all cut out a lot of material to fit each book’s basic plot elements into one movie that people with average-sized bladders can sit through. And though it is hard to say how many threads Movie 6 is going to leave for Movie 7 to tie up – since the sixth film has not yet been seen – I think Warner Bros. will follow the past formula that has worked so well. I think the seventh book will be adapted into a single, one-part movie. For the first part of this essay, let me unpack a few of my reasons for saying this.

Not all of the Harry Potter books had an equally tight-strung plot. The first two books, for example, and the fourth book as well, were somewhat episodic – though they did have plot lines that ran through them. If any of the Harry Potter books could have been chopped up between multiple films, they were Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Goblet of Fire. Though Goblet of Fire would have suffered most from this multi-movie treatment, it also suffered the most of all the Harry Potter movies so far – including Order of the Phoenix – from being pared down into one film. Even Prisoner of Azkaban, whose film adaptation left out several facts critical for understanding the plot, was more cohesive from a filmic point of view than Goblet of Fire.

On the other hand, the books that would suffer the most from being chopped in half are Books 6 and 7. In fact, if it were at all possible, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows could stand to be squeezed together into a single film. Splitting the arc of these books into two movies is as much fragmentation as their story can endure.

In itself, Deathly Hallows has such a closely-knit plot that dividing it between two films would change it beyond recognition. A new, cliff-hanger climax would have to be crafted to bring “Volume One” to a end. The cumulative structure of the book, in which Harry gradually prepares for his final confrontation with Voldemort, and in which the tension gradually rises to an unbearable level of intensity, would be destroyed by this shift to a central peak. Then a certain amount of time in “Volume Two” would have to be given to a review of what happened in the first volume. Fans who care about the original story would only be frustrated by this major, structural change and the wasted time that goes with it.

Secondly, let’s review the Harry Potter movies so far, and chart their progress so as to predict the basic form of the seventh movie.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets have fallen a lot in the estimate of film critics and fans, at least since the third and fourth movies came out. These days the conventional wisdom holds that the installments directed by Chris Columbus lacked originality or artistic merit. Let’s not forget, though, what books the first two movies were based on, and what audience they were aimed at. Like J. K. Rowling’s books, this series of Warner Bros. films has gradually moved out of the world of light, children’s entertainment toward mature, significant fantasy. Within the limits of the first two movies’ special-effects budget and their principal players’ unformed acting skills, the PS/SS and CoS movies were of the highest possible quality. They convincingly created a visual world full of magic and mystery, and did as much as any film could to turn two kidfic novels bursting with incidents and characters into coherent, visually-driven journeys. There is much in them to be admired.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban changed the texture of the film series toward a kind of quirkiness appreciated by a more advanced age-group. It also furnished the series’ clearest demonstration of how a long, complex, dialogue-driven tale can be transformed into a form of storytelling, where the image largely replaces the word as the medium of communication. Not only were non-essential incidents pared down to reveal the story’s esence, but even the essential storyline had to be altered to make way for eye-impacting moments barely hinted at in the book (such as Harry’s first ride on the Hippogriff). Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire simplified things still further, but also dragged the look and tone of the series to the verge of adulthood. By Order of the Phoenix, the main characters are basically “all grownup,” looking and beginning to act like the adults they are becoming, and their story has begun to resonate with the concerns and experiences of adult viewers.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will, I think, play as a macabre mystery, rather than a magical fantasy for children. The magic can almost be taken for granted now. What remains crucial is the race between Dumbledore’s plan to set Harry onto destroying Voldemort, and Voldemort’s plan to get rid of Dumbledore. When you look back from the post-Deathly Hallows vantage point, the structure of Book 6 becomes clearer, and in a way that the makers of the sixth movie would be foolish to ignore: it’s all about whether Dumbledore can avoid assassination long enough to equip Harry for his Horcrux quest; and in this race – or rather, this lap of the race – the good guys barely win. It’s so close that you have to wait until almost the end of Deathly Hallows to really know how it turned out.

So thirdly, and lastly, let’s predict how the filmmakers will make a single, powerful movie out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

This will be a movie about the long, hard, exhausting part of a war, the part in which the beleaguered nation seems to have reached or even passed the limit of its endurance. It is the part where the war is essentially already lost; where all the resistance that remains is scattered in a few (fewer and fewer) isolated groups across the countryside, while the conquering enemy casually and confidently closes on one cell after another. This is the movie about Frodo and Sam crawling across the plains of Mordor; about Rifleman Dodd surviving on his own, on his feet, on his wits, and on whatever else he can find behind French lines during the darkest days of the Peninsular War; about the Underground Railroad helping U.S. slaves to freedom, the Free French resistance plotting against the Vichy government, East Berliners tunneling under the Wall, the last Jews hiding from the Nazis in Warsaw, and the last uncaptured western agents hiding from the Japanese forces in Manila. It is a story of survival against incredible odds and endurance in the face of relentless discouragement – a story that so many people in the world can understand or remember.

The movie will show Harry and his circle becoming smaller and more isolated, from the battle en route to the Bill-Fleur wedding to the long, tense silence when it is down to just Harry and Hermione in the wilderness. The movie will show tragedy closing around Harry like an iris, from the loss of Moody, Hedwig, and George’s ear to the final roll-call of the living and the dead after the Battle of Hogwarts. It will show betrayals and losses.

Another thing essential to the movie is the conflict between two agendas – the one Harry is supposed to serve(destroying Horcruxes) and the one he is tempted to serve (finding the Deathly Hallows).

I think the movie will have to begin with the Weasley-Delacour wedding and news of the Ministry’s fall; it may even show Scrimgeour being killed, if his character has been introduced in Movie 6. Major incidents that should not be left out include Mr. Lovegood’s explanation of the Deathly Hallows and his betrayal; the separation from Ron and reunion; the visit to Godric’s Hollow with its unnerving outcome; infiltrating both the Malfoy mansion and the Ministry; the deaths of Wormtail and Dobby; and the dragonback escape from Gringotts. That’s just about enough for a regular-length movie, probably. The challenge will be to convey a sense of lonely endurance without slackening the pace of the film, so there is still enough time for Harry to get to Hogwarts, all hell to break loose, and Voldemort to make two fateful attempts to kill an unresisting Harry Potter.

Can all this actually fit in one movie? Well, probably not. I will probably end up grousing about some essential part of the story being left out. But I think Warner Bros., Kloves, and whoever directs the last film will agree that this is a small problem compared to sorting out the incidents of Deathly Hallows into two film scripts and making them both worth your $9.00 +/-.