Why watching Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One was like watching Harry Potter for the first time for sfx.co.uk editor Dave Golder
This was the first time I’ve seen a Harry Potter film without reading the book first. This was a deliberate decision. Not because I got fed up with the books (though they were becoming more and more of a slog, I was still fond of ’em) but because I desperately wanted to know what it was like watching the films without any foreknowledge. Although I always tried to avoid falling into the trap of simply judging the films on what had and hadn’t been included/changed/dropped/expanded, I was still curious to know whether not having read the book would significantly change the viewing experience.
And the result?
Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched a film with so many “Huh??? What???” moments.
I’d always kinda assumed that if you hadn’t read the books then you’d just accept the films as fairly linear, simplistic action adventure flicks. Sure, some of the subtleties of the books were missing, but did it really matter to the uninitiated that Prisoner Of Azkaban never explained who the Marauders were, or why they created a magic map if you’d never read about the Marauders and why they created a magic map? Did it bother the book virgins why Malfoy was messing about with apples and magic boxes in The Half-Blood Prince , or did they just accept that he was up to some dark shenanigans and leave it at that?
But watching Deathly Hallows I kept thinking, “I wish I’d read the book because then this might make sense!” Of course, maybe it wouldn’t. From talking to people afterwards, Deathly Hallows Part One is the most faithful adaptation since The Philosopher’s Stone , so maybe the book doesn’t make sense either.
But for the record, here are just a few of the moments that made me go, “Huh?!” (so, yeah, spoilers):
- When Hermione magically disfigures Harry so that he won’t be recognised, Harry, Hermione and Ron are all then taken to the Malfoy Mansion where Lucius, Draco and Bellatrix all wonder if this bulbous-faced kid could actually be Harry Potter. Well, d’uh, he’s with his two best mates from Hogwarts, so you’d think it was a pretty safe bet that he was Harry Potter, but Draco doesn’t seem to be able to add two and two together.
- Harry’s convenient dreams – the ones that reveal important plot points at dramatically handy moments – where the hell are they coming from?
- How come Harry and Hermione set up camp right next to where the sword of Gryffindor is discovered? Is it just a massive coincidence?
- How did Snape know when the Order Of The Phoenix was going to move Harry?
- What the hell were Olivander and Griphook doing in Malfoy’s dungeon? Why didn’t Harry seem surprised to see them there?
- Why did Dobby just conveniently pop in the dungeon to rescue Harry? Why hasn’t he popped up in any of the previous four films to help out at handy moments?
- Why did that old woman at Godric’s Hollow turn into an evil snake? Was she a Death Eater plant? If she was, and Voldemort suspected Harry might go there, why not formulate a better trap?
A lot of these things may be clearer in the book. Indeed, some of them may even be explained in the movie, but with so much of the dialogue so garbled (I could barely make out anything Helena Bonham Carter said) or drowned out by the music or sound effects, it’s difficult to know. But my underlying point is, as a virgin viewer, I was simply left bewildered and baffled at some points. I was more than ready to just go along with the ride and let such things slide at first (it’s a children’s film after all, not Chekhov), but by the end it was just getting irritating. It felt not so much that you needed to have read the book, but that you needed indepth knowlege of all the books to understand the film thoroughly, and if you only had hazy memories of what the horcruxes were all about or why the letters RAB were important, then tough luck, you’re not part of our exclusive club. I’m not saying I want everything served up on a plate, but would it have harmed the film to give a few pointers for newcomers or fuzzy-brained returnees? The fact the script doesn’t bother smacks to a certain extent of, “Hey, we’ve got a built-in audience.”
So, what’s worse? Having read the book first and getting annoyed at all the changes? Or not having read the book first and then getting annoyed because the plot is barely coherent? And can anybody who did read the final book first enlighten me as to whether watching the (first part) of the final film was in any way a different experience to watching the previous ones? Was it a better adaptation?
Having said all that, I did love the Ministry of Magic sequence and the little dance between Harry and Hermione. There is a lot to enjoy about the movie. I can’t help thinking, though, that Deathly Hallows Part One felt more like a 12-year-old’s precis of the book (and then this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened) than an actual cinematic adaptation.