The Movie 8 Paradox
I think that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is a complete paradox — it’s not a good movie, but it’s good because it’s a Harry Potter movie, yet it’s an awful Harry Potter movie. Say what? Okay, I’ll elaborate.
I make no secret of the fact that I absolutely despise the Harry Potter movies ever since Chris Columbus left. The first two movies, in my opinion, are almost flawlessly made – sure, the nitpickiest among us will have a few complaints, but they are still incredible adaptations. Ever since then, the movies have all been butchered to varying degrees – whether the fault lies with the screenwriter, director, or actors is up for debate. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was an unspeakable travesty, tossing the plot completely out the window and featuring the worst moments of the entire franchise (“He was their friend!”; the Firebolt freeze-frame?).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was awful as well. Aside from Michael Gambon’s abysmal performance, and the fact that the entire Hair-Cutting Department was seemingly on break, they pared a very complex novel down to such minimum basics that the whole charm of it was lost.
Order of the Phoenix I view as the best of the post-Columbus movies because it managed to faithfully capture the spirit of the book and because of the wonderful performances by newcomers like Evanna Lynch, Imelda Staunton, and Helena Bonham Carter. I have to give credit here to the screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg, for managing to adapt an 870-page novel into a two-hour movie and still keep a lot of dialogue intact. Perhaps if he had been screenwriter instead of the abysmal Steve Kloves (a delusional Harmonian if I ever saw one), the film franchise could have been salvaged.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the biggest disgrace of the series – in fact, I don’t even own the DVD because I had less than zero desire to watch that trainwreck again. Visually awful, with horrible acting and utterly nonsensical plotting, it really has no redeeming qualities. It bears only a passing resemblance to the book and makes no sense as a movie, so wizards and Muggles alike despise it. Which is really a shame, since Half-Blood Prince was my favorite book.
Which brings us to the two Deathly Hallows movies. Upon seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, I was very happy because, after Half-Blood Prince, I had no expectations for this one. Looking back on it, I began to realize that, while decent, it could have been so much better. Instead of putting in something valuable like Lupin’s family issues or Luna’s character development, we are treated to a Harmony dance scene that makes me want to gouge my eyes out.
And then comes the last movie.
When I walked out of the theater, tear-tracks glinting on my face, after the two times I saw Deathly Hallows – Part 2, I believed that the movie was brilliant. For starters, the filmmakers had Neville and Luna end up together, which made me forgive them for any and all other sins (my friends claim my squees were heard across the theater). But also, the emotional impact had been there. Still on the movie-release high (I essentially spent a week and a half out with my Harry Potter friends getting up to all kinds of shenanigans), I found myself thinking that the filmmakers had finally got it right. But then, after the tears dried and we all got some sleep, we began to discuss the film. It went something like this:
“I loved it! Oh, if only they’d done _____, it would have been perfect!”
An hour later, “I really liked it! Sure, they kinda messed _____ up, but on the whole, it was good.”
Another hour later, “I liked it for the most part, but they really butchered _____.”
And finally, “Parts of it were good, but there was so much they could have done better.” And this is the statement that I believe can be used to sum up the films as a whole, and especially this film.
The reason we all loved the film is because we projected the book onto it. We took all our emotions from reading the last book – the heartbreak and sorrow, the triumph and joy, the love and hatred for characters – and projected that onto the film. In reality, the film’s story and characters have done nothing to earn such an emotional response from us. As just a movie fan, I couldn’t care less about the characters, and I can’t follow the story in the slightest. This is why I say that it isn’t a good movie – standing on its own (or even on the shoulders of the film franchise), it’s really quite awful. And it’s only because we know the books so deeply that we thought it was good. I believe this sentiment was rather brilliantly addressed in the quibble “On Whether Harry Potter Actually Happened.”
