Harry Potter for Adults – What Would the World of the Last Three Books and the Battle of Hogwarts Have Looked Like Rated R?

by Stuart

Abstract: The “Harry Potter” novels are written as children’s books, but imagine the film versions of the latter novels without the constraints to appeal to a children’s audience…

Look through the various quibbles on this site and you’ll see interweaving questions on how certain aspects of the books – specifically from the last few chapters of Goblet of Fire – have been ‘dumbed down’ or’ skimmed over’ or sanitized when it came to the movie adaptations.

On the face of it, there’s a very good reason in that both books and films were launched and promoted as tales for children. Anything above a PG-13 rating would have seriously impaired any of the movies’ ability to appeal to a wide audience and would have seriously dented their wide-ranging appeal. And yet, the seeds are sown in the novels themselves for something far more sinister and frightening.

While not at all criticizing the existing movies, it is interesting to speculate what might have been had this audience-appeal constraint not been present.

Let’s consider the Ministry of Magic scenes for a moment. Even in the early books, we get a whiff of an autocratic, all-controlling organization, intolerant of dissent or those that don’t toe the ‘party line’… but all is really innocent, and it doesn’t intrude so much that the films would need to be modified over much.

However, the big turning point comes at the end of Goblet of Fire where Cedric Diggory is murdered by Voldemort. Now… murder, seeing someone being killed in front of you is enormously traumatic – it hasn’t happened to me, nor, I guess to many HP fans – but somehow the film lacks that enormous punch in the guts that such an event, should it happen in real life, would have. I can’t pretend to know what it would feel like, but I know, even when I saw the film for the first time, I didn’t feel perhaps that enormous emotional kick I should have.

But I’m guessing that Mike Newall, best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral was hardly the best choice for director. It’s such a shame that Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) wasn’t available. If you’ve seen this film you’ll know why.

It’s when we get to Order of the Phoenix that things start to diverge. The Ministry of Magic is ever more obsessively autocratic and in denial, Delores Umbridge is basically a sadistic, fundamentalist tool of the Ministry and yet the very powerful feeling of dread and fear is only hinted at. And yet we have a director totally ill-equipped to deal with this. Harry is bullied, but if anyone has watched the UK series Waterloo Road (about a northern UK comprehensive school) or Grange Hill or anything similar, he gets off very lightly.

There is none of the gritty reality that such bullying would really involve. This may be partly down to the writing. And OotP had a stand-in writer who, frankly, didn’t have a clue about life in a British school – or any school come to think of it.

And… we see the inside of the Ministry of Magic for the first time – a straight take from Orwell’s 1984 both as described in the book and portrayed in any number of films – even down to the floor to ceiling image of the Minister himself – Big Brother of 1984 in all his glory. This is a tired and frightened government tottering on the edge of defeat, but we never really get that feeling. We are in 1930s Berlin as the Weimar Republic fades and the Nazis gain power, but we never get that feeling of huge doom and foreboding.

But let’s move forward. By the start of Deathly Hallows, there is an all-pervading fear of capture, torture, and disappearance, the same sort of atmosphere that pervaded Chile and Argentina in the 80s. You could be taken off the streets, tortured, and shot at any time. Any dissent was brutally dealt with. In an ‘adult’ remake of both of these films, we would have to witness the midnight knock on the door, the hauling away to stinking prisons, or worse.

Surprisingly the only image we have of ‘Storm Troopers’ is when we are in Gringotts Bank in Deathly Hallows – part 2. Why aren’t these literally everywhere?

We would see the show trials, the punishment for ‘trivial’ offenses, the sheer brutality of it all, and the bodies in the streets. Although this is background, it’s very important background. It’s the equivalent of the various resistance movements in Europe against Nazi occupation – French, Dutch, Greek, Norwegian, etc… – where the inhabitants of whole villages could be rounded up and shot because of some act of sabotage. An adult HP would show this simply to ramp up the background of extreme fear and terror.

But most important is the final battle. For those who have seen the first 15-20 minutes ofSaving Private Ryan, you will know exactly what it’s like to go head to head with a deadly enemy and watch your friends die around you. For an all-out adult version, this is how that final battle would have been portrayed. OK magical spells don’t tear through body and flesh as bullets do but the effect on people around you is pretty much the same – they die! Falling masonry crushes and maims, and produces blood… real blood.

Do we need to be so graphic? Well, that is the reality of war. People die and people die ugly deaths and in doing so generate real anger, real grief.

In a sense, this Quibble is meant to generate discussion. Saving Private Ryan was directed by Steven Spielberg who also gave us the amazingly powerful and moving Schindler’s List. Sorry, but David Yates simply wouldn’t cut it against Spielberg and was probably out of his depth with the depth and enormity of the feelings that needed to be generated by this climactic scene.

I would love to see a no holds barred, 18 (R) certificate of the latter HP movies. What do others think?