Harry Potter Films and Books

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Now that I've seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, here are my rankings of the movies and books at this point.

Movies rankings:

1. Chamber of Secrets (movie 2)
2. Sorceror's Stone (movie 1)
3. Half-Blood Prince (movie 6)
4. Prisoner of Azkaban (movie 3)
5. Goblet of Fire (movie 4)
6. Order of the Phoenix (movie 5)

Books rankings:

1. Deathly Hallows (book 7)
2. Order of the Phoenix (book 5)
3. Goblet of Fire (book 4)
4. Half-Blood Prince (book 6)
5. Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3)
6. Chamber of Secrets (book 2)
7. Sorceror's Stone (book 1)

Isn't it interesting that how much I liked the movies is roughly inversely proportional to how much I liked the books? Part of what influences it is how faithful the movies are to the books, not that I insist on getting it exactly like the book, but until the latest film they were increasingly leaving out significant parts of the books, even parts that help explain otherwise unexplained phenomena or actions of characters. It left a much less satisfying experience, especially if you knew that there was an explanation in the books. Plus a lot of the scenes and entire plotlines that were left out were fun, interesting, and suspense-building. When you consider that the movies were actually getting shorter as the books got longer, it just drives home the disappointment, because there was so much room for more in Order of the Phoenix, the longest of the books but the shortest of the movies.

I expected Half-Blood Prince to be an improvement over the last few, because the book is much shorter than the two previous books, and they were willing to make it a longer movie. I figured they'd be able to include a higher percentage of plotlines and scenes from the book, and I was right. They were. There were still places where they changed things needlessly (most annoyingly at the end where they made Harry's incapacity to act because of Dumbledore's spell into a moral choice not to act). There wouldn't have been a huge increase in time if they'd explained a few things a little better with explanations from the book. The most unexplainable thing was the scene they completely made up that wasn't in the book at all with the Christmas attack. Harry's actions there made no sense. But it was far superior to the three previous movies, which all had major plots missing. What was missing from this was no more than what was missing from Prisoner of Azkaban, but it affected the plot less, so I place it above that. I didn't understand from the movie alone everything that had happened by the end, and I didn't get it fully until I read the book.

This film should be understandable in the most crucial ways to those who haven't read the book, and it's the first one since the two directed by Chris Columbus that that's true of, at least in the most important aspects. But those stories made complete sense in pretty much every way as films, and they didn't cut major plots the way this one did with the private lessons Dumbledore gave Harry all year about Voldemort's past, which they abbreviated far too much in the movie to be satisfying. I also thought they shouldn't have cut out the Professor Trelawney storyline, which both explains more on her prophecies, which will play a big role in the next one (although maybe they'll find a way to put it in that one instead). They didn't explain the Room of Requirement well, why Harry couldn't get in, why it looked different from it did in Order of the Phoenix when he did, and why it looked like what it looked for for Malfoy. They had Ginny hide the book rather than Harry, and I wonder if that will create problems when they need to return in the final movie for the item that in the book Harry sees while hiding his potions book. Leaving out the new Minister of Magic might make it harder to explain the transition for the Ministry near the beginning of book 7 as well, and the absence of the house elves again might create problems for when they have to reintroduce Dobby and Kreacher in the next one.

I'm hoping that the decision to split Deathly Hallows into two movies will prevent it from being any worse than this outing, since there really is a lot to include, and pretty much all of the necessary parts could easily make two three-hour movies if done well (and they're shooting for two to two-and-a-half hours per movie). They're going to have to trim some things, as they did here. I'm just hoping that they choose a little more judiciously than they did with a few things in this film.


Wordpress and MT clearly don't enable pings and trackbacks between them, but I disagreed fairly robustly with you here.

Doug, my server doesn't accept trackbacks. It has nothing to do with Wordpress and MT. They're just disabled here because they're too easily spammed. I didn't think very many people were using trackbacks anymore, for that reason. I guess some still are.

As for your response to my rankings, I did explicitly say I was listing "how much I liked the movies". Isn't your statement "Jeremy Pierce is fairly wrong" therefore tantamount to claiming to know my preferences better than I do? You can certainly come up with a different list about your own preferences and not have to think that my list is wrong. I wasn't claiming any sort of objective criteria here, just listing them according to how much I liked them and explaining why based on the criteria that happen to affect how much I like them. So I think most of your arguments just miss the point. If you care about different things, then it's no surprise that you'll put them in a different order. That doesn't justify calling my list "fairly wrong".

Just because you care about different things doesn't make your list better. Most of the things you're placing higher priority on are just not things I care much about or even consciously notice. It's not as if a Harry Potter movie is going to bore me, so I don't have much concern about pacing. And artistic directing is almost completely lost on me. I wouldn't be able to tell from watching two movies which one was more artistically directed. I'm not tuned in to that at all, and movie critics who focus on such things are always the ones I don't trust, because they're an extremely unreliable guide to what movies I'll like.

