Harry Potter is a modern phenomenon. You can love it or hate it, but you can not ignore it. As far as fantasies go, Harry Potter is one of the best fantasy stories ever told.
The story is groundbreaking for many reasons – the plot is excellent and flawless, the world described in the story is believable and continuous, and the characters are well developed as well as matured (and maturing over the course of the story). But these are probably true for any well-knit story. There is another noteworthy characteristic of the Harry Potter story however, that is absolutely unprecedented.
And that characteristic is the time (1997 to 2007) when this story is published. To be more precise, the fact that this long and developing story had a very large group of fans (and haters) who discussed each and every aspect of the story in blogs, wikis and every possible way online endlessly. Such a large scale and worldwide platform of discussion is absolutely unprecedented for any story. But why does that make Harry Potter a great story?
It is very difficult to keep your audience interested and asking for more over a long period of time. And it took a very long time for Harry Potter to reach Deathly Hallows since he had started in Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone. The fans never lost their interest during this phenomenally long time. This is because J. K. Rowling could always deliver what her fans wanted and more. This is no easy task. You see, when a story unfolds over a long time, the readers get time to think about the parts they have read (and reread), and they can develop the story further in their minds. The longer it goes, the more difficult it becomes for the writer to meet and hopefully exceed the imagination of her readers. But when there is a platform like the internet, where all readers can share their thoughts, search for loopholes in the story and speculate how the next part of the story should be, it becomes almost impossible for the author to beat that. How do you trump the collective intelligence of millions of fans over a long period of time? How do you make sure that millions of pairs of eyes don’t find a hole in your ever expanding plot? And is it at all possible to think of plots and situations that all these people from all over the world has not thought of yet? Sounds quite impossible, but these are exactly the things that J. K. Rowling has managed to achieve over the last decade. It’s no small feat.
When it was decided that the books would be recreated as movies, the filmmakers faced a huge challenge. First and foremost, how to visualize such a (literally) magical world? But also how to make sure the fans would love the movies as much as (or at least close to) the books? Chris Columbus, the director of the first couple of movies, tried to follow the stories as closely as possible. Since the books were pretty thin (compared to the later volumes) most of the story could be squeezed into a couple of hours. There were no major deviations, and the films were quite well accepted. It did not hurt that Rowling was involved in creating the screenplay for the movies. In fact, Rowling was involved in the first four movies.
The third movie in the series, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, was, in my opinion, the best in the series. Cuarón was confident enough to mould the story to fit into the new media, but he did that without changing any of the core structures of the story. It was one of the very few movies that I liked even after reading the base story. I was hoping the rest of the movies would be directed by Cuarón, but that was not to happen. By then, the books were expanding to gigantic proportions, and it was becoming extremely difficult to fit them into movies.
The fourth movie, directed by Mike Newell, again tried to follow the story, without much modification for the new media, something that only Cuarón had successfully done by then. The movie was OK. Not bad, but neither was it great.
The fifth volume was the largest of the series. And it was the most visual story till then in the series. The impeccable descriptions of Mad-Eye performing the disillusionment charm on Harry, the incidents at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, the nailbiting hearing, St. Mungo’s Hospital, etc. and finally the amazing description of the Ministry of Magic, and the Department of Mysteries. When readers go through the story, these are things that almost appear before their eyes, and these are the things that they long to see in the movie. David Yates, the director of the fifth movie, thought otherwise. He removed most of these visual descriptions from the visual medium.
It is understandable that a book of almost 900 pages can not be fit into a 2 hours movie, but how come the largest book in the series makes the shortest movie (138 minutes whereas Goblet of Fire was 157 minutes) in the series till date? Even if we consider that, for some reason, the length of the movie was restricted, how come some of the best scenes in the story are missing in the movie?
That is not the only problem with the movie. There are a number of things shown in the movie that proves that Yates either had not read the whole series or did not give enough thought on the details. Let me present a few examples.
In the story Dumbledore was always in control of the situation, even when confronted by the most formidable opponents including Umbridge and Fudge. This is very clear in the hearing scene, where, although he was always polite, Dumbledore was firm, confident and even funny the whole time. In the film he is seen almost pleading to Fudge trying to convince him that the fact that Voldemort had return was “incontrovertible”. Very un-Dumbledore-like if you ask me.
The same is true to McGonagall. She never let Umbridge control her even though the situation was totally favoring Umbridge. In the movie, McGonagall is seen to concede in an allegorical altercation with Umbridge on the stairs. There are other examples in the movie where some of the core characters have been made much weaker.
Then there are small things like the Number Tweleve, Grimmauld Place. Dumbledore was the secret keeper, yet Mad-Eye could make the building appear by banging his staff of the ground. Apparently this is a small deviation from the story, but think about this: the reason Voldemort could not get to James and Lily was because he could not access the secret keeper, and managed to reach them only when they decided to change the secret keeper. If Mad-Eye could make Number Twelve appear, why could Voldemort not access James’ house in Godric’s Hollow? Yates had no idea what is meant by a secret keeper.
What about the room of requirement? Yates thought it was a simple room with a hidden door. That’s why Umbridge could blow a hole in the wall and enter it. He did not understand that the room was much more than that; it was, as proclaimed by Dobby, a “come and go room”, and one can not enter it by a simple “Reducto” charm. I wonder if Yates would let Harry enter the room of requirement in Half Blood Prince while Malfoy is still there by using “Reducto”. That would be interesting to see!
And finally, of course, is the way Department of Mysteries was shown. I can’t believe Yates decided not to show the different rooms there! I would have thought this sequence would be a film directors dream scene! The room of time, the brain room, the room with the planets (although Harry did not have a chance to see that) – all of them were materials for movie. Yates should have extended the movie for 20 more minutes, if only to show these different rooms in the department of mysteries. But no, he decided otherwise.
It did not help that Phoenix was the first movie where Rowling was not involved at all, neither is she going to be involved for the other two (three, if you consider that the last one is split into two parts). We can only hope that Yates would start understanding the series a little better after directing the fifth movie in the series.
P.S. There are few questions which I would love to get answers for:
- In goblet of fire, when harry was stuck in the staircase with the map and egg fallen, why did he not use the summoning charm, at least to get the map (because the egg was already open and emitting a large amount of noise)?
- What did Mad-Eye see when he looked at a boggart in a cabinet, like in OotP?
- After RAB drank the potion before taking the horcrux, who filled up the goblet?
- What did Dudley feel during a dementors (almost) kiss? Which were his bad memories? (Rowling has answered this partly in an interview, but I would like to hear more. Wishful thinking!)
- If house elfs can apperate and dissaperate anywhere, and they can also take people with them, how come there are still people left in Azkaban? Can’t they just call their house elfs, and dissaperate with them?