20 observations about Harry Potter

careful-may-contain-spoliers edited

So Harry Potter is 20 years old. It’s all over the news so why not mention it here? Of course it’s been 20 years since the first book was published, the first film not coming along until 2001 after four books had already been published, but that hasn’t stopped most of the talk today centring on the films or discussing both literature and film interchangeably as tends to happen with the Potterverse. So here are 20 observations (and I’m already seriously doubting my commitment to this number) about the Harry Potter films and the first being exactly that.

  1. The books and films are inseparable. You can’t really evaluate the success of the films or criticise them without referencing the phenomenon that was the appeal of the books and their unanticipated rapid rise in popularity. But nor could you describe to future generations how these books endured and practically defined a decade, without touching on the films that made the franchise so successful.
  2. But the films will outlive the books. We were all led to believe that Harry Potter would end after 7 books but mega-franchises are hard to kill and movies are where the big bucks lie so even though we’ve had a few spin-off books and a play, it’s films that will keep the HP universe alive. Not only will there be four more in the fantastic beasts series but I’ve heard there will be a Voldemort origins story released online as a non-profit film. Sure there’s been plenty of fan-lit online for ages but a fan-film will be far more anticpated and more likely to be accepted as canon.
  3. The actors haven’t been cursed like we thought. The child-acting in HP wasn’t exactly the strongest anyway but who would have put money on any of them making any successful films after the series, in terms of both financial success and credibility. But Radcliffe has made a few interesting choices and risky moves. Despite always being referred to as Harry, he doesn’t embody Potter in his recent roles. Emma Watson meanwhile has almost shaken off her most famous role completely. This isn’t exactly scientific but from the first 12 Beauty and the Beast reviews I found only 2 mentioned Harry Potter. Rupert Grint on the other hand doesn’t seem to have drunk his Felix Felicis.
  4. It’s all very British, sort of. Rowling insisted on an all British and Irish cast and only the best of what the UK had to offer could sell this film around the world so as a result the series is a chest bursting with our “national treasure”. The former Prime Minister David Cameron used the films as an example of what British cinema should be going forward. He meant more like Hollywood and less “Billy Elliot”.
  5. J. K. Rowling becomes the most powerful woman in cinema. She refuses to relinquish any control over her inventions, insists that her works are adapted in her way and is now writing and producing directly for cinema. But is there such a thing as too much control. Whilst I understand concern that films can dominate books, she could have kept her writing separate and allowed the film adaptations to be just that, adaptations. Films should be inspired by their source material not confined by it. I would find a different view, a different take, a different imagining to be interesting rather than frustrating.
  6. The books overrule. Because there is so much parity between the books and films and because the books are more fleshed out, whenever there are disagreements or confusion concerning the plot or background of the films, people will always turn to the books or perhaps the Pottermore website. This is also true of Star Wars where the films can never stand apart, never be canon by themselves.
  7. The HP films are lacking imagination. Let me be clear, J. K. Rowling has an amazing imagination and the world she created in those books is “spellbounding” but her restrictions stifled creativity in the films. They weren’t able to add anything not present in the books and the magic you see is essentially exactly as you’d expect. Special effects are amazing but if you spend a lot of money making things look real but not original, there’s no real artistic merit.
  8. But Fantastic Beasts actually looks fantastic. And it’s not just the standard SFX. The film has excellent cinematography. It uses effects in a far more clever way, which hopefully we can look forward to more of in the sequel. Films are a visual art form and shouldn’t be relying on plot.
  9. Magic in this universe is pretty dumb. This problem starts with the books but escalates when transferred to cinema. It simply doesn’t make sense that there are incantations (magic words) that do different things but only when said by magical people. It’s not clear what makes Hermione gifted or what allows some spells to be done without saying any words. And then it’s made all the worse in films by reducing all the duelling spells to flashing lights. If I can make another comparison to Star Wars, magic is a bit like the force in that it only works when it suits the plot and rules can be forgotten if inconvenient.
  10. But not as dumb as Quidditch. It’s just a dumb game. That’s not the films’ fault but I’m only halfway through and need some padding.
  11. Slagging off HP will probably get me a lot of hate. As with any book/film series that has a lot of fans, particularly when those fans are young, passionate and impressionable, Harry Potter has a lot of die-hard fans who are willing to go overboard all over the internet. But films that generate enthusiasm and heated debate are not necessarily a bad thing.
  12. These children stories explore some interesting themes. Just to list these themes with no real conviction or detail; self-determination, friendship, responsibility, racism, oppression, morality, forgiveness, mortality and grief, politics, education and terrorism to name but a few.
  13. To have obsessive fans you need things to obsess over. The key to making a cult success is the little details. The more a film series has to discover, the more it has to share, the more a fan can boast about their knowledge, the deeper the level of cult enthusiasm. Harry Potter has so many minute details and hidden facts, which is expanded by the fact that there are films and books, that there is a whole wealth of knowledge for obsessed fans to discover, not to mention the fan theories.
  14. You can’t please everybody. Despite the arguments I’ve made above I accept there is plenty for fans to moan about when it comes to what made and what didn’t make the final cut of each film. Despite Rowling’s power there were some pretty audacious omissions from the films but fans of the books should appreciate that films don’t work like novels. They should also realise that films don’t override stories or detract from what they’ve already read and that even if the film plots are more incomprehensible it ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s just fiction.
  15. I made it through all eight films but I’m not sure why. Essentially each film was a filmed book for those too lazy to read but missing some crucial plot details and glossing over some of those themes mentioned earlier. Not one film added anything new. So by the time I was watching the Deathly Hallows films I was really just getting through to the end even though I’d read the last book and didn’t expect any fundamental changes for the film adaptation.
  16. The wizarding world is seriously messed up. Again this says more about the books as the films didn’t really change anything but wizards don’t seem to fret about putting their children in danger whether it’s playing dangerous sports or life-threatening competitions. Despite having magic to make their lives easier they also have servants and seemingly create life such as in paintings to serve their needs.
  17. A generation of adults playing dress up and pretend magic. I grew up with these books and films but I’ve never felt the urge to don a cape and stick a broom between my legs. Nonetheless, the films have produced a culture that could never have come from the books alone. It’s very easy for children and yes fully grown adults to copy the images from the films, place themselves into houses and practice with actual wands.
  18. It’s actually hilarious how some Christians have reacted. Maybe there would be less criticism if Rowling hadn’t used the word witch to describe a female wizard, after all the two terms have different origins and entirely different connotations. But it’s funny anyway cos the bible is essentially full of people doing magic and Christianity seems to have influenced the author in her work.
  19. The body count is probably too high. I’ve never understand why Rowling killed off so many popular characters. Maybe she wanted to teach children about death. Maybe cos it’s a “cough” realistic representation of war. Or maybe she grew to hate her characters, even toying with the idea of killing Harry or Ron. But what is clear is the films struggle to keep up with her happy go lucky kill-spree. There simply isn’t enough time to build up a connection with all the characters the film ultimately wants you to mourn for. So if you hadn’t read the books your emotional experience when watching those later films would presumably be completely different.
  20. But you can’t argue the films haven’t been incredibly popular. The eight Harry Potter films account for the second highest grossing film franchise of all time. They probably never intended to make award-winning high quality cinema but they’ve produced well-made family films that sell at the box office and beyond. Whilst the initial key to success was the books the films have taken a life of their own. Fantastic Beasts has sold tickets without relying on a large readership from a previous novel, instead pitching itself to the substantial audience of the film series.

Phew… that wasn’t easy. If you disagree with my observations and want to tear me down after I spent so long coming up with these points, feel free to rant in the comments section.

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