The Harry Potter Movies (And Why They Fail)

This past summer I, like millions of people worldwide, sat down to enjoy the sixth Harry Potter film. Upon leaving the theatre, I knew that I enjoyed it more than the fifth movie (which was basically David Yates’s “Harry Potter 5’s Greatest Hits”), but didn’t quite know exactly how much I liked it. I mulled it over for a few months, my unease about the movie growing, no longer sure I liked it as much as I thought I did. Now, I know, and knowing David Yates is going to direct the two-parter seventh movie as well, I am more than apprehensive – I’m downright pessimistic.

I’ve always said about book to movie translations: change plot, change characters, names, places, if you must. But keep the spirit of the original. Stay true to what the author was trying to say, because if you’re going to twist the author’s thoughts and ideals, make a different freakin’ movie, because that’s what you’re doing.

Essentially, this is the problem with the Harry Potter series (the last 3 especially).  I’m able to shrug off plot points easily, even if they’re huge holes (Dumbledore disapparating in and out of Hogwarts??), because let’s face it, adapting these big fat books is a monumental task, and as long as you keep the theme, you can’t be expected to include every single detail of JK Rowling’s fully realized world. But as the HP series has gone along, more cuts have been made, reducing the length of the films (apparently the studio doesn’t trust fans that can plough through a 700+ page in a week to sit still for more than two and a half hours), until, I am so sad to say, the point of the series, with this most recent sixth movie, has been lost completely.

Spoilers Ahead

HP Article 2

(And while I’m at it, why does the fifth movie seem like it’s all tainted in blue and the sixth movie tainted in green? What happened to bright colorful environment in the first four? Since when is dark synonymous with “ONE COLOR, ALL THE TIME EVERY TIME.”?  I miss awhat used to go on in the background of the first four movies, all the details, the multiple whirling colors, the weird flashing lights. Everything was so colorful and magical and alive….now, we have yellow scenes. Blue scenes. Green scenes. Black scenes. Pale white scenes. WTF? Hogwarts used to look alive. Now it looks dead.)

Back to the issue: The major problem with the last three movies is Hollywood’s “hero syndrome.”  These days, blockbuster films need to be simplistic, easy for the viewer to latch onto, with a hero who is fully good and fully awesome so that the audience doesn’t have to work too hard to root for him. Sure, he can be imperfect (juicy, right?) and conflicted (buzz word!), but heaven forbid that there’s any question that he’s the hero, because let’s face it, who would want to root for someone who is anything less than perfect?

If you ask JK Rowling, millions of readers of all ages worldwide. In the first few books (1-4, about) we see Harry coming to terms with the world around him and exploring all the fantastical magicality that can exist, but we also see themes woven in there, about oppression of others just because of the color of their skin or the quality of their blood (e.g. wizard’s mistreatment of house elves, etc.), and we even have a main character go on a crusade to stop mistreatment of house elves (Hermione) and an older, wiser counselor (Dumbledore) warning that some day the wizard’s mistreatment of house elves will come back to bite them in the ass.

In books 4-7, Harry learns of a world much larger world than he originally saw, secrets about his past, why he is the boy who lived, and many others.  Most importantly, he learns that it’s not all about him, that, essentially, his being important is a big accident. Books six and seven show how even the beloved Sirius, simply because he mistreated a house elf, Kreacher, brought terrible calamity upon the wizarding world. We learn that Harry’s dad was essentially the school bully, pushing around Snape because he was just a mudblood, and just because he could.  He wasn’t some saint like Harry had always seen him.  A common theme throughout all of this is that IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT HARRY.  Harry is flawed; he makes mistakes, big ones, he can be pretty selfish, he’s also a bit of a whiny brat.  To come into his own destiny he must use his wits and his friend’s help, realize that he can’t be too cocky, he can’t save the world on his own. He also learns about Dumbledore’s dark, dark past, and how much disasters could have been averted if Dumbledore hadn’t gotten cocky.

Now, contrast this with the movies. Starting around the fourth movie (I actually thought the first three movies were pretty good at keeping the spirit of the book, especially the third one), Hollywood realized something. Wow, this story isn’t all about Harry, is it? Sure, he’s the main character, but damn the guy needs a LOT of help. How to rectify that? How about just glazing over the fact that he needs help with pretty much every task?  How about skipping over all the boring agonizing Harry goes through as he tries to learn (with his brain, horrors!) how to defeat the champion tasks? How about spending a HUGE amount of time showing how HEROIC Harry is as he escapes that dragon, about a two or three page sequence, maybe five, in the book, but a good ten minute sequence of flying all around Hogwarts with the dragon?  And never mind all the logic involved with how they captured such a deadly dangerous animal AFTER Harry snagged the prize?  How about devoting about twenty minutes to awkward dancing so that we can show teenage angst, that’ll be good, oooh!