I'm very interested in some high-brow things like the philosophical ideas communicated in a movie, but camera angles, pacing, and editing decisions aren't usually at the front of my mind. I'm not there to evaluate art. I'm there to enjoy a story. If the visuals look nice, that helps, but a lot of those other things may contribute subconsciously but can easily be outweighed if I can't understand what's happening or if the characters' actions don't seem well-motivated by what the movie has conveyed about the character. I do recognize that other people have different preferences and enjoy very different things.

Keep in mind that this sort of thing can change as I bring to mind different elements of a movie. As I'm thinking about the time travel sequence, I'm now wondering if that's enough to pull it ahead of Half-Blood Prince. The things they added in the movie actually helped there in conveying that they didn't change the past but merely fulfilled it, and I'm less sure on reflection that the things they left unexplained were worse than those in movie 6, and they may well have been less important than the Voldemort backstory that was mostly left out of movie 6. So those could easily reverse.

That's surprising to me that you thought this was the better of the last few movies. This is the only one that left me totally confused about some things, and the first that made me think I need to read the books (though I'll wait until after the last movie). To someone who has never read the books, this one had such obviously gaping holes in it. I can't identify exactly what should have filled those holes, since I don't know what was there in the book, but from having read a few reviews since, one example would be what you said about the Room of Requirement. Every time they approached it I was thinking... 'what the heck?'

Jeremy, as I noted in response to your comment on my blog. Sorry. I intended that "fairly wrong" to be lightly humorous. I know we're just disagreeing about choices. Honest.

Mind you, I don't understand how you can undervalue the visuals. Good editing and camera angles etc are what tell the story – often better than laboured exposition. To give one example from HBP, if I were going to have had the destruction of the Weasley home sequence, I would have not long before had Harry flashback in a dream to Bellatrix killing Sirius. I think it was poor scripting and editing to assume the viewer knew that. But it need only have added 30sec to the length, whereas a verbal explanation would have added more.

It's the room they practiced in from the previous story to hide from Umbridge. They had to express a clear desire for a particular use of the room for it to appear. Dumbledore's Army needed a room to practice in. Harry needed a room to hide a book in. Malfoy needed a room to work in without being found. This is not very well explained in the movie, but it wasn't well-explained in the previous one either. The things that I didn't think were well-explained in other movies seemed at least as important, and there were many of them:

1. why Barty Crouch Jr. was out of Azkaban and how no one had known he'd been out even though in the movie he'd been out for more like a decade but had been thought dead all that time
2. why the Marauder's Map that Lupin had helped create was known to him
3. why Lupin knew that Pettigrew's name on the map meant he was still alive
4. why Pettigrew was suddenly being called Wormtail by everyone
5. why Snape knew who Padfoot was and what Harry was referring to when he told him about his vision in Umbridge's office (or, for that matter, that he even knew at all)
6. how the Order knew Harry was at the ministry (which was because Snape understood Harry's message)
7. how Snape knew to look for Lupin and Sirius in the Shrieking Shack
8. that it was a tunnel under the tree that even led to the Shrieking Shack and not just some room somehow buried under the tree

Those are just some things that come to mind. If I sat down and watched them again, I'm sure I'd find more.

On reflection, I'm thinking one of the big artistic failures of the Prisoner of Azkaban that I did pick up on was the awful decision to put everyone in the Wizarding world in Muggle clothes. They've continued that terrible decision in all the subsequent movies. It not only l lacks continuity with the first two movies and departs from Rowling's conception of how wizards and witches dress, but it loses some of the fantastical aspect that you have in the first two movies

One of the disappointing things in the latest movie that I didn't mention has to do with the use of the Felis Felicis potion. Aside from mispronouncing the 'c' as an 's' sound instead of the 'k' sound, they missed out on one of the big themes of the series as I understand it by leaving out the use of the potion at the end of the book. My forthcoming chapter in Blackwell's Philosophy and Harry Potter on Destiny in Harry Potter argues that there's either a divine-like hand at work behind the scenes helping Harry and his friends out and ensuring that just the right things happen, or else they're incredibly lucky beyond what seems likely to happen even occasionally if there's no purposeful destiny guiding them. The use of Felis Felicis to get the horcrux information is part of this (even if the movie removes Dumbledore's understanding of Voldemort's use of horcruxes and even more than one well before he heard this full memory; it was the seven-piece soul division that this memory clarified in the book). The fake use of it in the Quidditch scene was nice to see. But they left out Harry's use of the other half of his vial spread among his friends during that last day, which included their being incapacitated during the final fight scene and no one being injured, but it also included events transpiring at the end exactly as they did, even though they seem to go so badly. That's one of Rowling's overarching themes. Events had to go as they did at the end of this book, even to the small details like Malfoy being the one to disarm Dumbledore even if he failed to do anything else, and the fact that a luck potion was at work should give us a big hint about that. The movie fails us with that important hint.

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