The Trouble with Quibbles: Harry Potter

It all ends . . . or so we’re told by the multitude of posters for Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The final chapter of Harry Potter opens this week and it will mean a lot of different things to a great many people. I was recently voicing my concerns about how the films will be remembered now that the end is nigh, and it spawned an interesting discussion.

Bryan: Preparing for the onslaught of over-praising Harry Potter reviews and revisionist history of the series as some kind of artistic triumph.

Brandon: No revisionism. The series is, frankly, a miracle.

Nate: Miracle wrapped in cream cheese and Christmas mornings!

Bryan: The books are amazing. The films are not. I will grant that the fact they exist and exist in the form that they do with continuity and very little tampering is a miracle, but that does not make them great movies. I’d grade the overall series up to this point a C. Seriously, I did math, it gets 74%.

Brandon: Because quantifying quality is always beneficial.

Nate: I think Bryan hit it on the nose. They are exceptionally faithful adaptations, which as films is their biggest flaw. They also do an amazing job at showing us the size and spectacle of the world created in the books. Still, as films, C average.

Bryan: So Brandon, you’re telling me that you absolutely love every single Harry Potter movie? Have you seen the first two recently? They’re practically unwatchable! Nate, always glad to hear I’m right.

Brandon: No, I don’t love every single Harry Potter movie and never said anything like that. In the landscape of modern Hollywood that are an unmatched and singular success in terms of casting, design, continuity, and financial success. While I may not enjoy some films as much as others, when taken as movies alone they work. You can’t look at each movie as adaptations any longer because the movies have defined their own voice and in their own thread work beautifully. On the other hand, the movies I do not enjoy were also the books I did not enjoy. Example, I did not enjoy the first half of Deathly Hallows as much as the second which has all the emotional punch and is evidenced by the movie. Prisoner of Azkaban is still my favorite. The first two are only “unwatchable” because you are used to the actors being more seasoned, the effects grander and the look of the world much darker, which came with different directors. Mostly Cuaron. Also, as each film became a bigger success the WB sank more money into them. Which they were hesitant to do at first because of the vast commitment to a seven (now eight) film series.

Bryan: I think we’re basically agreeing though. First off: yes, Azkaban is far away the best film and it’s not a mystery why. But yeah, I agree, the casting (except for Dumbledore, Harris or Gambon), the design and production has consistently been top-notch. But these films prove that great production doesn’t equal great movies. Which includes the first two. Say what you will, but they did spend some bucks on the first two, Columbus was simply the wrong man for the job. Oh how I wish either Cuaron directed them all, or they gave the reins over to a Del Toro, and a Spielberg, and a Gilliam. And I’m not judging them as adaptations cause I only read the books after film 5. And I don’t think the book/film success correlation works for everyone. I think book 6/7/3 are best but other than film 3, film 5 is the only other one I’d consider above average, and that is an awesome book but not my favorite.

Brandon: Give Columbus the the credit he deserves. He established the production design of the world. Cuaron made it a bit darker but that’s all, and it works as the kids age. Whereas the first two it’s still a bright world with less menace approaching the characters. Columbus also casted all the major parts of each movie. And I don’t understand at all your problem with Harris or Gambon, both are amazing and Gambon especially brings a gravitas and detached affection that is all from the books. I also hate the argument of giving a thing to Gilliam or Spielberg. What you really mean is give me a time machine, and then I’ll give it to Gilliam or Spielberg. And arguing that all eight films of a series have to be great to get your ‘B’ is ridiculous. It is a fact that no other series of films this large and this successful have ever maintained the quality HP films have. Look at your precious Star Wars. I love Return Of The Jedi, but by film three you already see Lucas slide into what becomes the prequels. Harry Potter on the other hand, only gets better as you go on. That’s insane in the world of movies.

Nate: Aesthetics aside, these stories being told using the language of film are all a clunky bunch. Azkaban included.

Adam: Harry Potter and the Clunky Bunch! Suck on that Marky Mark.

