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Saturday, 18 July 2009


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It may well be that the movie benefits from not reading the book. Since Dargis' review -- aside from that Fiennes thing -- pretty well jibed with my reading of the book, I took it to be a pretty faithful adaptation.

I got through the books so I could discuss them with my spouse, who likes them. I'll get through the movies when the Little Anachronism is old enough for them, and then mostly so that I can describe the action to my spouse. I suppose it's nice to know that there's something to look forward to near the end....


It may well be that the movie benefits from not reading the book.

Ack! That was my point. I'm guessing it didn't come through because of the detour into critical idiocy. Hrmph. That's what happens when I over-write something, burying the point in the first paragraph and an aside in the first sentence of the last.

On another note entirely, what did you think of Zot! . . . the book whose title ends in an exclamation point, thus necessitating I prolong the sentence so I don't slap a question mark right after its title? In addition to moving and revising a paper I submitted almost a decade ago that was accepted last week, I'm still working on that post/paper.

Karl Steel

Take a random person, say, me, who read the first 2 books perhaps 8 years ago and found them only readable, and who has therefore seen none of the movies. Assume this person will never read another word written by Rowling unless by some gorgeous accident he's included in her will. Will he--and his wife, who loathes what Rowling she's read--enjoy and/or understand this movie? Or if he wants a film about pedagogues and students, should he stick to what he was watching tonight?


I can't say you'd like it better than that movie you linked to, which is old and thus anathema to me as an American, but you ask a very interesting question, because it pushes my theory that not knowing what's going on actually improves the film to its breaking point. I think, given how familiar the set of cultural narratives Rowling recycles are, that you wouldn't be at much of a loss watching the film. I mean, with the exception of Cuarón's go at it, I haven't watched any of them more than once, so it's not like I was up on the minutiae—but I wonder if my discomfort with the earlier installments factors into my judgment. Which is one way of saying that the depiction of young love isn't in the same league as Freaks and Geeks, merely a damn sight better than the previous films and most of the sanitized nonsense that passes for teen drama these days. Whether that makes it good, is . . . let me sleep on it.

(Also, I edited the post to indicate that I tried to read the first three, got 100 pages in and stopped in disgust.)


I was agreeing with you -- and admitting that US reviewers may well be wrong about the quality issues as well -- just pointing out that many of us in the (potential) audience pool don't really have the benefit of that ignorance any more.

Zot! was interesting. I liked it, but I was never quite able to shut off my historian brain -- the discussion at the end of "Ring in the New" was pretty much going through my head the whole time -- and his adolescents make just a touch too much sense (I had a bit of trouble remembering what ages they were supposed to be a lot of the time, which is partially an artistic issue and partially the nature of adolescence, but also partially over-simplification). But the storytelling was fascinating, especially the second half when he started to really stretch. His decision early on to vary tone and focus (and his impatience with the form later) makes it quite a ride. There's some very smart genre twisting ... you know all this. What I'm not sure of at this point is how it's going to stand up to a second and third reading.


If you'd read the book, you'd also know that something of what you describe here—especially the more adult character of HP&tHP but also the (re)presentation of a world no longer tied up into neat little bows—is also true of the novel. (Book 7 is even more untidy in this way, although also irritatingly tidy in other respects.)


Manohla Dargis is my nemesis. So often, I want to know what AO Scott has to say about a movie, but I'm disappointed to find that it was instead reviewed by the completely useless Dargis.


I agree Scott, not enough shit blew up. :)


Read all seven and was left wondering what exactly I had read. They're not so much badly written as forgettably written. Azkaban is the best of the books--this book was the worst. I can't remember a single detail apart from Harry and Dumbledore in the cave. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm assuming the filmmakers, with less to work with, made more up and thus improved what didn't exist yet.

Martin Wisse

Meanwhile across the pond, that URL doesn't work...

Maybe I'm closer to my inner eight year old or something, but I didn't think the books were that bad as you make them out to be. Competently written, plot driven but with a lot of meandering around "cool" scenes, engrossing if you can shut up the critical facilities of your brain but really not appropriate for a thirty something year old to read. Spent an enjoyable summer holiday reading the first three, have no desire to read anything more.

The movies work on that level as well, but because they are movies and don't have to rely on the writer's abilities to immerse yourself into a fully realised world, they look more fully realised. The absurdities are less apparant when they're in front of your face...

Karl Steel

Whether that makes it good, is . . . let me sleep on it.
Sounds as though a large part of the pleasure is a confounding of expectations?

