The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HP Monday – Movie Notes

I’m going to start out by stating my like for the HP movies. They’ve got a lot of material to work with and I really do realize you just can’t get everything in there. I also realize some things need to be re-worked for staging and acting purposes. Dobby can’t be cheap either in all of his CG glory. Maybe John Cleese wanted a lot of money so there could be no Death Day party, who knows? But yes, I really do enjoy the movies, I promise.

And here it comes…

I just don’t get the Knockturn Alley scene in this movie?! What’s the point? There’s no Malfoy exchange, no ministry raids discussion and back door dealings. Nope, in the movie Harry speaks unclearly when using floo powder, ends up at Borgin and Burkes, almost gets mugged by an old hag and Hagrid swoops in and gets him back to Diagon Alley and the Weasleys. It is pretty much a done deal scene with lots of exposition and not a lot of content.

But in the book, this is a pivotal scene. This is Harry’s first real look (that’s arguable, feel free to jump in here) at both sides of the wizarding world post-Voldermort. Sure, he’s seen/heard what the wizarding world was like while Voldermort was in power; and probably even knows there are still those who wish Voldermort and the death eaters were running things. But to actually see the places and people in Knockturn Alley…to actually see the kid you don’t like at school’s dad act far worse than the kid?! These are lessons Harry learns in Knockturn Alley – and then those lessons are echoed again in Flourish and Blotts – someplace Harry is familiar with and feels safe at. Alas, none of this comes across in the movie (unless you watch the deleted scenes, then you can see a longer Borgin and Burkes scene complete with Lucius and Draco Malfoy – as well as the hand of glory) and I miss them.

I DO like Hermione fixing Harry’s glasses again, tying in the first movie (in the book it is Mr. Weasley) and the comment about the butterflies is just brilliant. The giant spiders are scary and not just silly when shown on the screen; although the scene in the book gives me chills. Moaning Myrtle and Gilderoy Lockhart are really well played while the polyjuice potion and slug eating are as disgusting as my imagination made them out to be. In all I think the second movie does a decent job portraying the themes and issues Rowling deals with in the second book – albeit with some lighter fare, but it still confronts the issues.

Flying Car or Amusement Park Ride?

The flying car, which we’ve already discussed as a pretty good metaphor for teenage rebellion works in the movie, but I do feel they went a little overboard – it’s not a roller coaster ride – that’s a different metaphor entirely!

So what are your opinions on the movie? Did you like it? Does it work for you? Who do you like better in the movie because of how their character is portrayed? Vice versa? Next week we will finish up with book 2 and move on to Prisoner of Azkaban. I’d like to discuss Ginny and character voice in book 2 next week so feel free to leave your thoughts on those topics as well.

Happy Reading!


  1. About the Knockturn Alley scene: it's in the deleted scenes, the conversation he overhears Malfoy and Mr. Malfoy having. In fact, whenever ABC Family airs it, they not only don't truncate it for time, they include that scene. In the realm of filmdom (and not of the book), I find their decision to excise this scene completely understandable. The very appearance of Knockturn Alley, the scene in Flourish and Blotts, the backstory of the Chamber---all of these make the Malfoy encounter a tad redundant and help us get to the juicier and more lively scenes faster.

    My opinions on the second movie have little to do with the quality of the adaptation (which is spot on) and with the quality of the movie as a work of art. I have always been a staunch believer that what Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves did with the first two movies was suffocate his artistry in favor of giving fans a near untouched story (in contrast to the playful-though-simplified 3rd installment, the heavily butchered 4th, the distilled 5th, and the ... well, I'll leave the 6th, because feelings are still hot). The kids have gotten marginally better (they hit their stride in #3), though the acting prowess in these movies has always been on the impressive array that constitutes almost the full breadth of the brilliant British acting establishment.

    "Chamber of Secrets" the movie has always to me been an example of what doesn't translate so gracefully onto film. Though Kenneth Branagh's turn as Lockhart is impeccable, characters like Lucius, Dobby, and Aragog are treated so straightforwardly and verbatim from the books that their appearance on film seem, respectively: a ham-handed and trite caricature of malevolence and prejudice; a facsimile of every "Uncle Tom double-agent" seen before; and a very fake-looking monster filmed in a setting that was realized so typically and unimaginitively that it often grates on my faculties of patience to tolerate its being on celluloid. Just as much, Chris Columbus uses a series of B-movie-grade zoom-ins, close-ups, and lietmotifs chopped-and-pasted from Williams's original (and brilliant, I must say) score for the first film that all force me to dismiss the 2nd movie as having been thought of as a "kid flick," or at least as a "melodrama that just so happens to have kids in it."

    Which is, to say, that approach is completely wrong. Our discussions have already elucidated Rowling's deep societal allegory, its multifaceted look at evil and those it seduces, and other delightful tidbits. Chris Columbus, however, took all of Rowling's words, descriptions, and plot with none of the complexity, none of the theme, none of the heart. Whereas Alfonso Cuaron in the 3rd movie followed a rather simplified script from Steve Kloves but still managed to infuse it with the same mood: alternatively playful and dark. Just look at the scenes where invisible Harry plays with the tassels of Ron's hat, the way the Grim appears not on a hillside (as it does in the book) but in the clouds. These demonstrate a vision willing to sacrifice perfect adaptation in favor of actually making a good movie. Chris Columbus's strict interpretation and overly-stuffy art direction shows little depth as an adapter, and I thank God that Warner Brothers saw the goodness to hand over the series to a series of directors who used their own artistic prowess to infuse the adaptations with their own brands---to varying degrees of success and artistry, as we shall I hope come to realize.

  2. Danny,
    Thanks for your thoughts. You have some good points and reminded me of my first viewing of the third movie. Cuaron did do an excellent job getting me to step inside the movie and take a look around the magical world. Since this is often my problem with movies based on books – a reader at heart, I easily get sucked into the book like I’m really there; movies based on books usually just skim over all of the book highlights without that in depth feeling. I therefore agree with your comments on the third movie. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I like the book (which, as was recently pointed out to me, is a lot of telling and not a lot of showing) more because of it. We will get into this more later when we discuss book 3. I would also like to hear more of your take on the music in each movie and how it shapes each individual film.