Why I won’t miss the Harry Potter films

By Stacey Harrison

Lest my title fool you, please understand that I come not to bury the Harry Potter film series, but to proclaim my mild indifference toward it.

As the world voraciously consumes the film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, much has been said and written that paints a sentimental portrait of the decade-old film cycle, which began in 2001 with the faithful (to a fault, according to many) adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We were introduced to three young actors who uncannily captured most people’s visions of what Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley would look like. They appeared and acted exactly how J.K. Rowling described them, and in the years that followed we have seen them grow into young adults, with each chapter promising to be the darkest one yet, and the one where Harry and his friends — say it with me — grow up. I’m sure that’s where most of the misty-eyed remembrances are coming from, with footage of an impossibly young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint during their first screen test together circulating the Internet and making us all feel old.

I’ve never had a particular problem with any of the films, and have always enjoyed them on first viewing. I’d even say they’ve gotten better each time out, with the possible exception of Goblet of Fire standing slightly above the rest. (I felt the same way about the books, too.) Problem is, they tend to slip my mind the minute I leave the theater, and after a few months I have to stop and think for a second to remember if I’ve actually seen the latest one. Then when the ads come out for the next film, I do not feel that desperate, ecstatic sense of anticipation that takes hold of so many others. Now, I really don’t want to turn this into one of those situations where I’m the snobby “oh, I don’t really watch TV” guy, because I don’t judge anyone who does get caught up in it. Hype is often derided, and truthfully we should look at it through a skeptic’s eyes most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that getting caught up in hype is part of what makes going to the movies so much fun. Sure, the final product may not live up to the relentless marketing campaign, but does that two or so hours you spent watching a disappointing movie diminish all the fun you had waiting for it?

Much as I would have liked to, though, I just never felt that for Harry Potter. The books, yes, but not the films. And therein lies the problem. The books are so engaging and, well, thorough, that anything I see onscreen just feels like an abridged version. I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to the idea of always reading the book before you see the movie. It just depends on whether you want to be able to enjoy the movie on its own terms. Too often, we take your mental checklist with us into the theater and keep inventory of all the changes that have been made. On the other hand, if you watch the movie first, reading the book afterward can be incredibly enriching, like getting access to countless deleted scenes that actually make the story better. The best example I can come up with in my own experience is when I got around to reading Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of 2001. Yes, the movie is a highlight in the history of cinema in no small part because it is closer to poetry than prose, with much of its deeper meanings left open to interpretation. But having all the visual signifiers in my head, then reading Clarke’s characterizations of the apes from “The Dawn of Man” segment, and his description of the Star Child sequence makes the whole work more enlightening. I can still enjoy the film of 2001 with all of its mysteries intact, if I so choose, but I can also watch the apes and know their names, and know the story of how humanity discovered the Monolith.

With the Harry Potter films, it’s too late for all that. The books are too fresh in my mind, and when I’m watching the movies all the scenes feel like the actors are reading them straight out of the books. You can feel them knowing they’re being watched, and trying so hard to deliver what they think you want to see. It’s similar to how you can go see a Civil War reenactment, and really marvel at how well they’ve represented the era, but not really feel any emotion.

Perhaps I just need some distance. Maybe if I come back to the Harry Potter saga 10 or 15 years from now, I can watch the films and get absorbed in all the fine work by the actors, appreciate the arc of each story, and marvel at what the production team pulled off — making eight films over 10 years with pretty much the same cast and crew, while adhering to one fantastic vision. That’s astounding. Of course, by then, it’ll be time for the reboot.

Photo: © 2011 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights; Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

1 Comment

  1. Very well said, Stacey. I remember people feeling the same way about John Grisham books being made into movies.

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