When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One opened last year I said the movies, “are a closed club, really for fans only.” I have always felt the films worked best as an addendum to the books; a big screen visualization of J.K. Rowling’s words for Potterphiles who already understood why Harry would have to collect all the Horcruxes before doing battle with “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
The movies have been extraordinarily successful—to date, not counting the Deathly Hallows Part 2, or 7B as Potterheads call it, the franchise has raked in more than six billion dollars—and have inspired many spinoff products including video games, replicas of Harry’s wand (complete with light and sound!) and even bootleg books with names like Harry Potter and the Leopard Walk-Up-To Dragon. You know you’ve hit it big when the Chinese are writing unauthorized versions of your books.
But for all their popularity the movies have frequently left me feeling like a Quidditch player with no balls. In other words, an outsider. They are big handsome pictures that leave the faithful swooning but for the uninitiated viewer who plunks down their admission they could be an occasionally frustrating experience. If there is such a thing as being too faithful, I think Potter’s producers are guilty of it.
Generally Hollywood’s inclination is to treat books and movies as two completely separate things with only a passing resemblance to one another.
For instance, The Secret Garden, starring Potter actor Maggie Smith, changed so many details from the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel—among other things the main character loses her parents to an earth-quake instead of cholera and the secret garden was hardly a secret—that the only thing the two had in common was the title.
Some accuse Hollywood of ruining books, but authors like Raymond Chandler are philosophical about it. When asked if he worried about the movies sullying his books, The Big Sleep author replied, “They’re not ruined. They’re right there on the shelf.”
No one will accuse the Potter filmmakers of being disrespectful to the books, but I would suggest that perhaps they may have been a bit too precious with them. The determination to cram as many of the details from the books into the films led to some uneven moments and while the movies kept most of the British Equity actors employed for the better part of ten years, it was occasionally puzzling as to why an actor of Alan Rickman’s stature would bother with the dye job to show up and utter two lines.
Having said all that the latest film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two still contains enough Potter-parlance to boggle the muggle mind, but for the first time the insider chat doesn’t get in the way. This go around the Sword of Gryffindor and the like are McGuffins, things that propel the story but in the end aren’t as important as the underlying themes of friendship and good versus evil.
The movie deals with large questions of life and death, examines what goes on in the souls of men (and evil lords) all wrapped up in the comforting Potterverse. It has been a long strange journey with its own set of rules, internal logic and kooky creatures but the Potter cinema saga ends with dignity and without cutting corners or excluding muggles who haven’t read the books.