Like almost every other reader on the planet, I love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I started reading them in 2001, blazed through the first four books in the series in a matter of months, realized I had to wait for the fifth book (The Order of the Phoenix) to come out, and reread the first four again. I went to the opening night of film adaptation of the first book (The Sorcerer’s Stone), and left incredibly irritated, partially because the movie mostly sucked and partially because I had just spent two and a half hours watching a movie that mostly sucked while surrounded by a bunch of children who disagreed on that point. I had much the same feeling toward The Chamber of Secrets the following year.
Which is why it was so surprising in 2003 when the third entry in the movie series (The Prisoner of Azkaban) turned out to be…awesome. It was just right. Alfonso Cuaron captured the grim but whimsical feel of the books–the brooding weather, the dampness, the shittiness of puberty, the severe beauty of Hogwarts–and he understood how to handle the material. Predictably, it was the entry in the series critics loved most and audiences loved least. The movie series went back to sucking with the fourth film (The Goblet of Fire) the following year.
My wife and daughter and I are reading through the series aloud, and watching each movie as we finish the corresponding book. I was hoping my memories of every film in the series besides Prisoner was inaccurate and, given the time that’s passed, I would be able to take the other entries on their own terms. My hopes were dashed. Man, are these movies bad.
What’s frustrating is that they didn’t have to be bad. Things get mishandled in ways that feel more sloppy or lazy than intentional, and seem to reflect a lack of appreciation for and understanding of the source material. We could have had better versions of these same movies without a lot of effort. Case in point, and perhaps my biggest complaint about the films, is the mishandling of the character of Albus Dumbledore.
In Rowling’s books, Dumbledore is wonderful. He’s like Jesus and your grandpa and Gandalf all rolled into one lovable, quirky, quietly authoritative, reservedly powerful bundle. A room’s gravity bends around him not because he is vain or proud, but because he radiates wisdom, safety, care, and, yes, power. He almost never had to raise his voice to be heard or assert himself aggressively, and yet everyone knows he is both wise and mighty.
In the movies, and most especially in The Goblet of Fire, he is damn near a baffoon. He yells constantly, thoughout the entire movie, and is always struggling to be heard. He spends several scenes appearing confused and bewildered and anything but the poised character who brings calm and comfort to those around him. He loses his temper multiple times. He’s just…wrong. He seems like the out-of-touch old hoot who stayed on too long that his enemies characterize him as throughout the books, but whom his allies–and we as readers–know he is anything but. I cannot and will not ever forgive this movie franchise for doing this to one of the great fantasy characters ever created.
Bright points in the series? Emma Watson, of course. The adults actors are mostly good. Also, the movies tone down some of Rowling’s rampant fatphobia. Beyond that, effects are merely passable and movies fail to deliver on the wonder of the books. My wife and I were discussing last night whether or not they’ll ever remake these movies or just keep piddling away with expanded universe drivel like The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Who knows? If they do, they better do it right.
Update: After writing this, I stumbled upon this article. I am vindicated.
Also, I have been disappointed to find I did not invent the term Dumblecore.