bad adaptations, bad movies, books, films, Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, movies
It’s the week leading up to my birthday and Perfect Husband has lined up a series of treats for me, the first of which was last night: a movie! We went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part the first). I’ve been wanting to see it since it came out. People told me it was way better than Half Blood Prince.
I suppose they were right. Then again, a rusty half-penny nail up the nose would be better than watching Half Blood Prince.
It was still bloody awful.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time. I like going to the movies. The movie doesn’t have to be good in order for me to enjoy the experience. The movie was terrible just the same.
Let’s go through the good stuff first:
1. The opening scenes were good, setting the tone and following the book quite well.
2. There were only a couple of severe infractions against the plot.
3. They left in one of my favourite lines – the Weasley twins looking at each other after they’ve both had polyjuice potion and saying “wow, we’re identical!”T
4. The destruction of the horcrux was pretty decent.
5. The animated tale of the three brothers was excellent, if a little out of place.
Now, the worst of it:
1. Due to the fact that Half Blood Prince was such a cinematic abortion, there was a lot of “fixing” to be done, mostly involving the hasty introduction of several characters and key plot points which were left out of Half Blood Prince (“Oh, hi, I’m Bill, Ron’s brother. I got attacked by a werewolf and I’m marrying Fleur in the next scene. Did I mention that the Burrow looks fine, despite the fact that it was burned down in the last movie?” and “Hi, I’m Mundungus Fletcher. You’ve known me for years but movie directors kept editing me out because I didn’t seem important. But actually, the fact that I stole a bunch of your things from Sirius’s house is about to become extremely important to the plot.” )
2. They introduced sexual tension between Harry and Hermione, and made it look like poor Ron was going to be the third wheel forever. Ron gets no sexually tense moments with Hermione, presumably because Rupert Grint isn’t as good looking as Daniel Radcliffe and it violates Hollywood’s sensibilities that the funny-looking one might actually get the girl.
3. They entirely cut Kreacher’s back-story, including the details of how he knows anything about the locket, which would have made an action packed and heart wrenching flash-back. They also cut out his emotions. He creaks out his knowledge of the locket’s fate in a dramatic yet detached voice. People who haven’t read the book must be very confused. He is not given Regulus’s locket as his own possession, and he is never even thanks for his help. In other words, the director, like Voldemort, doesn’t think that the experiences of House Elves are important.
4. Perhaps this is why Dobby is given the credit of finding Mundungus Fletcher, and why Dobby maintains an obsequious and neglected image as if he were still enslaved to his hated former masters. The fact that he should be a well-cared for and cheerful elf with several woollen hats on his head is dismissed. He is free and he will look miserable about it! I was always put off by the way they portrayed him anyway. He reminds me vaguely of Jar-Jar Binks, and that’s just wrong.
5. They never explain that a Taboo has been placed on Voldemort’s name, so the mysterious ability of Death Eaters and Snatchers to find Harry in unlikely places must be purely due to Deus Ex Machina.
6. They never explain why Harry is carrying around a shard of glass and looking at it wistfully all the time.
7. Instead of Worm Tail’s heavily-foreshadowed and deeply-symbolic death, he gets blasted from behind by Dobby and Harry just steps over his body.
8. They don’t talk about wand allegiances which is kind of a big deal.
9. We don’t see the indivisibility cloak even once. That’s right. The director cut one of the Hallows out of Deathly Hallows.
10. They cut the portrait of Phinneaus Nigellus, so how are they going to explain the doe appearing in the right place?
I know, I know, people always say “Oh, but the books are so long, you have to cut some stuff out.” This is true. I don’t want you to think I’m this terrible pedant who is impossible to please. There are movie adaptations of books that I like. The movie version of Watership Down is excellent, and that must have been every bit as hard to condense into an hour and a half as any Harry Potter book. The first Bridget Jones’s Diary movie is also acceptable (we won’t talk about the second one). I don’t mind when screen writers and directors cut certain things and alter time lines a bit in order to distill the essence of the book into a two hour movie. I just have a problem with them cutting through the book slap-dash without any sense or reason.
Stuff that is cuttable:
- They could have cut a lot of the aimless wandering done by the trio as they try to avoid being caught and wonder what to do next.
- They did cut a lot of the details of Dumbledore’s life as revealed by Rita Skeeter. I don’t like that, but I admit that it isn’t vital.
- There is a lot of teenage angst that is really unnecessary.
