The latest installment of the Harry Potter universe, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, gives one a distinctly sinking feeling. Not because it means there’s only one more episode left, but because one begins to wonder if the films will be able to wrap up the series in a remotely satisfying way.
There’s still a popcorn kind of glee in watching a Harry Potter flick, but of late it’s seemed trickier for the films to capture the whimsy of the books, something present even in the later, darker chapters. Hallows, Part 1, for example, sees the appearance of Mundungus Fletcher (Mundungus being word that means “foul smelling tobacco”), one of the many fantastical character names author J.K. Rowling rolled out. The movies have just seemed to have lost the ability to have fun with them.
It’s been interesting to see them evolve. As Harry has grown older, the stories have become more sinister and ditto the movies, beginning with the genius stroke of allowing Alfonso Cuarón to direct the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That film shed the twinkly quality that Chris Columbus brought (appropriately) to the first two flicks for a darker, hipper vibe. Suddenly Harry and company wore street clothes more often and felt more like real, modern tweens. It swerved visually away from the book in the small ways that movies should, without derailing Rowling’s narrative.
Alas, though, this latest installment, and the one prior, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, seem hollow, shallow even, compared to Order of the Phoenix, despite having the same director, David Yates. Although all the pieces are there, all the important moments from the book, they have seemed less sweeping, less majestic and lack those moments of stirring dialogue and the pleasure of watching people work out a puzzle for themselves. Perhaps Michael Goldenberg, screenwriter for Order, had a bead on such nuggets that Steve Kloves, who has written nearly every other episode, lost his touch for.
It’s no fault of the kids. The filmmakers either chose very well, or got very lucky with their main stars; Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson as Hermione and Rupert Grint as Ron (striking resemblance to Ralph Mouth of Happy Days, no?) have all aged gracefully enough into young adults—no premature baldness, for instance. Of equal importance, they’ve grown into actors of more than adequate ability.
I am no Potter scholar (but there is such a thing, I know). Those more-vested viewers have identified what makes the books so absorbing, but it roughly boils down to the same things that make any heroic journey heroic, from Odysseus of Greek fame to Luke Skywalker of the Lucas Corporation. It’s the idea that an average person can be extraordinary—something usually relegated to daydreams. There’s an idea that being good and noble can triumph over trickery and evil.
In the books, Harry Potter started out as a rudely-treated occupant in the cupboard under the stairs. He ends up defeating a great evil because he retained his humanity and kept an ability to love, something his enemy could not do. Here’s hoping that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 keeps his wizard-to-human conversion rate in that vein, rather than just checking off all the boxes in an outline version of the book.
Buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 here.