'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows': Do the films stand on their own?
The cinematic versions of 'Harry Potter' lack the 'oomph' of the books. Film critics say some have been too derivative. Potter fans say they aren't faithful enough.
Thursday at midnight is the beginning of the end for the big-screen life of the Boy Who Lived as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” opens, with Part 2 scheduled for next summer.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Harry Potter through the years
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Advance ticket sales have outstripped the previous film, but as the franchise begins its move from theatrical exhibition into Netflix and family DVD libraries, the question arises: how good are the movies – really – and how will they hold up over time? Do the cinematic versions have the same cultural oomph that propelled J.K. Rowling’s ink-on-paper universe to such global popularity?
The general consensus seems to be that one or two of the films – most notably the third installment, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” will achieve independent status as a good if not great film. The rest of the canon – still unfolding as it is – is more problematic.
The first two films were just plain not good, says author Philip Nel, a Kansas State University professor who teaches graduate courses on Harry Potter and has written extensively about the relationship between the films and the books.
“The director Chris Columbus essentially made costume dramas in an effort to be really faithful to the books,” he says. As a result, he notes, “he has the inverse achievement, particularly with the second film, of making a boring movie that sucks all the life out of what is actually a really good story in the book.”
Alfonso Cuarón, a director with some very adult films on his resume, however, breathed life into the filmic world in the third installment by moving away from such scrupulous re-creationism, says Mr. Nel. Instead, the creator of the R-rated, Spanish language “Y Tu Mamá También" took the themes and emotional journeys of the "Potter" characters and re-imagined the whole world, including mussing up the obligatory robes the Hogwarts pupils don during the day and allowing them to appear in civilian outfits.
“Alfonso Cuarón created an artistic experience in the third film, even though it didn’t have all the plot elements that the first ones did,” Nel says.
New Zealand director Peter Jackson’s treatment of the J.R.R. Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) trilogy is the most frequent comparison for book-to-film creations. The award-winning blockbusters generally leave the Harry Potter films on the sidelines, both in the critical and popular imaginations. Mr. Jackson had the advantage of adapting a completed work, so the issue of what to include or leave out for later relevance didn’t trip him up.