Pottering through the ages

For our generation, The Boy Who Lived will be just as ingrained into our memories when we’re older as much as learning to drive, our first date and discovering Facebook. Fresher’s Week not so much. What is it that is so special about ‘ole ‘arry? That sense of wonder and excitement, escapist fantasy and the style of writing from Rowling, so convincing and easy to imagine that it makes some people feel like they actually would be amazing at Quidditch.

But how does the book translate to film? Some people love it, some people hate it, and with the first instalment of a two part production of the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 hitting cinemas on November 19th, The Student looks back at one of the world’s biggest film franchises.

Rowling insisted on an all-British cast so as to keep with the cultural integrity of the book and many notable personalities signed on to the project including Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman. In fact, almost every major British actor has made an appearance in this franchise, so much so that it’s become a bit of an elite club. While many American actors initially grumbled about the situation, it gave the British film industry something to be proud of.

Oddly, it wasn’t till the fourth film, The Goblet of Fire, that a British director (Mike Newell) was hired. Previous directors include Alfonso Curon and American director Chris Columbus who made a big point of making the first two films faithful to the plot. Seeking Rowling’s advice at every turn turned out to be a double-edged sword.

Stylistically, Columbus managed to capture the essence of the magical world that Rowling created, but as a film it wasn’t particularly engaging, especially on the part of Daniel Radcliffe. Since then, there seems to have been a definite improvement in quality – though perhaps this is due to the maturing of the lead roles, who were of a very young age when filming began, rather than the choice of director.

The supporting cast tends to provide most of the quality acting (Rupert Grint being a particular favourite of fans across the globe). This might not come as a surprise, given the huge amount of pressure that Radcliffe has had to deal with and the sort of direction he has been given, but there really is no excuse for Emma Watson’s over-animated eyebrows and tendency to sound like she’s constantly on the brink of tears.

The more experienced cast members, Maggie Smith in particular, should be commended for allowing the younger actors to do their thing when they could easily steal the show. Although, it has to be said, Alan Rickman manages without even trying.

Some fans of the film have taken issue with the producer’s decisions to make the film more contemporary and relavant to mass audiences. They seem to forget, for instance, that the series was set in the 90s (where are the tie-dye t-shirts?) and the whole attempt to “sex up” the series is so uncomfortably cringeworthy that they may have succeeded in turning fans away.

Furthermore, a great deal of detail is sacrificed for plot. Whilst the films are already long enough without adding anything extra, it was the little details that drew millions to the books. A world that is so immersive and well visualised in print falls short in on-screen generalisation.

One thing some people might be surprised about is the failure of the films to gain nominations for cinematography, music, and costumes (although, we have to admit, the werewolf was awful). John Williams’s haunting score is still recognisable, ten years after the first notes echoed across cinemas all over the world.

The films themselves have definitely taken on an increasingly darker nature with the actors never failing to mention in interviews that “this one is even darker” or “more epic than the last”. Several online film critics pointed out that by the final instalment, viewers would basically be left with a just a black screen and shit loads of brass.

Perhaps it is as a result of the increasing adult readership that both the books and films took on a more mature feel. With the release of the ‘adult edition’ of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2004 it was clear that Harry was no longer reserved for the reading of children but had become popular amongst parents as well. It definitely seems that Rowling reflects this in the maturity of the later books. It is also arguable that those who read Harry Potter when it first came out have aged with him and so it is only necessary that the books develop as Harry does. Reflecting the transition Harry makes from boy to man, the choices he has to make and his ability to act on those choices appear increasingly substantial.

One major debate that has cropped up time and again is whether the films are appropriate for children. The last film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, was so dark that even adults were jumping out of their seats. For a very young child it would not be surprising if it was conducive to nightmares.

No matter how the films have turned out in the past or what the critics have said, we can’t help getting excited every time a new one comes out. You can feel the excitement in the air as millions of Potter fans take over the internet forums and happily sleep on the streets dressed as Bathilda Bagshot or the Bloody Baron with as little dignity as possible just for the love.

Perhaps it’s because we’re reluctant to let go of that part of our childhood. Perhaps the temptation to suspended belief and dive into a world we’ve come to know so well. Maybe we just want to know what the hell butterbeer tastes like. Either way, we’ll be standing in line on Friday ready to leave the muggle world behind.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Nov 16th 2010.

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One Response to Pottering through the ages

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    Yes, the werewolf was awful, no doubt.

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