Nate: In fact, my biggest problem with Azkaban is that the director couldn’t help but add his own riffs on Rowling’s world. This not only added time to a series that didn’t need anymore length but makes the third film oddly disjointed. Question: Would you love these films were they original and didn’t have the luck of being based on the greatest series of children books ever written?

Adam: Is this question positing that I don’t love them because they’re based on children’s books?

Bryan: I guess we’re arguing two different types of quality. These films are, for the most part, well made bores. So, when you say the quality is maintained, or they get better, I’d argue against that since Goblet and Hallows: Part 1 aren’t that good at all. The production is maintained but that is all. And Stuart Craig gets the credit for the design in my book. Columbus did some fine casting but that’s it. I don’t get Nate’s question either. And he should not be bad mouthing Azkaban. I think people who read books first criticize the movie more than they should cause it changes things from the book, but it actually moves like a real movie.

Adam: Are you not talking to Nate now?

Nate: I’m saying: if they were just movies, not movies based on anything, would you like them?

Bryan: When I went to see the first movie I had zero idea about the books. I just knew they were successful. So based on that the first film was terrible either way.

Nate: And I believe “well made bores” is a perfect description. Damn, did I just quote Bryan twice? Has having children made you un-retarded?

Bryan: Whether the movie was based on anything didn’t influence my opinion. If anything, I like the films a little more after reading the books because they fill in all the little holes in the plots of the movies. Honestly, the films are pretty hard to follow if you haven’t read them.

Nate: More main characters die in Hallows than Macbeth and Hamlet combined.

Brandon: If I hadn’t read the books at all and started with the first I think I would enjoy them. But, I’d have to be ardent because we can all agree that Chamber of Secrets is crap, book and movie.

Bryan: I don’t agree with that.

Nate: I take them all as companions to the books. I’ve picked up and flipped through chapters of the book much more often than I’ve popped in a DVD of any movie.

Brandon: Yeah, I’ve revisited the books more than the movies and like the companion aspect. But then we just get back to the book vs movie thing and that conversation bores me because they couldn’t be more different.

Adam: I’ve never felt the need to watch any Harry Potter movie a second time.

Bryan: They never get Dumbledore right. I look forward to 30 years from now when they remake them with ONE director for all 7. Then all the work put into continuity and design will pay off.

Brandon: Thus is the problem with all of these arguments. A book is a thing you spend countless hours with, going back and moving forward, plowing through and creating the world in your own head. What you see in Dumbledore is different than what I see in Dumbledore. Therefore, you have to judge it based on the context of how the story is being told. I think Gambon is amazing in the movies. That doesn’t make him wrong. He saw the character a certain way and I happen to agree with it. If your going to say they “NEVER” get him right, you need to be more specific. And the idea of one director doing all seven of a movie series is terrible. Peter Jackson is only doing The Hobbit because no one else would. And that was after three films. And you couldn’t find a director that has been more dedicated in history to any material.

Adam: I can’t imagine a single director wanting to make all 7 movies, that sounds even more boring than watching the originals.

Bryan: I’m saying Harris was wrong, and then Gambon was wrong. And the kids were wrong until they grew into the parts. But every other adult has been amazingly perfect. But you’re right; it’s just my opinion and how I see the character. Here’s my problem: Early Buzz “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.” I don’t mind that they mention the box office and the amazing fact that the films have made it this far without relocating Hogwarts to NY or something, but I don’t want to hear how great the films are when they’re not.

Nate: I think my favorite part of the next movie will be when they cut away from the gigantic battle that’s been building for 7 movies so they can make one of the characters make sense.

Katie: I get Nate’s question, and even though I’m late entering this wormhole, my two cents: the movies by themselves never would have kept me interested. I would have petered out around 3, even though I liked it. I would have seen the endless churning of HP movies with the same disdain as I view the Pirates series: a good idea sucked dry. The books, however, kept me emotionally invested, even when the producers decided to make it 8 movies to gouge me one last time.

Adam: I’m kinda indifferent about the whole bloody thing. I liked the books, but not enough to finish reading the series. And for the most part, I enjoyed the movies when I saw them. But on the whole, I don’t really care about any of it. I don’t hate Harry Potter. I don’t love Harry Potter. Harry Potter just is . . . and I’m ok with that.

