First off, I’m a Harry Potter fan. The first books came out while I was on my mission in Germany. I came home, heard about them, and read the first three in a day or two. I thoroughly enjoyed them. They were fast, fun, and imaginative. Since then, I’ve followed the franchise closely. I’ve attended midnight releases of the books and movies. I love how many new readers they’ve brought to YA fantasy–that’s wonderful.
That said, do you want my honest opinion? (Of course you do.) Well, here goes:
The Harry Potter series is essentially two different series. One is Middle Grade (the first 4 books), and the other is YA (the last 3 books). The Middle Grade series is absolutely fantastic. Great fun, imaginative, exciting. Love it. The YA series is just good. There. I said it. The last three Harry Potters are over-hyped. Overrated. The series turned into a cultural phenomenon, but it wouldn’t have done that if it had started with Order of the Phoenix. The books excel when Rowling plays to her strengths: imagination and whimsy. Once they grow darker and more serious, those strengths get shoved more and more to the side, and it’s to the detriment of the series. We still enjoy them, because we have so much invested in the characters, but that’s due to the books that came before. Contrast Deathly Hallows with The Hunger Games (the first one, at least), and maybe you’ll see what I mean. Deathly Hallows is an OK YA book (once you take away the hype). Hunger Games is a smash.
Still, we all want to Find Out How It Ends.
The final movie has been garnering its share of praise. I even heard some wondering if it might score a best picture nomination. It’s got a 96% fresh rating on Rottentomatoes, an 87 on Metacritic, and is making money hand over fist, to the adulation of throngs of fans. I went and saw it last night, expectations set to Full Speed Ahead. It was just okay. Yes, we found out how the series ends, and lots of fighting was involved, with a suitably epic LOTR feel at the end, but I couldn’t help walking away feeling like this adaptation was set up for failure from the beginning.
There’s just too much in the book, and fans are too tied to the original. So the movie is reduced to a pinball-like approach, with the main characters doing action after action, some of which are explained and justified in the movie, some of which rely on you being familiar with the book. That’s not the formula for a successful adaptation. For example, if you haven’t read the book, then you don’t have a clue why the Resurrection Stone is important or even mentioned. You probably only have a vague idea of what exactly happened with Snape. Where the heck did the Grey Lady come from? Stuff like this works if you’re familiar with the source material, but it comes across as confusing and contrived if you’re not.
Plus, the adaptation continued to highlight structural flaws of the book itself (something I noted in my review of 7:1). Problems are solved by convenience and stupidity on the part of evil. SPOILER ALERT: So you’re Voldemort. You’ve been waiting for well over a decade to kill Harry Potter. You’ve finally done it, with a big triumphant death spell. And . . . you have a minor minion go check him to make sure he’s dead? And you have his best friend Hagrid carry the body back? Haven’t you ever heard of the double tap? I mean, even Zombieland highlighted the importance of this. You’re the lord of evil, dude. Act like it. Decapitate the little brat. Burn his body to ash. It’s hard to fake being ash, you know. And when you do come back to gloat, what’s up with letting Neville Longbottom monologue for that long? Kill him, too. The fact is, if Voldemort acted like half the evil lord he’s supposed to be, the ending of the book wouldn’t work. At all. And even getting to the ending is nothing more than a series of hoops to jump through. The conflict in the story is driven by coincidence, chance and blind fumbling in the dark. That ain’t the way to write a blockbuster novel.
That said, did I enjoy myself in the movie? Mostly, yes. It was lots of fun to see some characters have their moment, and to see the End at last. I just grow wistful thinking about what might have been.
This is no Best Picture. This isn’t deserving of the scores and praises being heaped upon it. It ain’t The Dark Knight. It’s a well-produced adaptation with slick special effects, okay acting, and a large amount of cultural good will.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I’d love to entertain other opinions, though. Thoughts?