Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

I finally went to see the new Harry Potter movie yesterday. Really enjoyed it. The acting, again, was excellent, the pace was great, and there were plenty of lighthearted moments amidst the dark story.

As I've said throughout the movie series, they have done a great job balancing being faithful to the books while making changes to make it work as a movie. I think this has been crucial to the success of the movies: they have given us a good story while maintaining the overall ethics found in the series. Movies adapted from books are at a disadvantage storytelling wise because A) they cannot completely convey the characters thinking and reasoning (Harry's point of view, so crucial to the books) and B) thousand page books can vividly create pictures that movies can only be faithful too, not completely reproduce. Things had to be left out (and some new material created) in order to capture the detail and the themes of the book.

Overall, the movie gets things right. But I think, since this is only "Part One" of the final book, that it's not time to reflect on the movie as a whole. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to focus on some of the changes and cuts from book to movie that stood out to me, to consider what themes and ethics were lost (or gained) by the movie.

(If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to stop reading this blog post now. In other words: SPOILERS AHEAD)

CHANGE: Hermione wipes her parents minds of her memory. (Instead of her parents leaving the country to keep them safe)

Results: Might seem like a little change, but it was very effective in conveying the high stakes of what is to come.

(NOTE: It was pointed out to me that this does happen in the book!Hermione tells Ron & Harry that she's modified her parents' memories. The movie shows it in time order with a scene not in the book. Thanks to LaVonne Neff for mentioning this! As I think about it, the movie does a really good job about addressing Harry's instinct to go off on his own to protect others, and Ron & Hermione's countering of his "hero tendency". The movie conversation with Ron as he catches Harry trying to leave is another effective illustration.)

CUT: Dudley expressing concern and respect for Harry

Results: I think this was an unfortunate cut. Growth in a non-magical Muggle is not found in many places, and, after years of horrible treatment by his blood family, Dudley extending his hand to Harry is proof that anyone can change and open his heart. This knowledge is critical to Harry's growth, and is shown in his choices as the book concludes.

CHANGE: Hedwig is killed while defending Harry (instead of her being stuck by a stray wand bolt while in her cage)

Results: I understand this change: it would have been really hard and complicated to show Hedwig mad with Harry and refusing to speak to him, hiding her face in her wing. I like this ending better for Hedwig and Harry: she died while trying to protect him. However, I believe what is lost is a critical point of the book: death can come at anytime, and it won't always wait for you to reconcile arguments. Life is short and precious, and when we leave things at a place of anger, we may never get the opportunity to express our true feelings. There's a clear word of warning here (as well as a clear sign from the author that no character is safe from death), and while it makes sense movie-wise to change it, I can't help but feel we lost an important point.

(By making Hedwig's sacrifice the "sign" to Voldemort, we also lose Harry's choice to disarm instead of hurt/kill those attacking him, which alerts the Death Eaters that he is the "real Harry" by his use of his trademark spell. I think this is another nice ethical question lost by the movie, but it is demonstrated in other places of the story.)

CUT: Lupin's attempt to join Harry, Hermione & Ron.

Results: I missed this. A lot. The results of this moment is that Harry, in the book, calls Lupin a coward, shocking everyone. Harry's anger at Lupin for his willingness to abandon his family to go off with them is a big loss ethics/theme wise to the story. Harry gets plenty of things wrong in the books, but he rightly points out that Lupin is giving in to fear with this request. I will say that this might make it's way into Part Two. Tonks was going to tell Harry something (Lupin and I are having a baby!) right before they all took flight, and Mad-Eye shuts her down. So I get the feeling that they will touch on this somehow. They may have the Lupin/Harry confrontation out of order (which would work), or they might bypass it to simply tell Harry that he's going to be a Godparent (which would be unfortunate).

CUT: No change in Kreacher due to kindness by Harry, Ron & Hermoine

Results: BOOOOOOOO!!! One can argue that one of the MAJOR THEMES of the book is the impaired relationship between wizards and non-wizards due to wizards thinking they are better than others, and nowhere has it been more crucial than the House Elves. Furthermore, Harry's MAJOR weakness is that hate tends to blind him. I re-watched the 6th movie the day before going, and Lupin says aloud "Harry, your hate (for Snape) continues to blind you!" Harry blames Kreacher for Sirius's death, and cannot see that Kreacher is a product of wizard hate. The book transforms Kreacher in dramatic fashion, and starts Harry on his way to learning not to give in to hate. The movie even sends Kreacher on the task the book does, but fails to "convert" him to a way other than hate. A big missed opportunity, although there is still some hope that the movie may have this happen in Part Two.

CHANGE: Harry & Ron overpower Wormtail (instead of Wormtail's hesitation, resulting in his silver hand taking over)

Results: It means we still don't know about what it means to be in a "wizard's life debt" to someone. However, Wormtail is still alive for now, so I have a feeling that the movie will get to this later.

CHANGE: The big foreboding movie ending, with Voldermort obtaining the Elder Wand (early)

Results: I thought this was a really effective ending to the first movie (at least, what I could see of it, my eyes watery because of Dobby). Now a day later, I wonder what is lost by Harry, Ron & Hermione not having the conversation about trying to beat Voldermort to the wand. In the book, it's a critical moment for Harry (he resists his tendency to prematurely go off to be hero, and instead sticks to the task of eliminating Horcruxes). I wonder how (if) the movie will now address this.

It sounds like a lot of criticism, but what this really points to is how strong and packed the Harry Potter series is. Even by missing a number a things, the movie is an example of powerful storytelling of real-life human themes.

(There are also many more cuts & changes that I didn't touch on: feel free to mention them!!!)

1 comment:

LKT said...

I hadn't remembered ANY of this! This is really helpful.

I think these movies have gotten better as they've gone along, focusing more on the essentials of the characters and the narrative, and less on the whiz-bang-ness of Hogwarts (which I found distracting in the first couple of movies).