What I don’t understand is why they took up time with this stuff:
- Multiple slow pans through dramatic landscapes while Harry/Hermione/Ron looks away from the camera melodramatically.
- Hermione cutting Harry’s hair.
- Harry and Hermione dancing together and hugging after Ron buggers off.
- A five minute scene where a snatcher stands around sniffing Hermione. This scene was invented to replace the highly instructive scene where the trio overhear Griphook, Dean, and Ted Tonks talking about what is going on in the wizarding world.
Then there are the directing decisions which simply made no sense:
1. The wizards in the Ministry of Magic are mostly wearing muggle clothes – suits, ties, skirts and pants. Because, you know, Voldemort’s regime, entirely dedicated to persecuting muggles and mudbloods, would encourage the wearing of MUGGLE CLOTHES instead of wizarding robes. Sure. Makes total sense.
2. The new evil regime of the fallen ministry is paralleled visually to Nazi Germany. It got so obvious that PH leaned over to me and whispered “They went a little heavy-handed on the Gestapo imagery, didn’t they? Even the type face they use in their brochures is the same.” I nodded. It was a little lacking in subtlety, I agreed. Then two Nazis walked by. Seriously. Suddenly the Ministry of Magic is overrun by people in grey SS uniforms, from the red arm bands and the 1945 style military caps, down to the shiny boots.
Check it out for yourself: 0:49-0:51 on the trailer – “wizards” standing around looking like Rolf from The Sound of Music:
Subtle, Mr. Director. Subtle like a train wreck.
So, they are a wizarding regime dedicated to persecuting all things non-magical, and they just happen to devise a uniform that is identical to a muggle military uniform of 60 years ago, abandoning their own traditional robe dress. Oh, and abandoning their wands in favour of weapon belts containing something that looks suspiciously like a handgun.
Here’s an idea, Mr. Director – how about you let Voldemort’s evilness stand on his own merit, without needing to compare him to Hitler? If you had ever read J.K. Rowling, you’d know that Grindelwald was the wizarding world’s Hitler. Voldemort is new.
I will fully explain why Voldemort is evil enough without SS uniforms in another post.
tl;dr – I could write better screenplays than the clowns up in Hollywood, who have no appreciation for the subtleties of literature.
I have found most of the Harry Potter movies to be boring. I want to like them, but I find myself checking my watch constantly, wondering when they’re going to be over. I did find, though, that Deathly Hallows was far more watchable – mostly, I think, because the plot of that novel actually lends itself to a cinematic retelling since it’s not about children accidentally stumbling upon cleverly disguised clues while they attend classes and hang out with their friends.
That said, I do agree with some of your points, especially the one about Kreacher. I’ve never really bonded with Dobby – never been able to squeeze out a tear about his death – and I actually find Kreacher a far more compelling House Elf character, so I was disappointed to find his story abbreviated so severely. A couple of other things I missed were the Potterwatch radio show and the monument in Godric’s Hollow dedicated to “The Boy Who Lived.” In the book, I find those signs of support for Harry in the wider wizarding community incredibly moving.
I don’t know that the Nazi overtones bothered me. First of all, I don’t think J.K. Rowling was especially subtle about the parallels, so I don’t expect the movie to be. Secondly, I am a total sucker for anything related to WWII, so I just lap that stuff up.
I am sad that they cut out the moment where Luna’s father talks about how of course they’ve never seen a cloak that provides total invisibility, that never fades over time or loses its effectiveness, etc., and there Harry, Ron, and Hermione are exchanging loaded glances as they realize that Harry’s invisibility cloak is THE invisibility cloak. Not only is that a relevant plot point, but I think it’s a very cinematic scene that would have worked well onscreen.
What I loved best about the movie are the elements that they added. I find that when an adaptation is too faithful, it loses its interest for me, so I really appreciated the way Hermione’s sacrifice of her relationship with her parents took centre stage in the opening scene. It’s something the novel glosses over, but the movie played up that scene and added a lot of depth to Hermione’s character. (Whereas in the book we mostly get caught up in wondering why Hermione later claims to be inexpert in memory charms when she has already admitted earlier that she wiped her parents’ memories.)
That inconsistency always strikes me too, when I read the book. Joanne’s editors didn’t pay close enough attention, methinks. Either that or it’s a different kind of charm.
I wouldn’t have minded Nazi overtones. It’s just that they went so heavy handed on it, that any sense of subtlety was lost. And the Nazi uniform was ridiculous. Wizards wear ROBES. Some of the older ones don’t even know how to wear pants. Putting death eaters in Nazi costume is ridiculous beyond belief!
I love Harry Potter. I love the entire series. I think Rowling is brilliant.
I watch every one of the movies over and over. AND THEY MAKE ME ANGRY OVER AND OVER.
DH was particularly bad for all the reasons you listed. But my personal favorite? And by favorite I mean thing that made me want to decapitate myself–what the fuck were they doing wandering around in the wilderness? Were they CAMPING? Because that’s what it looked like.
“Hey guys! Isn’t hanging out in the woods SUPER FUN?”
In the books, they were researching, they were actually moving toward a goal! In the movie, they were just exploring the countryside! My SO asked me afterward, “So I don’t get it, why did they camp for so long?”
I DON’T KNOW.
It’s true! PH was like “They should rename Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I to Harry Potter Goes Camping”
Good critique, very interesting.
Perhaps they should out you on a retainer as true to the spirit consultant.
They at least should have hired someone who knew how to make a good movie.
Hi, I'm Natalie. said:
I love the Harry Potter stories. The Harry Potter movies have VERY LITTLE to do with the Harry Potter stories. EUGH. (Good for you for attempting the movie – I gave up trying after about the third one. =P)
I enjoyed them right up through the fifth. The fifth left me a little cold. It’s one of my favourite books and the movie didn’t QUITE do it for me. The last two have been TERRIBLE.
Ehn. I loved it.
Was it perfect? Nope. None of them are. Book to movie adaptations are difficult, and these ones in particular, given their length and huge amount of detail, are probably even more challenging. But I loved the “darkness” in it. I didn’t even notice the uniforms (though I DID notice all the muggle clothes on other wizards and that WAS annoying), but the FEEL was very Nazi-like, which I think was a good thing to really get the evil across to people like my mother, who will never read the books but loves the movies.
I also enjoyed the angsty stuff and the friendship scenes between Hermione and Harry. They’re more than just partners in adventure, they really care for each other. I felt that built their relationship and also showed that they’re maturing and on the cusp of adulthood.
Your points about Bill, Mundungus and Kreacher are all good. Those are disappointments. But how could they put in EVERYTHING? They can’t. Some stuff has to go.
Oh, well. I never get to watch movies these days, so maybe this being one of only two non-Pixar-type (or worse) that I’ve gotten to see in all of 2010 colors my opinion. Maybe my brain really *is* mush from lack of sleep and dealing with two kids for fourteen-hour days. Maybe I’ve completely lost any sense of “cool”, as Matthew repeatedly tells me. Whatever.
I’m going to go see it again this weekend. 😛
Nope, I’ll defend you Kerry, I loved it. I *was* a little sad that Kreacher’s story was left out, but otherwise I thought it was good fun.
The first two movies followed the books slavishly – and they were the worst of the bunch. Having been forced to sit through repeated viewings with Isaac, the world’s newest HP fanatic, I can report that they don’t really hold up all that well when compared to the rest.
The books are enormous and complex. Impossible to include everything. I think overall they’ve done a good job and if I don’t always agree with their choices, well… as you said, Kerry, they are trying to both keep the fanbase happy AND make movies that non-readers can follow. Sometimes they succeed better than others.
I think it’s just that, making videos being my own hobby, I hate seeing the medium misused. I know that done correctly, video can be used to bring things across visually that simply can’t be brought across in words. In other words, it is possible to make a movie just as awesome as the book, but in a completely different way.
The openings of Up and Wall-E are classic examples – you could not render those movies scenes to book form without losing something.
They started out well – there’s something about watching Hermione wipe her parents’ memories that comes across so much better than just hearing her say it. But then they began using constant exposition to explain the incredibly complex plot, and they forgot to make a MOVIE.
So I wouldn’t mind if they changed certain things, left some stuff out, but made an awesome movie. But they just… didn’t. I don’t think they DID make a movie that non-fans could follow. If I hadn’t read the book I would have been saying,
“That seems really random – here’s this incidental character that we invented, complete with a backstory (brother of Ron, attacked by a werewolf, marrying Fleur Delacour in the next scene” for only two sentence’s worth of dialogue, explaining said backstory? That’s stupid.”
“Wait, WHY did Sirius’s brother steal the locket, and why did he leave it to his house elf to get rid of??”
“Who is this Fletcher guy? Why didn’t an existing character steal the locket instead?”
“Wait, what’s with that shard of glass? Why is Harry keeping it in his sock and asking it for help??”
