Last night, I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. For the second time. And loved it a whole lot more than I did the first time I saw it.
This increase in love is not a surprise to me, and I can tell you exactly why it happened. See, a month before the last movie came out, I suddenly decided to do what I’d been telling myself I might do for a while — that is, re-read the entire Harry Potter series before the movie came out.
I’d only read each of the books once, mostly just after they first came out. So while I knew a lot of the story very well and considered myself a pretty big Potter fan and all, it had actually been a really long time since I’d actually read them, and I knew that it was high time I did so again — to cement my claim to fandom, and to see if they were actually as good as I remembered (especially now that I was a writer with workshop experience that tends to make me pick apart the writing of everything I read, especially YA fiction).
So, yes, I read every single Potter book in a month. They were excellent. Better than I remember, in some cases. And probably in the next few blog posts I’ll talk a bit about why.
But back to the movie.
So I finished the last book just a few hours before I went to see the last movie, the day after it came out. I had completely forgotten how the last book ended, even though it was the most recently read — I guess I read it pretty quickly the first time (I read all the books from 4 to 7 in a single sitting, the first time I read them); all I could tell you before my reread was, “Well, I guess he destroys all the horcruxes and kills Voldemort, doesn’t he?” But now I’d reread it, and had the story fresh in my mind, and was all excited because I had forgotten how awesome some of the main storylines in that book were — specifically, the mysteries about Dumbledore’s past and Voldemort’s past, in which Harry has to really find empathy for both of them to figure out what he has to do (how to find the horcruxes, for instance).
And then I watched the last movie, which touches on neither of those storylines at all.
Now — I still loved the movie the first time I saw it. I cried, a couple times, for sure. But for at least the first half, all I could think was “That’s not how it happened in the book.” “Why’d they change that?” “They missed the best part!”
I didn’t want to be thinking that.
It was a common mantra in my book-loving household when I was growing up that “movies are never as good as the books” in the case of an adaptation from book to movie. But as I’ve aged and taken writing courses and all that, I’ve realized that movie adaptations are never exactly the same as the books, but that in fact, they shouldn’t be.
Books and movies are different media, plain and simple, and different media require different storytelling techniques. Novels have a lot more room for inner thoughts, minor subplots and digressions, and somewhat more long-winded plotlines. Movies have in general a lot less time to accomplish the same storytelling goals of primary plot and character, only room for a certain number of subplots, and can’t access a character’s inner thoughts — but thrive on moments of intense emotion, epic scenes, visuals and dialogue.
I didn’t want HP&tDHp2 to be exactly the same as the book. It wouldn’t have been good. Sure, I’m a little disappointed they left out some of my favourite plot points, and I wonder if there was a way it could have been done. But on the other hand, as I confirmed last night when watching it again, a week and a half divorced from the book, holy crap what a good movie.
See, while they missed out on a couple major plotlines from the book, and plotlines that I quite liked, they actually did get all the important points, and they did it in a way that would make sense to an audience that hadn’t read the book while still being mostly true to the world of the book for those that were diehard fans. Furthermore, they probably did a very good job of having the movie make sense even if you only had a vague recollection of what happened in HP&tDHp1.
In rewatching the Philosopher’s Stone movie and then rereading the book, I was actually amazed to realize how closely the movie followed the events of the book. Deathly Hallows p2 doesn’t do that. It hits the major points — Gringotts and the dragon, Hogsmeade and Aberforth, Hogwarts and Neville, Snape, McGonigall, Snape, Voldemort, etc. But there are significant deviations, strictly plot-wise.
What it does hit, and hit well, as a friend of mine pointed out, are the emotions of the conclusion. And those are, far and above petty plot points and world lore, the most important part.
Upon my second viewing, I didn’t just cry. I bawled my eyes out. I had to force myself to keep my sobbing silent because I was in a theatre packed with people. And I wanted to cheer when Neville showed up and when McGonigall animated the school and when Mrs Weasley kicked ass.
It’s not the same as the book. It shouldn’t be. It was an adaptation. Books and movies should not be judged by the same metric. And as an adaptation, HP&tDHp2 did a remarkable job.