Reflections on the Harry Potter films

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone film posterAs the fifth Harry Potter film gets ready to hit our cinemas, and the final novel gets ready to assault our book shops, it seemed an appropriate time to remember the earlier films.

I enjoy the books and the films, and have read and seen them a few times respectively. I’m not a Potter maniac, but I know my way around them. This, and a hypercritical eye, makes for odd viewpoints on the first film.

For example, the opening scene of the film has Dumbledore and McGonagall meeting up and putting baby Harry on the Dursley’s doorstep. Except they refer to each other as ‘Professor Dumbledore’ and ‘Professor McGonagall’, as if they were at school in front of pupils, rather than old friends who call each other ‘Albus’ and ‘Minerva’ all the time. This is part of the problem of introducing characters in a new universe, but it grates on the nerves slightly.

Of course, this slightly unsure tone leads to more discomfort in the film. The worst, for me, has to be the most ridiculous line ever, spoken by Hagrid when he takes Harry to Daigon Alley for the first time: ‘There you can get all your bits’n’bobs for wizardry.’ What the hell is that? Who would say that, apart from someone who was dropped on their head? What does it mean? We have seen specific shops, like the wand shop and the broomstick shop, but apparently you need ‘bits and bobs’ to do wizardry, says a man who used to go to the wizarding school and currently works at it. And how is that helpful to Harry? Would he like a cauldron? A wand? Some scales? Parchment? Ingredients? No – he now thinks that all you need to ask for is ‘bits and bobs’ for him to be fully set up to perform magic. As you can see, it really riles me.

Having watched the film, I start wondering about logistics. Like, do all the people who go to Hogwarts use the Hogwarts Express? Not having researched it online, my guestimate for the number of pupils is close to 300. This is based on Harry’s first year: he joins Gryffindor, with four other boys, so let’s say that’s average, so five girls joined, so that makes 40 in a year, making 280 pupils, with a 10% error. How do they all get on that old-fashioned train, with its separate carriages? It just doesn’t make sense.

And how does Harry end up with a carriage all to himself in the first film? Surely he’d have to share – wouldn’t he want to, to find out more about the wizarding world into which he is being introduced? No, he has to wait for Ron Weasley, who apparently is hated so much by his older brothers that he is left to fend for himself on his first time on the Hogwarts Express. And Harry, who is so happy that someone is talking to him, demonstrates his disturbed psyche (after the horrendous abuse he has suffered under the Dursleys) by having to buy Ron’s affection literally by purchasing the entire sweet trolley. Nothing says ‘Be my friend’ more than a train carriage full of confectionery.

Then there is the racism, by having Seamus, the only Irish kid in the school, shown trying to use a spell to make rum out of water. Bear in mind, HE’S ONLY ELEVEN AT THE TIME. Thanks Chris Columbus or Steve Kloves, whoever was responsible for the ‘comedy’ of showing all Irish people as lovable alcoholics.

By the way, Minerva McGonagall should be investigated – how can she afford a Firebolt for Harry on a teacher’s salary? And surely it is highly unethical for her to show such favouritism towards a pupil in her house? Albus should have a word … And talking of the gift, how do they know it’s for Harry? It could have been for almost anyone on that table. And then the three of them wonder what the gift could actually be? What sort of shape is that, I wonder? Stupid kids …

I haven’t mentioned the kids’ acting. It’s a little harsh to expect brilliance from children (not everyone can by Haley Joel Osment or Dakota Fanning) and they are being spoon-fed direction. However, there is one moment that makes me laugh. At the large-scale chess game, Ron has just been taken out; Harry and Hermione scream, ‘Ron!’ at his predicament. Hermione is going to run over to him, but Harry holds her back by explaining that they are still playing the game. However, he does it in the most expository voice you will ever hear. You’ve just seen him show fear and worry for his best friend, not knowing if he’s alive or dead, but then he talks as if he is reading it straight from the script. It always makes me laugh.

The second film doesn’t merit as much discussion – the workmanlike direction hasn’t improved, the kids are getting a little better, and Kenneth Brannagh provides a lot of fun (nearly as much as Alan Rickman as Snape does all the time) – except for the godawfulness of the end. It makes me quite ill every time I watch it, when everyone starts applauding for Hagrid’s return to the feast.

More tomorrow, when I talk about the next two films, in anticipation of seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on Saturday.

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