without a definite route

film flam, harry potter edition

on July 31, 2007

in anticipation of the 5th harry potter movie, to fulfill my harry potter obsession and to let off some of my excitement about the movie and the book, i watched all of the movies again. and read all of the books again. what?! 

i should say that i love the books and definitely have mixed emotions about the movies. i want to like them. i really really do. but something stands in the way of me being able to just let go and enjoy the movies outright.

i don’t think it’s because i’m so attached to the books that i don’t want anything to be cut out. i get that stuff needs to be cut out. sometimes i question why they cut what they cut and why they leave what they leave, but more than that, i question the stuff they make up to fill in the gaps that they are creating by cutting out good stuff. but that’s not my biggest complaint. i hate that character development is shoved aside for action. to me, the movies fail because they cut out so much to make room for more special effects that you never get to know the characters beyond a superficial sketch. the movies are devoid of many of the small details about the characters and the world they live in that they bleed the story of its, well, magic.

with that said, here are my thoughts about the specific films:

harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone: a remarkably and annoyingly faithful adaptation. way too long, but somehow rushed. there’s no real story, which is to say that it stays true to the book’s events, but loses the charm of book. for the most part, it is well cast, but poorly paced and frequently dull. if i had to guess, i’d say that it was definitely directed by a muggle. the special effects drive the story and it is way overscored. whether due to the screenplay or the editing, it moves herky jerky from one scene to another – one character to another with seemingly little connection between them. complaints: harry’s hair isn’t messy enough. in the books, he’s always having to smooth it down over his scar; the dad he sees in the mirror doesn’t have messy hair at all; hermione’s teeth are normal, which is shortsighted in terms of her later “blossoming.” nigel count: 3 nigels!

harry potter and the chamber of secrets: despite terrific special effects and funnier gags…boring. same mold as first movie – afraid to move away from the book. again, the sense of magic is missing. complaints: where is the minister of magic’s lime green bowler? why does lucious malfoy say, “see you at work.” to mr. weasley? that bothered me a lot. malfoy doesn’t work, he’s wealthy and connected. that’s important. it was a little moment that takes a lot away in terms of character. nigel count: 4 nigels!

harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban: the first film to capture the book’s understanding of the way magic underlies the mundane instead of just prancing fancifully at a far remove from it. still feels rushed towards the end, but is the best of the 3 films by far. looks and feels like a movie rather than a staged reading with special effects. is atmospheric and has a blend of freshness and darkness. i imagine the plot might be confusing to non-book readers? the filmmakers bravely took more narrative liberties, which, for the most part worked: no s.p.e.w., no dobby, less buckbeak. some were glaring omissions and are my complaints: no ron/hermione fight, no prongs or any talk about james potter also being an animagus, disservice to the marauder’s map, which is one of the coolest things in the entire series, also, really missed the invisibility cloak in all of the shrieking shack stuff and totally missed crookshanks. and then there’s dumbledore…i should really try not to talk about my pure hatred of michael gambon here. his interpretation is so wrong that whenever he is on screen, it’s kind of all ruined for me. obviously, richard harris was the perfect choice for the role and what can you do about him passing away, but the NOTdumbledore is wrong. wrong. wrong. he’s dirty and loud and shifty and nervous. and more than those things? there is no freakin’ twinkle in his eye!  nigel count: 3 nigels!

harry potter and the goblet of fire: stephen king says, about the books, that goblet of fire is when the series shifts from being fantasy to horror and i think that’s a pretty good summary. the film, like the book, shifts from dark to light to dark again and maybe tries to do too much. gets job done, but lacks charm. moves quickly from set piece to set piece and is kind of an illustrated condensation of book. is more competent than inspired. there’s a context missing that leaves a different impression for non-readers, but josh enjoyed it when we saw it on the big screen so maybe i’m totally wrong. complaints: where are the veela? if you can imagine, NOTdumbledore is even worse in this movie – at one point, he shakes harry. whatever. nigel count: 9 nigels! including a character, which is totally a shout out to me! woohoo!

