Warning: spoilers for the end of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows are about to follow…
As we’ve been discovering in the series of lookbacks at the Harry Potter movies we’ve run over the past week, the reverence of the films to the books has been variable. In the first two films, director Chris Columbus put slavish adaptations of the books on the big screen, taking few liberties and fearing to stray from the source material.
As more challenging directors came aboard the franchise, and as screenwriter Steve Kloves (and Michael Goldenberg) really took hold of the material, gradually the films found their own way. Subplots were cut out, characters marginalised, and new scenes introduced that weren’t in Rowling’s books at all.
Sadly, though, at the point where the films were crying out to go their own way, they reflected arguably the worst excess of the written saga: the epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The epilogue already caused its fair share of controversy when the book itself was published. But I can at least understand why J K Rowling did it in print. By winding the action forward the best part of two decades, and tying up the future of the three main characters, it all but ruled out sequels, and it stopped anyone else going in and messing with the world that she created. Especially when the characters voice touchpoints of what’s happened since the defeat of Voldemort.
It was never a particularly satisfying story development, though, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that many Harry Potter fans were hoping it might be culled for the film.
It wasn’t. And the problem was that what appeared to be a bad idea on the page was always going to look even more testing on the big screen. So it proved.
In the screening I attended, there were audible guffaws as Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson stepped forward in some of the least convinving ageing make-up effects in recent memory. It looked daft, sadly, as many always feared it would on the big screen. We’ve seen cinema age younger actors quite well in the past for various projects. Brad Pitt and a lot of CG was about as convincing as it got for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (appreciating he was in his 40s when he made it). But even the stars of the Back To The Future films didn’t come out too badly in Back To The Future Part II.
Yet Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are far younger, and what could have been a serious, dramatic ending was, and will continue to be, reduced to something less than that. And the reason for that? It wasn’t just the ageing effects (which did, to give credit to all concerned, give it a good go, and at least Rupert Grint looked a little bit convincing), rather that the ending was always going to struggle on film, where nothing could visually be left to the imagination. And I sorely wish someone had had the courage to jettison it.
I like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and I find it incredible that the Harry Potter cinematic saga has sustained eight books so well, with a remarkable consistency to the quality of the films. It just feels odd, as it did with the books, that it all ends on the daftest note, after such an pulsating proceeding couple of hours.
The answer, of course, is simple: come the release of the DVD and Blu-ray, have the stop button handy. Until then, it’s best to think of the final Harry Potter movie as a really good two hours of a cinema, just with a really odd short movie at the end…