I’ve remarked before that The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of Fire would appear at the bottom of any list I made ranking the potter films. The former is thoroughly bland and based on the least interesting novel, and the latter is just a terrible adaptation. Incidentally, I’m quick to cheer on The Half Blood Prince which is an even more injudicious adaptation but still ends up being a fine film – for me, at least. The moral of the story is that an imprudent adaptation does not necessarily result in a poor film. That’s an important note in the context of the latest Potter instalment. Like any Potter diehard (you know yourselves) I had no qualms about the splitting of the final book into two films, although I was a bit unnerved at the point they decided to split it. More than a few fans have complained about X moment being cut from the film and the solution seems astute, but it doesn’t really work out that way...
As much as the Potter books are about magic Rowling is not an expressly visual author, the whole point to her writing is that magic is only a by-the-way in inclusion and that sort of writing doesn’t work when the adaptation is so judicious. The essential problem about the film is that it seems torn between being an all-round visual tumult or an emotional examination (which is what most of the actual book is). This uncertain tone makes the film somewhat erratic. This instalment was always going to be the biggest risk, film-wise, because it doesn’t occur in the hallowed hall of Hogwarts leaving the trio to fend for themselves. Grint is still easily the strongest of the lot for me, and it’s not that Radcliffe and Watson can’t work on their own because there’s a sweet moment where the two of them dance in the woods that’s surprisingly moving but the pacing of the film is lacking that distinct sense of foreboding that is necessary for us to feel the tension that the narrative needs. Rowling can get away with it, but a film – which is making attempts at having a sort of omniscience or at the very least object in the narrative – doesn’t have as profound effect. We can’t focus for so long on the Ron/Hermione/Harry dynamic alone because we’re only to judge their plight if we measure it against the outside world. This is why the strongest moment of the film is the opening as we switch from the homes of our three leads and seeing how the current times are affecting them. It’s a well constructed moment on Yates part that especially affecting but what comes after – a smattering of too on the nose humour that works in literature but doesn’t in cinema – robs the moments of its importance.
As a fan of all things Harry Potter I can appreciate what happens because I’m a general fanboy (sue me), but I’ll admit that though there are smattering of moments work they’re too often followed by moments that don’t. The tale of the Hallows works well, the unfolding of Mr. Lovegood’s character doesn’t – at all. Ron’s growing resentment for Harry works (thanks, mostly, to Grint) but his departure and return don’t resound as much as you’d expect. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed, because the film is not terrible (it’s fairly good, really) but it’s a perfect example of something falling short when it tries to please all. No matter if they decided to do away some plot points you know that fans would have still flocked to see it, so instead of going the easy way and doing a fairly rote cinematic version of the book I’d have been more impressed if Yates and company actually did the brave thing and made a movie of their own “based on” the novel. Ah well, here’s the second instalment.