Rich Puchalsky

Re-posting my comment from the Valve here:

One note about the books—I’ve only seen the first couple of movies—it is a bit questionable to rely on an evaluation of the first few books to estimate the source material for movies made for the last few in the series. I’ve read all the books, and Rowling does a pretty good impression of writing the first one for an 11-year-old, the second for a 12 year old, and so on up to 17 or wherever it stops. Perhaps that’s just Rowling becoming a slightly better writer as she goes, but it’s as if she was writing the series for one child who was growing up as she did one book a year.

Therefore the later books, while still clunky, are at least older-adolescence YA. I was actually pretty impressed by one aspect of the series: its near-anarchist rejection of all official authority figures. Sure, it’s a staple of this kind of fantasy that the adolescent hero can somehow succeed where all the adults fail. But here the adults fail really comprehensively, and fail not merely as parent figures but also as government and civic leaders. By the end, Harry is effectively living in the equivalent of a death squad state, in which people are routinely kidnapped, tortured, and disappeared, and constituted authority is either complicit, corrupt, or at best ineffective.


Manohla Dargis is my nemesis. So often, I want to know what AO Scott has to say about a movie, but I'm disappointed to find that it was instead reviewed by the completely useless Dargis.

She seems to know her stuff. I can't decide whether this post is supposed to be serious or funny but I'll go with the latter.

Jon H

Dargis wrote: "[T]he lag time between the final books and the movies"

As opposed to the simultaneous releases of the first books and their movies?

Hint for Dargis: just because you didn't read the first HP book until the movie was imminent, doesn't mean they were released without a lag.


I completely agree with Rich.

I barely liked the books through book 4, so I didn't read the fifth, sixth, and seventh until a friend convinced me to try again. I thought they were much more engrossing than the first four, despite still having some obvious flaws.


I agree with Rich as well, and on both fronts (I wouldn't call the books anarchistic, because at the end there's a restored government, but they definitely sees trust and authority as vested in individuals rather than institutions). I quite enjoy children's and young adult literature and thought that the books functioned really well as that, maturing with the characters. I also think that Rowling has a particular gift for expressing character through dialog, so that you have a whole slew of characters drifting in and out, but they all remain distinct.

My reaction of the film is that it did a much better job of collapsing the novel than the last one: selecting key scenes rather than trying to quick-march through the whole plot. It also ranks as the best adaptation, along with Prisoner of Azkaban, because it understands itself as a film in the middle of an unfinished series. Rather than spending a lot of time explaining all of what went before and all of the referents it leaps right in, and so creates a more immersive and satisfying experience. I wouldn't recommend that anyone start watching the films by viewing this one first, but I'd be curious as to what the experience would be like if they did.


I'll admit to disliking the whole Potter series. And I'll admit to reading other fantasy series all the way through even though I disliked those as well. (Sometimes its nice to give your brain a holiday; Sometimes its nice to drive with a long audiobook.)

As a genre, they seem to have similar flaws. Its not just their "unsubtle Dickensian grotesquerie" but a series of assumptions about how the world works that are disturbing and politically naïve.

Anthony Cristofani

JPOOL- your curiosity will be appeased in the case of my parents--they saw none of the HP films or read the books, and enjoyed Half-Blood Prince immensely. I suppose they are in part responding to the same love-of-confoundment Scott speaks of. The blog is funny and critically spot-on, but this insight about not knowing what's going on is my favorite part. We have a contemporary obsession with clarity so acute that it's a wonder David Lynch isn't broke. They should have hired him for all 8 films, by the way.

Karl Steel

I wouldn't call the books anarchistic, because at the end there's a restored government, but they definitely sees trust and authority as vested in individuals rather than institutions

In my neighborhood, we call that mystification.


They should have hired him for all 8 films, by the way

If anyone tells me there's cat-milking in Bk 7, I'll gladly read the whole series.


I haven't read the books but, out of some sort of masochistic curiosity, spent the majority of last weekend watching the movies on ABC Family and HBO (for the most recent). I won't be paying to go see the new one at the theatre but am curious about it enough to put it on my rental list. Wrote a post about it here.

As to book vs movie debate: I try not to get too caught up in the comparisons. In my mind, they are two different mediums and should be appreciated on their merits in doing justice within that space.

With a book, we create the movie ourselves in our heads as we read and imagine that world into being and fit it with our own visions of the characters. Maybe part of the disconnect we feel when seeing the book adapted (esp. badly) is between our subconscious creation and that that we see on the screen.

AV Club does a pretty good feature on book vs. film adaptations

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