All eight Harry Potter films reviewed in 300 words

[I wrote this in response to a comment by Hal on my old review of the Percy Jackson movie. Decided it was worth airing on its own. You may or may not concur.]

I agree, Hal, that the Potter films can be stodgy and unimaginative in their literal-minded adaptation of Rowling’s prose. That can be particularly apparent in the adaptations of the longer and less well-edited books, and as you say the two-part Deathly Hallows really does feel like an exercise in grinding through every beat of the books. (Yet even then it manages to muff Neville’s big moment with the hat, which was pretty much my favourite part of the book.)

And yet I really love three of the Potter films. The first just feels magical, and Daniel Radcliffe’s limited acting is rendered irrelevant by his completely appropriate sense of sheer wonder. It captures what I loved about the book, the spirit of it as much as the detail. After a second film that felt by-the-numbers, the third was a much freer adaptation, much more tightly constructed, and much the better for it: it hit all the key points of the novel and made all the key scenes work, while playing with the scaffolding to good effect. (It also has the marvellous scene where Hermione punches Malfoy). Finally, and very much contrary to my expectations, the Half-Blood Prince film works well not only for the plot, but for its surprisingly sure-handed and sympathetic handling of the adolescent love-affairs. The last thing I expected was a light touch, but it’s there and it shows all three of the leads at their best.

Ha, looks like I just reviewed (nearly) all eight Potter films. For the record, I thought #4 and #5 were too by-the-numbers to be deeply involving, but I did very much enjoy Imelda Staunton’s reading of Umbridge — even though it’s completely different from how I’d pictured her. (I’d like to see Umbridge played by Annette Badland, of Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen fame.)

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7 responses to “All eight Harry Potter films reviewed in 300 words

  1. codemonkeysteve

    Having heard Stephen Fry read the books, I see no need for the films to exist.

  2. Annette Badland as Umbridge, very good casting there, she would have had a field day. Not that Imelda wasn’t appropriately false and hateful as that pink monster. As regards Ms Badland, my antipathy toward much of RTD Doctor Who and particularly those Raxicoriwhatsit farting horrors means I prefer to think of her as Charlotte from Bergerac!
    I agree with you more or less about Philosopher’s Stone, despite Colombus’s blandness it does do a pretty good job of getting across the magic and telling the story fairly entertainingly. I thought Prisoner wasn’t at all bad while Goblet translated the book quite well however the novel sees the bloat set in and the longueurs detract from the story, Goblet adapts it in okay fashion but ironically it doesn’t do so well at bringing those moments when Rowling gets it together and really *tells the story* engagingly rather than indulging in repetition and reiteration (“look I’m an “important” writer now so fie on you, editing!”). The next two books see the flaws increase I think and the films can’t really overcome this save in moments; I do however like the Ministry of Magic battle (H B-C makes for a sexy nutcase too, ahem). Deathly Hallows 1 I’ve already disparaged, Part 2 is better but the unsatisfactory elements of the book aren’t enhanced and the goodish parts – arguably – don’t play as well. Rickman is fine as Snipe tho’ perhaps a *bit* pantomimey. In the book I believe in his love for Lily (and am not convinced by his nasty side) and Rowling makes him the most sympathetic and tragic character whether she meant to or not. On screen it doesn’t work quite as well but it’ll do. Your opinions were interesting but, ooh, I do go on!
    As for Fry, “meh”.

  3. I’m Ravenclaw as well (tho Slytherin and Gryffindor were pretty close behind). I always thought I’d be Ravenclaw as I’m bookish and nerdy – and I’m an English major
    I’ve taken the test on Pottermore and that put me in Gryffindor which surprised me but everyone else said it made sense. One friend even said I look like a Gryffindor which I find intriguing/puzzling. Still, JKR devised that test so I’m going to call myself a Gryffindor.

  4. According to Pottermore, I’m a Hufflepuff – I much prefer Ravenclaw. Raverin would be even better; though Gryffindor seems to have the best common room.

