Harry Potter: The End of an Era
Today’s article represents a momentary departure from my normal content. Last night I saw the last of the Harry Potter movies and want to put my thoughts on paper before they are irretrievably lost in the sands of time. I will warn you now that there are some mild spoilers in this article if you haven’t seen the last few movies.
I’m really not much of a movie watcher anymore. Everyone once in a while my men’s group will check out a movie, which is how I ended up seeing Thor and the Book of Eli. Before that I think my last movie was Avatar. That being said, this week has been movie week in the Oakes household. My brother and I decided that we would see the last movie last night. I had missed the last two movies in the series so I decided to try and watch the last 3 movies this week to get myself back in the swing of things.
What really surprised me was when my wife Edith said that she wanted to join us and needed to watch the last 3 movies too. The really great thing about this was that it meant I wasn’t going to have to fight for the TV time I was going to need. Harmony in the household is a wonderful thing.
I started reading the series with the Prisoner of Azkaban and found myself waiting with anticipation for each new volume. Like so many others, this gave me a broad lens through which the movies were filtered. On the other hand, Edith hasn’t read any of the books, so she only has the movies to go by. It was interesting how our perspective of the films and our understanding of what we were watching was influenced by that.
Typically I eschew film translations of novels; they are typically so poor that they severely disappoint the book reader. In the case of the Harry movies I saddled myself with low expectations. I knew I wanted to watch them, there’s something special about seeing magic on the screen, but I was determined not to get my hopes up so that I could avoid disappointment.
This served me well when viewing the 5th and 6th movies. The Order of the Phoenix was relatively well paced, but did not do a good job of explaining the purpose and motivations behind various characters decision making. Dumbledore in particular was so inscrutable during this movie that he became unlikeable. Yet, we never really felt that Harry was bothered by this treatment. I’m not saying it was a terrible movie. I’d call it 2.5 out of 5 stars, but the seeds were there for it to be much better and it didn’t take advantage of them.
The Half-Blood Prince was worse. I remember feeling like it was the worst book of the series when I read it; the movie is stuck with the same distinction. The problem in a nutshell is that it was boring and unrealistic. The overall lack of action made it hard to care about, even for someone who had reads the books and understood the importance of the discussions. So much time was spent on young love that I stopped caring about the relationships and wanted them to get on with the plot. I think the most irritating thing about the movie is that it was more like a collection of set piece scenes instead of a full integrated story. For example, in the scene after the Burrow is attacked and burned to the ground Ron and Ginny and totally unaffected and are busy acting out the young love plot. Edith literally made me pause it to ask if she had fallen asleep and missed something. She couldn’t reconcile the loss of their home with the scenes that came next.
After finishing the Half-Blood Prince on Monday we were both wary of watching the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 on Wednesday. She was leery because she didn’t want to watch another boring movie. I was leery because I knew that the camping scenes might drag on forever and be just that boring. After watching it on Wednesday we were both pleasantly surprised. She said that it had plenty of action and the plot did a good job of keeping the movie moving forward. I was happy because it seemed like the actors had really turned a corner and were doing a pretty good job at representing the story. The actions were starting to fit the events as opposed to what I’ve already described in the last movie.
It was with this backdrop of moving watching that we entered the theater last night with my brother and donned our 3D glasses. It took about 10 minutes to get warmed up, but I was confident that they were heading in the right direction and I was right. After the first 30 minutes I realized that I could probably use a bathroom break. Then I reviewed what I knew of the book in my mind and realized…I’m not going to get a chance. There was no part of the movie that I was willing to miss.
Now I’m not going to say that it was perfect (SPOILER ALERT). I wish that they had more explicitly explored the death scenes of some key characters. I was also very disappointed with the “NOT MY DAUGHTER” scene. It was rushed and didn’t have the buildup and emotional power that it had in the book. That being said, I still liked it overall. I think they did a particularly good job with the growth of Neville throughout the entire series and particularly appreciated his spots.
After it was over we all agreed that we enjoyed it. As my wife and I talked on the way home I was very interested in her take on Snape. Remember that she hasn’t read any of the books. She said that she was surprised that he was such a major character. Until the last two movies she hadn’t viewed him as anything more than just another teacher at the school (who had something against Harry). I started replaying the movies in my head and realized that she’s right. They really did not do justice to the underlying current of Traitor or Not that had fans of the books riveted year after year. I think as a movie series this is probably the biggest oversight.
One other thing that I was happy about was the performance of Michael Gambon in his final scene as Dumbledore. I’ve missed Richard Harris throughout this series. I’ve never felt that Gambon portrayed Dumbledore in a way that was fatherly, endearing or whimsical the way that he was in the book and the way that Harris captured him. However, in his final scene I feel like Gambon finally got it right.
When I think about it today I can’t help but feel a little melancholy at the thought that there won’t be any more Harry Potter movies or stories. This epic tale captured the hearts of a generation. It’s a grand adventure on the same scale as the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. These stories create a modern mythology shared by people in much the same way that the stories of the Greek and Roman gods were passed along in ancient days. They teach us about personal growth, about self-sacrifice and courage. They show us the repulsiveness of evil and remind us of the true power of love.
Cheers Harry, I’ll miss you.