In the fifth movie, when David Yates took the helm, things started to go way, way, WAY downhill. The prophecy made before Harry was born that Harry and his pals (isn’t Harry awesome??? Look at the army he assembled, and look at how they kick Death Eater butt with childishly simple spells!) seek out at the end says something about how both Harry and Voldemort cannot be alive at the same time – essentially, one of them must kill the other.  But in the book, this is only part of the whole picture. Voldemort had faulty information and only had part of the prophecy, which is why he believed that he needed to kill Harry. The part the movie gives audiences (and apparently the only part the script writers felt was important) is the part that Voldemort had. The full prophecy actually states that either Harry OR NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM (yes, that’s right, the school klutz) could potentially destroy Voldemort.  So what happened was Voldemort created his own doom when he acted on bad intel and chose Harry to try and kill. But that’s too complex for movie audiences! I mean, isn’t it much cooler that one has to kill the other!? That’s like, epic! And the LAST thing we want is to put the school klutz on the level with our hero! Insinuating in any way shape or form, according to Hollywood, that your hero doesn’t have awesome talent all to himself, that he wasn’t destined to be the best from birth, is a huge no-no.  JK Rowling’s point with this was to show how we create our own destinies through our choices, and that Harry really isn’t all that special in and of himself.  But according to Hollywood, a hero who isn’t the most awesome guy around may as well not be a hero at all.  I mean, really. Plus, the whole house elf thread in the books continues in this one, as we see how badly Kreacher, the house elf in the Black household is mistreated, but in the movie we have one scene of him looking creepy and weird, because he’s a bad guy, and that’s much simpler and tamer for the viewer. Yates & Co. even messed with Harrys’ love life – whereas in the books Cho eventually leaves Harry because he’s really not that good of a boyfriend, in the movie she betrays him outright, for no reason whatsoever. There, see? Don’t you just hate Cho now?? Because Harry can’t ever be at fault.

When you look at the sixth movie, the problem only gets worse.  Everyone comes to Harry for advice, he’s always the cool one, I mean, even the all-powerful Dumbledore needs his help, several times even!  Cute black waitresses think he’s the bee’s knees. Ginny Weasly starts hitting on him all of a sudden because he’s hot. (another Hollywood rule: you have to have a hot hero.)His life sucks cuz he’s the chosen one and he’s just trying to deal and be a hero.  There’s the conflicted part of the picture with him finding a book and using it to be a better student (dark, right??? – oh wait that’s right, nothing ever comes of it, except Harry looking a little bit shocked when he almost kills Malfoy, but hey, murder ain’t that bad!), but evil forces are out to get him and isn’t life as the Chosen One just so hard? I mean, when your destiny is to kill Voldemort what else can you do? Never mind that in the book Dumbledore, before he died, did his best to impress upon Harry how important it was that Harry could walk away from the prophecy, that he was not bound to it, because VOLDEMORT created Harry, the boy who lived.  In the end, he chooses to go after him, because he loves his friends and wants to save them. It is NOT about him needing to kill him, it is about CHOICE, and that is all the difference.  The movie focuses on the obvious choice, and the ironic thing is, they make the very same mistake Voldemort did. Yes, I am comparing David Yates to Voldemort.

Most every single theme about the mistreatment of those different than you simply because they’re different has been removed, completely. Now, it’s ALL ABOUT KILLING and stopping people who are different from you. Kreacher is evil because he’s creepy and nasty and looks weird. Dumbledore is good because he has a long white beard and hoots like an owl when he speaks. (Okay maybe not the hooting part.)  The liberation of house elves isn’t important at all because it’s pretty dang boring, you know. Any themes left over in the films are purely accidental because they had to keep some of the main characters the same. But unlike the books, it is ALL ABOUT HARRY.

Most of what we see Harry doing and experiencing is in the books, but it’s precisely what they’ve taken out that destroys the themes. They’ve neutered Harry, ripped out every shred of personality that he has and given it to Ron (whose job it now is in each movie to look super pissed off at least once) and Hermione (whose job it now is to quote facts and look cute).  And except for these couple of things, Harry’s friends are basically useless.Sure, in the movies, Harry calls upon their help, but when push comes to shove, Harry is awesome because he’s gonna be the one to kill Voldemort, and he figures stuff out. I can’t enjoy a Harry Potter world that doesn’t have the themes that make Rowling’s work so unique, that takes away all the complexities and uniqueness of the world and turns it into a light and magic show swirling around and pointing with neon signs at Harry. I can’t believe in a Harry who isn’t flawed, a Harry who’s gonna defeat evil just because he has to, a Harry who is so amazing and talented and unique that everyone’s always turning to him for help. Because that’s not who Harry is, and that’s not what Harry Potter is about. It’s about how we’re all equals, and we make our own choices that lead us to disastrous or beneficial consequences, about mistakes of our past coming back to haunt us. Right now the HP movies are merely about a big bad dude killing a bunch of people because he can, and there’s only guy who can stop him, cuz it’s his destiny! That’s not Harry Potter. That’s Star Wars.

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