harry potter and the order of the phoenix: yikes! what in the name of disjointed storytelling are they doing? there’s plenty of special effects wizardry, but no magic. absolutely does not make the most of the intensity of 5th book and loses harry’s internal struggle. there are no layers and very little complexity, texture or richness. once again, narrative is sacrificed for action. it is annoyingly montage heavy and has no rhythm. the scattershot pacing is filled with a jumble of special effects and celebrity cameos, which create a gangly, confusing sprawl and yet there are enough patches of beauty scattered throughout that it’s impossible to reject it. on a good note, imelda stuanton’s steely resolve and poisonous sugar are perfect for delores umbridge and the main youth cast is maturing well in terms of their relationships to each other and their acting chops. complaints: i scream to the heavens…where is snape!?; ministry battle scene bored me – all the whizzing and whooshing did not do justice to the intensity and suspense of the way it was written; possessing of harry not done well at all; luna lovegood’s voice annoyed me and she just wasn’t kooky enough; why is the longest book the shortest movie? nigel count: 8 nigels!


4 responses to “film flam, harry potter edition

  1. wontstopbelievin says:

    I agree with you on practically every count. Just to add fuel to the fire… I am always confused as to why the moviemakers always decide to leave out the Harry/Dumbledore talks that are at the end of the books. They don’t completely leave them out, but they are only one or two minutes when they should be at least five.

    For example, in the fourth movie, it is never explained how Barty Crouch escaped Azkaban when it is supposed to be the most secure prison ever.

    In the fifth movie, they spend barely any time at all on the prophecy which is really the only major plot element and they messed that up as well! More on movie 5 here: http://cargocult.wordpress.com

  2. lmb says:

    How the F did you come up with 8 nigels for the fifth movie? We had four people looking for them and we only found four. I think you’re seeing double in your nigel-excitement.

  3. lolly says:

    You know, if I’m not mistaken, you posted this on Harry’s birthday! How appropriate. Is this reflective of your OCD…all the love:)

  4. Christine says:


    I’m trying to agree with you about the movies. I want to, because I know that you have film chops that I’ve never attained, but I’m surprised that the Azkaban film works better for you than the first two. Maybe it’s because I’m coming at this with the books in mind, but Azkaban seemed to me a betrayal of the book’s character. It starts with a brilliant portrayal of Aunt Marge’s scene, then suddenly goes weird. Stan on the night bus is a pimply faced teenager, not a creepy guy with sores. The Leaky Cauldron has the warmth of an old English pub without looking like it’s half haunted house. And when did Hogwart’s become the creepy castle? Lupin’s classroom has candles shaped like human spines. Everything about the castle is dingy and suddenly decrepid.

    Rowling uses the both the grandeur of Hogwarts and the unchanging ordinariness of prep school days/environment/routine as a foil for the darkness of Voldemort (bigotry) that grows stronger in each book. To me that’s a critical visual contrast that movie’s 3 and 4 miss. I agree with you about the Not Dumbledore though. Although, to me it was another example of the pervasive grime.

    Book one like movie one is disjointed. Even in terms of plot, it’s not as tighly written. But both book and movie do something more important that kept me coming back. They created a world. Book 2 and movie 2 are more straightforward. It’s a juvenile mystery. Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys, but edgier in a great setting.
    Book 3 has the most substantial character development. Aside from the last book, I find it to be the most saitisfying. You’re right, something special is lost about the connections Harry makes with the young James Potter via the Marauder’s Map and Prongs. I felt that the relationship between Harry and Lupin came together well, but things in the Shrieking Shack were a bit rushed for me to get the same magic, the same deep hope regarding Sirius. And, yes the Ron/Scabbers, Hermione/Crookshanks would have been fun to see expanded. Scott hasn’t read the books and I found myself continually giving context to scenes while we watched.

    Movie 4 as you told me at the time, is somewhat more like a series installment, a functional vehicle to get you to the next chapter. But here again is a dark, gloomy Hogwarts. (Lost too, the contrast between a bright, sunny, deceptively pleasant looking hedge maze and Digory’s impending death. I think it’s too obvious to have this misty, man eating hedge.) And, I’m with you that there’s a lot left unexplained. I know that a 700 page book has to be cut to make a two hour movie, but minimizing the role of house elves, veela, etc. minimizes the true nastiness (bigotry again) that Rowling exposes over the entire series. That said, Moody was great and the graveyard scene satisfying.

    The fifth movie I thoroughle enjoyed, but I don’t know how much of that is because we took Ryan to see it in IMAX 3-D and his excitement was contagious! Scott did say that as someone who hasn’t read the books, this one seemed the most coherent to him. Umbridge was spot on. I did miss the Wealey twins swamp, but still a good exit.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: