Archive for August, 2010

7 Things the Harry Potter Movies Got Wrong (So Far) [Spoilers!]

I have no shame in admitting to being a huge Harry Potter fan. I never waited in line for the books, and I don’t wear robes to the premiers… but then again I do everything online and I hate shopping for clothes. In anticipation for part 1 of the Harry Potter finale coming in November (I wonder what this post will do to the ads at the bottom of the page?), my beloved and I have been both re-reading the books, and watching the movies.

And because I know no better way than to show love for something, I must lampoon it on my blog.

Disclaimer 1: Be it known that I love these movies… errors, oversights, and all.

Disclaimer 2: In case I would be accused of only blogging about the negatives, my next post shall be about the strengths of these films.

Disclaimer 3: In case you chose to disregard the title, this is your last chance: this post contains spoilers. If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, and intent to, skip this post. Read about Higgs Boson. Or, send me a blog idea.

7 — Argus Filch

If you just said “Who?,” my point is made. Argus Filch is the keeper of the castle and essentially Hagrid’s opposite. Like Hagrid, he does not use magic, though it is not for lack of permission-rather he is a squib; a person of magical heritage with no magical abilities. This is explained in the movies, with the singular exception of Draco Malfoy yelling “Get your hands off me, filthy squib!” in Half-Blood Prince. He is obsessed with cleanliness, laments the prohibition of torture against ornery students, and uses his cat as an agent.

Aren't you from Rush?

His role in the books is hardly significant, and I’d probably be fine if he were deleted from the movies altogether. However, in Sorcerer’s Stone, he is very much present, and superbly portrayed. His loathing for the students, and cynicism towards his colleagues is haunting and skillfully timed. Take his line to Hagrid: “Your going int’ the forest, man… y’ve got t’ ‘ave your wits about ya…”

Sadly, this development is not continued in the later films, and by Goblet of Fire he has become a bumbling parody of himself, ineffective and unaware. Case in point: the “dancing with the cat” shot in Goblet, and his entire role in Order.

6 — Hufflewhat and Ranenwho?

The books themselves often let Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw be overshadowed by Griffidor and Ravenclaw. This is especially true in the earlier books, but later in the series the other houses get some airtime. In the movies, however, it’s easy to forget they even exist. I’m pretty sure they put both Patel twins in Griffindor (not positive though), and do they ever even mention that Cho Chang and Luna Lovegood are in Ravenclaw? Same with Cedric Diggory being from Hufflepuff.

The unfortunate consequence here is that it undermines the qualities the other two houses life up, namely intelligence and loyalty. Also, quite unintentionally I’m sure, it implies that all the members of Dumbledore’s Army (Phoenix) are from Griffindor, while the rest of the school presumably sleeps through Voldemort’s second rise to power.

5 — Whatever happened to Mr…

Quick, who are any of the following?

> Kingsley Shacklebolt
> Fenrir Greyback
> Walden Macnair
> Tonks
> Fillius Flitwick
> Pomona Sprout

They have all appeared in the films, but are seldom or never mentioned by name. Now, I know given the sheer number of named-characters who appear in the books necessitates some truncating (the Wikipedia entries for said characters sprawl at least 4 “databases,” plus each of the “main” characters has his/her own entry), but I think some critical characters have been overlooked.

Take Kingsley Shacklebolt, for instance. Shacklebolt is a member of The Order of the Phoenix, but also works for the (impotent and increasingly antagonizing) Ministry of Magic. His role, as explained in the books, is that of a double agent between the Ministry and Dumbledore.

Kingsley is briefly introduced early in the fifth film, but is easily missed among the other known characters. Later, during a memorable, and critical scene wherein an innocent Dumbledore narrowly evades arrest, a very out-of-place looking wizard (even by Harry Potter standards) makes a pithy remark to the Minister of Magic before the scene break.

Now, if the viewer missed the fact that this man is also a member of the Order, then he is simply an eccentric, unnamed agent of the Ministry. But, if the viewer does notice, then the latter scene makes no sense… without context, or so much as a formal introduction to this character, why did one of Dumbledore’s men come to arrest him? Is he a traitor to the order? A double agent? An extra carelessly reused? The audience has no reasonable way to infer the meaning of this character… so why was he included at all?

Keep in mind, several critical characters have been eliminated entirely… these memorable (and well-played, when given screen time) characters are in the films just enough to cause confusion.

4 — Whoops! Turns out that was important…

There is an increasing problem of minor details, completely ignored in certain movies, becoming a big deal in later movies.

The movies are frequently made fun of for the Quidditch scenes. Apparently, outside of the first film they are conspicuous interrupters to the main plot… at least to casual fans. I disagreed at first. Then suddenly Half Blood Prince comes around and Harry is captain. Ginny is on the team (seems to be a returning member… “varsity” if you will) and Ron is trying out. What? How did this happen after two years of no Quidditch?

Presumably it was canceled in Goblet due to the Triwizard Tournament, and in Order during Umbridge’s tyrannical reign. But wait… Harry has that line “Just because you made the team last year is no guarantee…” So the movies state that Quidditch happened in Order, but we never see a second of it.

It gets bigger than Quidditch.

After Chamber of Secrets, Dobby the House elf disappears entirely. I think this was done due to a few other unfortunate all-CGI, vaguely humanoid, ineloquent characters present at the time.

To be fair, they kind of had a point...

Too bad for continuity, since Dobby is quite important to the storyline, and needed to have his undeletable moments of influence re-assigned… in two different movies it went to Neville (the Gilley-Weed, and discovering the Room of Requirement).

On the subject of Neville, his parents’ backstory was somewhat gracefully addressed in a brief scene in Order, but his role in the Prophecy is ignored completely. I’m frightened that when they get to Neville’s plot-critical moment in part 2 of Deathly Hallows (spoiler exception!), without the story behind it we will get the impression that he just bumbled into destiny, rather than fulfill it.

3 — Wait? It’s over?

The first two films were faithful to the books to a fault. Many of the numerous cut scenes are made entirely of word-for-dialogue, from-the-text dialogue, which, predictably, did not transition too well to film.

"I'm enjoying my steak and kidney pies. Care for some?" "No thanks, I tihnk I'll stick to treackle tart... but I'm looking forward to those tongue sandwiches and mutton-sickles for lunch."

Still, without these scenes, the films both approach three hours. And these were for the shorter books.

The later books get progressively longer, and almost without exception, better. However, if you check the running times on the fifth and sixth films, they are 20 minutes or so shorter than the early films. It is unavoidable that subplots and a certain richness of detail will be lost when trying to cram a sprawling novel into an audience-friendly film. However, the last decade has done wonders in this department–thanks largely to the efforts of Peter Jackson, and other filmmakers too numerous to count, it is perfectly acceptable for a movie to approach three hours–even a movie geared towards children (Prince Caspian is 150 minutes).

My opinion is that the pressure to make each film a blockbuster permeates the entire film making process, from the screen-writing to the actual filming to the editing–so far too much is identified as “fat to be trimmed,” which may otherwise have survived. Thus we feel rushed through a rather complex story. As a byproduct of this, we get the problem referenced in the previous and following entries…

2 — Marginalization of the House Elves (and other creatures)

Separate and apart from the deletion of Dobby, is the deletion of other House Elves, and the relative disregard of the other sentient creatures in the Harry Potter universe… the Goblins, the Giants, the Centaurs, etc. Yes, they do appear in the film. But nothing happens to set them apart from ghosts, Dementors, trolls, and other creatures in the Harry Potter world.

Part of this may be actually related to the books–Rowling introduces us to several obviously-sentient creatures early on, but they do not differ significantly from, say, the moving/talking pictures that line the halls of Hogwarts. They’re almost not “real;” they don’t matter. Then, in book 4, that begins to change. Gradually we are introduced to the idea that the wizarding world has impeded upon the natural rights of these magical creatures. For instance, Goblin “technology” is used by wizards, but Goblins are not allowed to make or possess wands. House Elves are nothing but slaves; Centaurs are treated more as wild animals than members of magical society.

The movies have ignored this completely. The consequence here is twofold–first, it forgives a major flaw in the pre-Voldemort influenced Ministry of Magic. More significantly, however, it causes the movies to “revert” to the attitude that the early books have–it shows us sentient creatures, which are clearly in subordinate roles to humans, and then never addresses why this is. It implies that it isn’t a problem, or simply isn’t worth the time.

1 — Goblet of Fire

Disclaimer 4: I feel obligated to state, up front, that I feel that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is by far the weakest book of the series; thus I’d expect it to make a weak movie. But I believe this film missed the mark even relative to it’s low-bar target. Many may disagree (the box office certainly did–it is both the highest-grossing and most popular movie of the series).

Forget cutting nonessential scenes, and combining several scenes/locations for the sake of time and pacing. Goblet takes so many liberties that it contradicts established norms in the Harry Potter universe, and makes implications that require the reader to have either a)read the books ahead of time, or b)commit not to analyze the movie beyond the current scene.

Take the Quidditch tournament that opens the film–the match itself is not shown, but we see the celebration afterwards. Dialog from the main characters implies clearly that the Irish won, but Ron is mesmerized by the performance of Viktor Krum, the star player of the losing team. Wait, what? Of course, the book addresses this with the details of the match (improbable enough on its own), but without that knowledge, it comes off as nonsensical.

What's the deal with Quidditch scoring? Doesn't the Seeker make everybody else pointless...did you ever notice that?

A far more consequential example of the same “glazing-over” of crucial detail comes with the (lack of) explanation for Barty Crouch Jr.’s escape from Azkaban. The entire plot of the previous book/movie revolves around the massive manhunt for Sirius Black following his escape from the prison; it was supposed to be impossible. The events as presented in the movie require the viewer to believe that, only a year later, another dangerous criminal escaped and no one even noticed his absence (Dumbledore’s one line on the matter: “Send an owl to Azkaban; I think they’ll find they’re missing a prisoner”).

Of course, this is the book that marks the beginning of Dobby/the House Elves disappearance. We are offerred no details as to how Alastor Moody was captured (in context of the character, it’s a real accomplishment). Sirius Black’s role is all-but removed. And as an added insult, we are treated to a sorely out-of-place scene in which Professor McGonagal gives the Griffindor students a ballroom dancing lesson. From the dance lessons to the conclusion of the ball, something like 15% of the movie plays out like an episode of “Secret Life” (or one of those). We are shown the developing love interest between Hagrid and Madaam Maxine during this sequence, but it is never properly concluded (and that has consequences in the next movie). The “romantic” moments may be enticing to the teen audience… but for every extra-textual scene that was added, that’s another great scene from the book never filmed.

And then there’s the ending.

No, not Voldemort’s second-coming; that sequence is great… although it’s hard to screw something like that up. Plus, we get to watch Edward Robert Pattinson die. The Barty Crouch interrogation is alright too. I’m talking about what happens afterwards.

As bad as the book is, it makes you want to read the next one. Dumbledore gathers all the players in his office, and though it is not mentioned by name, the Order of the Phoenix is reactivated. Dumbledore sends Hagrid and Madaam Maxine after the giants. Ron’s parents are to muster “the old crowd.” And best of all, Sirius Blank and Severus Snape are forced to face each other and shake hands. You can’t tell me Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman staring each other down wouldn’t have been great on camera.

I've got 3 to 1 on Commissioner Gordon

Instead, we get Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanging sugar-sweet sentiment, culminating with Harry delivering a zero-context quote from Dumbledore (which Dumbledore never says, books or movies): “We have something worth fighting for.” What? The ending of Goblet of Fire is like asking for dinner and being served a chicken salad and walnut sandwich. All the elements of completeness are there, and yet… something is missing.

Coming Soon: 7 Things HP (Harry Potter) Got Right

Possibly Coming Soon: 7 Things HP (Hewlett Packard) Consistently Gets Wrong

…kidding. However:

Actually Coming Soon: The Interrogation (A new short fiction piece)