“So… WHY are they wandering the countryside? Shouldn’t they be checking places that are associated with Voldemort for horcruxes?”
“How are these death eaters finding these guys?”
“Who are “snatchers”?”
“Why did they run away from the snake? Isn’t it supposed to be one of those horcrux dealies?? They should have stayed and killed it!”
…and a million other questions. I would have lost the thread of the plot a long time ago if I didn’t have my memory of the book to thread all the pieces together. The movie needs the book to explain it, and that’s stupid. Better that they change more, but make a better movie, than try to redo the entire book in detail but then leave out the key bits that make it all make sense.
I honestly feel like I could have done better with the same budget, and that pisses me off, because I’m hardly a professional. I think it would have been better if they had CUT some of the convoluted plot points so the movie would make SENSE. I would have simplified things, made the story stand on its own, and not made it so that you would have had to read the books to understand what on Earth is going on.
These books have made me cry. The movies have not. But I cry at movies, so the movie genre is capable of making me cry. The makers of Harry Potter just didn’t have the talent.
And THAT pisses me off.
Michael Bay might as well have directed the last couple of movies.
“The openings of Up and Wall-E are classic examples – you could not render those movies scenes to book form without losing something.” Good point. At the same time, I would argue that too many backstories/side stories don’t translate well in movies. There’s a time limit. They need to stick to the side stories that advance the plot, like the Tale of the Three Brothers. The Regulus Black/Kreacher story, though interesting, wasn’t necessary. All we need to know is: Kreacher had a necklace that was a horcrux. Mundungus stole the necklace. Umbridge bought the necklace from Mundungus. Umbridge has a horcrux. I love the house elf stuff, too, but considering they cut Winky out of GOF (a storyline which, to me, was more essential to the main plot), then they have to cut RAB out. And really? Wasn’t RAB just kinda “thrown in” to the books, too? Did we ever hear much about Sirius’s brother at all until the last book anyway?
As for the “camping”? Well, here’s the thing. I’ve re-read the entire series every year since I was first introduced to the books in 2000 and am super familiar with the earlier books. But when DH came out, it was after Liam was born and my reading time significantly dwindled, so I only read it for a second time just last year. Know what I remembered about the story until that re-read?
1) There’s a big battle and Harry ultimately defeats Voldemort.
2) The deathly hallows include Dumbledore’s wand and Harry’s cloak. (Couldn’t remember the other one.)
3) Dobby dies. (Couldn’t remember how.)
4) One of the twins dies. (Couldn’t remember which one.)
5) There was a lot of camping.
That awesome scene in Gringotts with the dragon? I completely forgot about that. The fact that Lupin, one of my favorite characters, died? Slipped my mind. Snape’s very important back story (that I’m assuming, since it’s integral to the plot, will be left in in Part Two)? Nope, I forgot about most of that, too. And all that cool stuff involving Aberforth and the secret entrance to Hogwarts through the painting of Dumbledore’s sister? I didn’t remember Aberforth even existed!
Chris had only read DH when we first got it and as we waited in the theatre for the movie to start, I said “You don’t remember much of this, do you?” He said “Nope, just that there was a lot of camping.”
Are you getting my point? 😉
The camping was long and drawn out and kind of frustrating in the book, as well. But for good reason. The characters were frustrated, too. Heck, that’s why Ron ends up ditching them! He’s fed up that nothing is happening, just like the reader (and viewer, in the case of the movie). But it was essential to the plot. Jo was trying to show us that Harry didn’t suddenly become as smart as Dumbledore. They were left with a few subtle clues, Harry’s instructions from Dumbledore, and their wits and hunches to figure the rest out. It wasn’t easy, and it shouldn’t have been. Dumbledore himself — brilliant, wise, powerful Dumbledore — was trying to figure it out for YEARS.
They had to show time passing. Aside from using some lame subtitles (“Three months passed…”) or stupid, phony dialogue (“Boy, it’s already Christmas and we still don’t know anything!”), how else can they get that across on film without SHOWING it? And how do they let the non-reading viewer know that they had to keep moving from place to place without showing THAT? (And, well, I personally *enjoyed* seeing all those diverse and beautiful UK landscapes, but that might just be me…)
Annnyway… I, unlike you, do NOT have working knowledge of film-making/video-making. Perhaps you DO know how they could have better accomplished these things. I would love to see your version of the movie! In the end, I’m just an average movie-goer and big Harry Potter fan. And I just plain liked it.
That is all.
Thanks, Hannah! Maybe we’re both “baby brained”? 😛
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