I don’t like Harry Potter. There I’ve said it. A simple five word statement should be enough for many of you to make up your mind about me as a person and my views on film. So please, feel free to skim read the next few hundred words, scroll to the bottom and leave your comments along the lines of, “You is a shit, Potz is the best”, or alternatively, “Tell it Preach, Harry is a wang”. Those up for a spot of genuine debate weighing the pros and cons, however, can join me after the trailer.
Let us start with the credits of the final film. The final instalment of what has turned out to be the most successful franchise in cinema history. Sat in a Multimedia Screening, a day after the premiere, the film’s end (and start) was met by a torrent of applause, a few teary eyes and me straight-faced, wondering what the hell was going on.
Then it dawned on me. I began to realise where the majority of my dislike for the boy wizard has come from and why, at times, it’s so visceral. I feel left out. I can hear the chorus of ‘Ah diddums’ from here but it’s true. For most of my life (both adult and child) I have adored and poured over every piece of celluloid history from Blockbuster epics to arthouse gems. Sure I don’t like them all, but there are very few movie phenomenons that I don’t feel a part of. The tale of Harry and his friends is one of them.
Some of this rejection stems from not having read the books and therefore feeling lost at the mere mention of Griffinhouse and Dolby the house elf. Mainly the rejection comes from me, apart from the first film, always watching Potter films in solitude. First as a projectionist and then as a critic, I am one of the very few people who has to watch the Potter films. So when, last Thursday, a chorus of laughter greeted the ‘grown up characters’ at the end of the film and cheers greeted – spoiler alert – ‘the ginge and the fittie’ having a snog, I started to believe that perhaps these films are important. That they are worthy.
But, and not to come over too Adam Curtis, this is a fallacy. My job is to analyse the film, to question how it works and how it doesn’t. If I were to attend a Justin Bieber concert I shouldn’t be swayed by the crowd reaction in the same way I shouldn’t believe the News of the World is a great British institution because a few people are put out of work. It was, and remains even in death, a shit rag.
And the Potter films, no matter how loved, are a mess. The dramatic drive that propels a story forward is missing. Granted by the midway point of the finale there is an easily identifiable goal, (namely Harry vs Voldemort), but any other story that takes 90% of its length to get to that point would be shouted down from all corners.
Structurally, the films are all over the place and contain a model that can not and must not be replicated. I’m not arguing that all films must maintain a rigid 3 act structure but trying to balance an episodic, return-to-the-status-quo narrative with a full all-8-films-encompassing arc just doesn’t work. It suffers, as the Star Wars prequels did, from filler overkill. It leaves audiences who aren’t au fait with all things Pottersville screaming, “Just get on with the story!”
But the lack of storytelling knowledge runs deeper than just structure. Here the blame lies solely at the feet of JK Rowling. Her writing strength at creating characters and names covers her inability to plan ahead. SPOILER ALERT – When it is revealed that Potter can’t be killed by Voldemort, the entire narrative drive of the 8th film, and in a way, all the films that preceded it, is sucked dry. This rather important plot twist essentially makes everything that’s ever happened in the world of Hogwart’s completely pointless. Harry and Voldy could have had a ruck in Episode One and the end result would have been the same – SPOILER OVER.
The final film, by far the best in the series (because it has an actual ending), still suffers from the series’ other faults too. One such example: character overkill. When Hagrid, a memorable and important character in the previous films, pops up being tortured in a wood, with no prior introduction, the effect is jarring and removes the viewer from the film. In vast contrast to the previous films, if anything Deathly Hallows: Part Two is rushed.
Am I so cold hearted and blinkered to see that there aren’t great things inside the franchise juggernaut? Of course not. Visually the final film is stunning. And I don’t mean, quite nice looking, fairly decent effects, I mean, world-creating, jaw-on-the-floor, best-use-of-CGI-ever stunning. Visual effects should always be as good as the last major blockbuster, that’s how progress works, but Deathly Hallows:Part Two has gone above and beyond in the eye-popping stakes. The siege of Hogwarts is up there with the battle for Pelennor Fields in Lord of the Rings.
Without some sense of danger and investment in character the effects would mean nothing. Therefore it’s time to give some kudos to the young actors involved. It may have taken eight films but Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have finally become likeable in their roles. Time may prove me wrong but I don’t fear a Mark Hamill trajectory of Daniel. A few films ago, yes, but not now. He has matured into someone capable of emoting what he is needed. Acting doesn’t require much more than that.
Ultimately you’ll have made your mind up about Harry Potter years ago. You’ll have either dismissed him completely or panted over every news article, poster, trailer and toy. You’ll have decided what you wanted to write in the comments below before you began reading and it’s doubtful you’ll have changed your mind over the course of this piece.
Personally, I’m glad I finished the series. The finale is as flawed as it is fitting.
So this is it, possibly the last thing I’ll write on Harry. I can’t say I’ll miss him and I doubt I’ll ever revisit him (unless some poor unfortunate gets impregnated by me and our children weep until I pop on a DVD of the speccy wand waverer) but I no longer hate him. He has bought pleasure to many and a shedload of cash and jobs to film-makers who will have learnt a lot from the experience.
But if Warner release The Further Adventures Of Albiy S. Potter, I reserve the right to change any nice things written above.
For now though, RIP Harry.