Brandon: How come I always want to end all of these discussion with, “Like what you like, I’ll like what I like, an we’re both right.” Oh, right. It’s no fun that way.

Bryan: Agreeing to disagree would make the internet boring . . . well that and getting rid of all the porn.

Brandon: NO one wants that.

Bryan: I also can’t abide by the idea that the series (movies) has gotten darker and darker as they’ve progressed. They’ve killed more people sure, but dark as in atmosphere and feeling . . . well number 3 went dark and they’ve all been of equal mood since. More dangerous, yes (a little) “darker,” not so much.

Brandon: As children, the world tries to keep them out of what’s really going on for much of it but at some point you have to pick yourself up and join it and that’s what makes the last book so much more menacing. I don‎’t understand the distinction between darker and dangerous. Literally it is darker and there is much more at stake with prominent characters dying all the time. I would qualify that as darker.

Bryan: No.

Brandon: And? What do you consider “darker?”

Bryan: The series is pretty sophisticated for a children’s story, and the films are generally dark. I mean even Stone had the grotesque imagery of Voldemort growing out of the back of Quirell’s head. But the atmosphere of dread, the color template of shadow, the true scariness of this universe isn’t established until film 3, which was readily apparent from the fantastic trailer, from that point on the films maintained what 3 started. Sure more characters die and all that ballyhoo, but I’d say it’s no darker than having Dementors constantly trying to suckle your soul away. I’d also say that none of the deaths have very much weight to them because of how poorly the films have handled the characters *cough* Sirius *cough* Dobby!

Brandon: I could not disagree more. I felt both of those immensely. Dobby especially was heartbreaking. I actually felt the impact of Sirius’ death more in the film than the book. I still think that’s a problem with adapting. Reading the books your naturally beholden because they’re exceptional material. Wanting to include too much is a disservice to what you can do in the movie. This is me agreeing with you, by the way. For instance, many of my friends were pissed the whole “free house-elves” sub-plot was dropped. Which makes sense, but then in later movies when you need Dobby to have a larger impact, something is lost. I still love the moment but it is because of what I carry in from the books. In conclusion: I enjoy the movies very very much and I am looking forward to Deathly Hallows Part 2 in a gigantic way but the books are far better. As they are most of the time. My only hope is that the split in the last movie has allowed for Snape’s chapter to be fleshed out, in full. It is Rowling’s best writing.

Bryan: Which is why I do enjoy the movies that much more after reading the books.

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3 responses to “The Trouble with Quibbles: Harry Potter

  1. Bryan Parrill

    And in case anyone was wondering, for the Record, here are my grades for book and film.

    Book/Film
    Stone B/D
    Chamber B/D
    Azkaban A/A-
    Goblet A/C-
    Phoenix A/B-
    Prince A+/C-
    Hallows(So Far) A/D+

    The best thing about 1 and 2 is John Williams’ score.
    3 I’ve discussed, plus time travel and you know how I love time travel.
    4 has a tournament and kills R.Patz, if only he’d stay dead, but the rest sags.
    5 finally has Harry acting like a wizard and not a muggle, and Staunton and it was the shortest.
    6 is the best looking of the series. But still falters.
    7.1 was so boring and confusing and boring.

  2. The fact that anything went 8 without being rebooted these days is a herculean feat. Books aside, looking at movies, it’s so admirable that the producers and actors and writers have stuck together. After they established a certain tone and look, they hired directors that would just call the shots. David Yates can control a set obviously, but it’s all on the backbone of Cauron and Columbus.

    I hated #5 but #7A is my current favorite and both were by Yates so who knows? Can’t wait to see 7B tomorrow!

  3. Bryan Parrill

    Come on Rosko! How can you hate 5 and call 7.1 your fave?

    I think there is no way 7.2 can be the best of the series because even if it is some how awesome, I still consider it one movie, 7.1 and .2. So since 7.1 is terrible, if 7.2 is awesome then It would average out to an average 4 1/2 hour movie.

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