Monday, August 8, 2011

From Page to Screen: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

So here is my first try at a new occasional feature for this blog: short discussions comparing and analyzing books and their movie adaptations.  When I go to see a film based on a book that I read and enjoyed, I am nearly always full of apprehension.  As this blog might illustrate, I feel pretty passionately about novels I love.  So I tend to be somewhat, well, picky and judgmental about the film adaptations of these books.  

As my long-suffering friends could tell you, I have a long history of dissatisfaction with the Harry Potter movies, both as films and as adaptations of the books.  So I entered the movie theatre this past fall with pretty low expectations for Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  However, I was pleasantly surprised; overall, the movie captured the tone of the book as well as the bulk of the actual plot.  So this July I actually the most excited I've been for a Harry Potter in quite a while.  I checked the DVD of Part 1 out of the library to watch in preparation and relistened to several of the last few chapters on my trusty audiobook version of HP7.

For the first half hour or so, I was not disappointed.  The Gringotts scenes and escape via dragon were great: exciting and dangerous while also touching on the sudden moral questions facing Harry, Ron, and Hermione in their pursuit of the Horcruxes.  But then our heroes arrived back at Hogwarts and the film deviates from the book in ways that gave me pause.

When I go to watch a movie adaptation of a novel, I expect a certain number of alterations or cuts; the mediums are very different and so the way a story is told will be different in each.  The kind of changes from book to movie that I take issue with are those that alter the tone or characters significantly or that overly simplify or complicate plot points.  Deathly Hallows, Part 2 makes a few of just these kind of alterations.  

The first issue I had with this adaptation was the portrayal of the current situation at Hogwarts and of the reaction of the Hogwarts community to an oncoming external attack.  In the novel, we learn that Hogwarts has become a kind of prison for wizarding children; parents are being kept in check by the threat of harm to their children and in turn the children are kept in check by harsh rules and punishments that amount to torture.  Neville, Ginny, and Luna have been heading a resistance amongst the students, which has been whittled down as members (such as Ginny and Luna) disappear and punishments have gotten progressively more sadistic.  When the trio returns, Neville has been forced to guide the resistance further underground and literally into hiding within the walls of the castle.  The Room of Requirement has become a combination clubhouse, secret headquarters, and refuge; the rebellious students are living there, off the grid.  In the film, the Room appears just as described in the book with the house banners and hammocks.  However, five minutes after showing their hideaway, the film flashes to a scene in the Great Hall, where all the supposedly exiled students are gathered with the general student populace.  If they are still openly participating in school events, why does it appear that they are living in the Room?  But it is the contents of this particular meeting that bothered me most.  In the novel, when McGonagall learns from Harry that Voldemort is on his way to Hogwarts, she immediately implements a plan--a plan whose basics look to have been in place for a long time.  In contrast, the film's portrayal shows the group to be far less organized--and far less fair.  During the large meeting scene in which Snape is kicked out by McGonagall, the Transfiguration professor also sends the Slytherins to the dungeons--a move that is, to me, utterly out of character.  

This small moment likely seems minor to most film viewers.  And most people probably think I'm crazy for being so perturbed by it.  However, I find this sort of change to be careless in the worst way: it implies certain things about that character and the defending army of teachers, students, and Order members that directly conflict with their portrayals in the book.  McGonagall is an admirable character because she works so hard to act fairly towards her students; she avoids favoritism and generally does not allow her politics or feelings affect her role as a teacher.  This little moment in the film conflicted completely with her character as portrayed for all seven volumes of the series.  Additionally, the underage students are never sent out; in the books it is made clear that the students who remain to fight in the battle are (mostly) over 17 years old and all are there voluntarily.  Again, a tiny error that bothers a picky viewer like me :) 

But I have to agree with the majority of other viewers: overall the film's last half was quite epic and thrilling.  I felt that the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort was a little drawn out and actually less dramatic that the way it was structured in the novel.  However, in general, I left the theatre generally pleased--but also with an increased urge to complete my re-listening to the audiobook of the original ;)  And to read some fan essays while jamming to some fabulous wizard rock.  After all, Harry Potter is only over when we fans say it's over, my friends. 

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