Here’s a good example: Take the scene where Molly kills Bellatrix. I’m assuming that anyone who saw it in a crowded theater heard so much cheering at this part that they could barely hear the line. Why were we cheering? Because after reading the books, we love Mrs. Weasley as the ultimate mother figure and hate Bellatrix as the most ruthless and cruel of the Death Eaters. In the movies, Mrs. Weasley is just Ron’s mom, who gets a cameo in most movies, and Bellatrix is Death Eater #1 and psycho. And the moment was very poorly put into the movie. Whereas in the book, the Battle of Hogwarts involves the trio moving about in the thick of battle, in the movie, the focus is almost exclusively on the trio, so the random battle scene with minor characters doesn’t fit in. And yet the entire theater cheered because we knew what should have happened.
The same goes for most of the character deaths. In the movies, Fred is a mediocre comic relief guy, not like a brother to Harry – yet that didn’t stop my friend Margaret (who cosplays Molly) from crying “NOOO!” across the entire theater when his body was shown. In the movies, Lupin is little more than another Order guy, and Tonks is Order Member #5 who randomly ends up at Lupin’s side. And yet everyone sniffled when they reached for each other’s hands.
Even the “Forest Again” sequence had us all crying – and for what? James Potter (in the movies) is an utter nonentity and urges Harry to go die. Harry apologizes to Lupin about his son, who doesn’t exist in the movies! We should have all been sitting there rolling our eyes at this scene, yet sobs echoed through the theater after every line because we – the Harry Potter fans- know how tragic and real and wonderful these characters are.
This is also why the few people I spoke to who hadn’t read the books thought the movie thoroughly mediocre – it made very little sense to them, and they were sitting bemused in a theater full of people crying. It’s like Warner Bros. finally admitted that if you haven’t read the books by this time, it’s your own damn fault! And made a movie purely for the fans of the books. But if that’s then the case, why did they botch it so badly?
For once the rose-tinted 3D glasses are taken off, it’s plain to see that the movie was indeed quite thoroughly butchered. Not completely – I will admit that the section from “The Prince’s Tale” through “The Forest Again,” and even most of “King’s Cross,” was done excellently (though I may have just had my sight too blurred by tears to notice any mistakes). But for the most part, oy vey.
Aberforth’s story was completely taken out. The titular Deathly Hallows were barely mentioned, let alone explained. The Gray Lady’s story was completely omitted. Most of the Battle of Hogwarts that doesn’t involve the trio or Neville is gone. Instead of Luna’s touching line, “We’re all still here, we’re still fighting,” we get her snapping at Harry in a most un-Luna-ish way.
These are all omissions, but even worse, there are mistakes! Continuity errors – where Harry gets the Gryffindor robe and why it suddenly vanishes. Sending the Slytherins to the dungeon instead of showing them mercy. Losing the poetry of Snape dying in the Shrieking Shack for some pulled-out-of-the-rear boathouse. This is all before the good half-hour of “The Prince’s Tale” through “King’s Cross.” But afterward, it goes from an indignant “hey!” to absolutely cringeworthy. Voldemort gives hugs. Instead of inspiring speeches, Neville prattles on like a buffoon. Nagini, Bellatrix, and Voldy all burst into confetti. Voldemort and Harry hug each other and fly around Hogwarts for no good reason, then have Priori Incantatem despite not sharing cores. Harry breaks the Elder Wand and leaves himself wandless. UGH.
I think the bottom line here is that Warner Bros. no longer really cares about making a quality product. Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was not a good movie, and it was an even worse adaptation. It was only considered good because we filled in the blanks with our vivid imaginations, because we projected Jo’s incredible writing onto the screen as we wished the filmmakers would.
And let’s face it, from a business standpoint, why would Warner Bros. care about making quality Harry Potter movies? After seven movies, precious few people unfamiliar with the series will decide to go see the last one thanks to good word of mouth. Conversely, anyone who has stuck with the series for seven movies will likely see it through to the end. And naturally, the faithful devotees of the books will go out in droves to see the movies because we can make their bad visions into good ones in our heads. This is why Films 4–7 are all within a couple million dollars of each other at the box office and why Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (once accounting for higher 3D prices) did not experience a much bigger surge in profit.
In conclusion, the filmmakers failed at making quality movies – and we enjoyed the movies despite them, not thanks to them. And that is why I watch the movies every couple of years yet reread the books every summer.