Harry Potter films have been meted out over the years with a regularity which is sometimes comforting and sometimes the opposite – where did all that time go? The big budget, big business aspect of the franchise has its advantages – beautiful actors, beautiful effects – and its problems: the quality of acting and writing which drops disappointingly at times (not being the areas which rake in the money). The sheer impersonal scale of it all, which is very different from being involved in the books themselves, especially having grown up with them as children, can also be a little off-putting. For an adaption which truly throws itself into the books – the in-jokes, the flaws, the fun – I’d say the University of Michigan’s ‘A Very Potter Musical’ (see Youtube) sticks close, perhaps closer, to their spirit.
The beauty of the first two Harry Potter books is the creation and destruction of a perfect world: a point the first two films miss completely.
It’s easy to forget how the books start, a child suffering from a brutal reality (and a life in a cupboard under the stairs) is taken to a world of perfect fantasy. But this world only lasts so long. The first book ends with the man who killed Harry’s parents emerging from the back of the head of a teacher who was supposed to be protecting him, the complete subversion of the safety we enjoyed.
The second book pushes this unease and terror further. The school is undergoing a series of racist attacks. The perpetrator is not an external threat, but one of the students, a child trying to kill other children. Harry and his friends both act as accusers and accused, as the children tear their friendships apart in fear.
But the films just don’t take it seriously. The Dursleys are purely comic, the cupboard under the stairs roomy. The second film is worse. For me the second book is thematically darker than any other in the series, but the second film captures none of this.
Perhaps the greatest of all director Chris Columbus’ crimes is that through both the first two films the whole thing still seems like a bit of fun. I am not living in some fantasy world where I see the books as great works of literature. They are children’s books, meant for children. What the films fundamentally lack is the way that Rowling treats her audience with respect. We are spoon fed everything because Columbus deems us incapable of keeping up.
Luke Partridge on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Harry Potter films (and, indeed, most book-to-film adaptations) were often criticized for their exclusion of key book elements. This was put down to a variety of factors that mainly boiled down to running time – the films could only be a certain length, meaning that a lot of material had to be left by the wayside. So when it was announced that the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, was to be split into two films, I was interested. Perhaps now all of J.K. Rowling’s ideas could be presented fully, as they deserved.
Unfortunately, this didn’t quite work out. Both halves of The Deathly Hallows feel slightly stretched, with lots of information and characters from the books shoehorned in for fan service (yes Bill Weasley, I’m looking at you). This feels a little contrived, and requires a lot of exposition that slows down both films’ pace. The overload of characters also means that great actors like Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith have very little to do by the end, and others like Bill Nighy turn up for about 5 seconds then disappear. This is a waste of their talent, and unfortunately places a lot of the acting duty on the heads of the three inexperienced leads. Also, I hate to bring this up, but does Voldemort really have to say ‘Nyeaaahhhhh!’ so many times?
These films pull off being both overfull and stretched beyond their natural limits, and I was disappointed. I’m not saying they’re awful, but they’re not great, and not really the send-off that the Harry Potter generation deserves.
Huw Fullerton on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part one and two