    Haven’t seen any of the films, but love the books – despite the linguistic shortcomings, JKR has the ability to tell a gripping (and pleasingly long) story. I don’t why people pick on books 4 & 5 – IMO, they are two of the best; though 3 is possibly even better. That scene of Hermione pwning Draco always leaves me sympathising w/ Draco – he may be douchey at times, but surely no more so than Harry, who can be a right idiot. Snape & Draco 1 – Harry 0.

  5. I do agree that the Potter books have a very powerful quality that is almost universally (and I dare say deliberately) overlooked by the many, many critics who have nothing to say about them but to criticise the use of language. Yes, yes: “Hermione said warningly” is an atrocious dialogue tag (though one with an honorable history, as it’s also used repeatedly by Agatha Christie in the Partners in Crime short-story collection.) But all that is beside the point. Under the disguise of a kids’-book series, Rowling goes to deep places and investigates important themes.

    As Richard Sherbaniuk wrote, “The Harry Potter books are literature, period. They’ll be read long after Salman Rushdie has turned to dust.”

  6. I was thinking more of things like: JKR’s fondness for “zoomed”; her habit of saying “Harry Ron, and Hermione”, in contexts where “they” would be equally clear & less repetitive; errors like “span” for “spun”; and other solecisms. (The last example may be a misprint.) Tolkien, by contrast, is no less masterly (not: masterful) a tale-teller, but, while there are passages which can reasonably be criticised on grounds of style, bad grammar and dodgy syntax are not among his faults. He manages to tell a long, complex, many-layered tale full of meanings and echoes,without making grammatical errors – JKR tells a story that is no less admirable, but not without the solecisms he avoids. That was my objection.

    IMO, the literary quality of Tolkien’s is likely to assure them a place as literary classics which the linguistic & syntactic & grammatical failings of JKR’s tale might not be accorded. (I think also that Tolkien’s legendarium is a greater achievement – in degree, not kind: but that is a distinct, if related, issue.) I think that, to be an English literary classic, a book in English should not only excel as a story, but should also reveal the richness & the possibilities of the English language. Tolkien does that – I’m not sure that JKR does. The books are literature – but are they great literature ? JKR has the gift of invention in abundance; but invention, no matter how ingenious – & not all her inventions have the consistency of reality that is one of Tolkien’s great virtues – is not enough to make a book a classic.

    Just to illustrate: When Elrond talks about Earendil & Gondolin, the reference is to a man and a place that are real in the Tolkienverse. We know where Gondolin was, why it fell, why Earendil was born there, and a lopt more about it and him – the information we have about them is more than we have about many places & people in the Primary World. All we are told about Barnabas the Barmy is the he rather unwisely tried to teach some trolls ballet-dancing – it is too easy to suspect that he and they don’t have a story behind them. Granted, Gondolin & Earendil are functionally far more important in their tale than Barnabas the Barmy & those trolls are in theirs – but in the Tolkienverse, even unimportant things (like the cats of Queen Beruthiel of Gondor) are as real & alive as they would be in the Primary World. Some of JKR’s inventions don’t have quite this quality of being alive, and almost inevitable. The Tolkienverse is as real, every stick & stone & leaf of it – as the Primary World: & JKR does not always have that touch.

    It is at least conceivable that some at least of the infelicities of language are to be ascribed, not to JKR in her character as the author, but to the characters in her tale: this would account for colloquial usages such as “would’ve”,which though inelegant do reflect how the speakers are likely to speak. When JKR is writing in her character as author, however, inelegancies and errors can’t be ascribed to the characters in the Potterverse, but have to be ascribed to their author.

    I know I’ve been hard on JKR – that’s because I am very fond of her tale. So the failings stand out all more. Just because the books have so highly praised, I want them to be praised for virtues they possess, not for virtues they lack. Undiscriminating praise is a bad thing – when people’s euphoria cools & they realise that what they have praised does not have all the excellencies they have ascribed to it, an equally undiscriminating reaction often sets in. I do not want that to happen to the HP books. If they are classics, they will be able to weather all criticism. Apologies for the length.

  7. Pingback: What I’ve been reading lately, part 1 | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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