This is a very good film that could have been a great film, if only more attention had been paid to details of character. Those who have not read the book will likely not notice anything wrong, and may find this to be the most satisfying and thrilling of the cycle so far. But to me, and to many others, I'm sure, who list this volume as our favorite (including book six
, but, we hope, excluding the yet to be released book seven
) justice has not been done. The film is missing its emotional center.
Before I hit the laundry list of nitpicks, please do not respond, "They just don't have time for all those tiny details." No no no. Not true. They had plenty of time to work with. Here is a chart.
Book 1: 309 pages. Film 1: 152 min
Book 2: 352 pages. Film 2: 161 min
Book 3: 448 pages. Film 3: 142 min
Book 4: 734 pages. Film 4: 157 min
Book 5: 870 pages. Film 5: 138 min
So the longest book has been squeezed into the shortest film. Children would have sat still for at least another twenty minutes. The restorations I'm going to list couldn't have taken more than five.
(I'm going to assume you've at least scanned the many writeups above this one, and do not need a plot synopsis or fear spoilers.)
1) Too much emo, not enough angst. Harry never YELLS at his friends, or at his parental substitutes. "I'm angry all the time," he tells Sirius, but he isn't - he's depressed and vaguely annoyed. His eruptions are supposed
to be out of character and irrational - the way they are for most of us at age 15. Since Harry never goes too far by smashing Dumbledore's possessions at the end, he never realizes how futile his rage-driven actions are. He never grieves for Sirius, he merely mopes.
2) No date with Cho, and no resolution to the Cho subplot whatsoever. The character of Cho's friend, Marietta Edgecombe
, who squeals on Harry and the rest of the D.A. because her mother works for the ministry, has been eliminated. Instead, Cho herself squeals, under the influence of Veritaserum. A clever efficiency, and perfectly plausible! But this begs the question, will Harry be able to forgive her for this, and will she even have the courage to ask him to? We never find out. In the book, Harry's realization that he simply does not care about impressing her anymore, because they have nothing in common, is a major surprise, and another important lesson of adolescence.
3) Relatedly, no parallel development of Ginny. In the book, from the first moment we see her, Ginny has completely changed. She's speaking her mind, she's hurling Dungbombs, she's kicking ass on the Quidditch team, she's calling Harry stupid for not consulting her about what it's like to be possessed by Voldemort, and most importantly she's dating boys. Harry doesn't figure out he's attracted to her until the middle of book 6, so I guess we don't NEED this info in film 5, but it was very disappointing to me to see her have to play every single scene in Silent Longing mode - "Okay, Bonnie, now remember, you're still in love with Daniel, but you can't show it!" - the way she did in all the other films.
4) Why is Luna hitting on Harry, instead of Ron, who has nothing to do in this film now that his Quidditch-playing arc has been removed? Not that there would have been time for all of that, but it's as though there's a conspiracy to push Ronnie the Bear
out of the film completely - during the midnight ride to London on thestral
back, we can't even get five seconds of a comic relief reaction shot of him soaring on an invisible mount. But sorry, I was talking about Luna - why, also, does she mumble something vague about her shoes instead of explicitly reminding Harry that they both heard the voices of ghosts behind the veil, which gives him the hope he's looking for - the hope that he'll get to see Sirius again?
5) Neville doesn't progress nearly as far. Instead of becoming one of the best students in the D.A., he gets roundly congratulated for correctly using Expelliarmus
, a second-year spell, meaning on average he still sucks. His motivation, being his parents driven insane by Bellatrix Lestrange
(played by Helena Bonham-Carter
in a WILDLY over-the-top fashion), is described at length by Sirius and Neville himself. However, had we gone to St. Mungo's Hospital to visit Arthur and stumbled upon them (and the way that Neville treasures an empty gum wrapper given to him by his mother Alice is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the novel), we'd be following the first rule of screenwriting: Show, don't tell.
6) For the sake of exposition, Hermione behaves very rudely. She calls Luna "Loony" to her face and tells Harry about Cho's affection for him in front of Ginny. As Hermione is the only one who notices what everyone else is feeling, these are gross violations of character.
7) Kreacher is wonderfully realized, but he has no reason to exist as he never fulfills his mission of deceiving Harry into thinking that Sirius has left the Black family mansion. Nonetheless, they're kids and they're impulsive, so this bit still works. But this fits the trend of subplots which are introduced, developed, and never resolved.
8) Grawp should not be sweet and cuddly. The whole point of the character is that he's a dangerous monster and Hagrid is an idiot for bringing him back and hiding him in the forest, which upsets the delicate truce with the centaurs. Hagrid is another mentor figure who is meant to become unreliable in this volume.
9) We have the scene with the Black Family Tree (wisely moved to the Christmas section to give the first act more momentum), but Sirius never points out his brother Regulus, who becomes a major clue at the end of book 6. TEN SECONDS, people, that's all it would have taken.
All those quibbles aside, it's still a very good film. It was adapted by Michael Goldenberg
, unlike all other Potter films, which were adapted by Steve Kloves
, and great care was taken in reorganizing the storylines for a smooth flow while keeping the core of scenes intact.
The director David Yates
is known primarily for his work with the BBC. He was chosen because he's known to get great performances, and he's certainly succeeded here. The three main kids, who in the first film seemed like they were playing, and who were openly asked to be comfortable with their replaceability, have become essential to these films. They are layered and endlessly watchable. The biggest addition to the cast is Imelda Staunton
as Dolores Umbridge
, and she's perfectly hateworthy.
Moreover, the whole film has an inescapable creeping mood of dread, and the final battle is very frightening and powerful indeed. With this volume, Harry is first aware of a more complicated world, in which adults often selfishly vie for power. The political subtext in the book is fully present in the film, and so is the anti-authoritarian message: If you're not learning what you want to know, you should feel empowered to teach yourself.