Harry Potter And The Exhausted Plot Device

(“what’s so great about ‘noses’ anyway?”)

Warning! Spoilers! Warning!

When the “Harry Potter” series first began back in ’97, I paid no mind. A young boy attending a Wizard academy for children struck me as opportunist publishers pandering to the hoi polloi with  a dumbing down of the fantasy genre. Well, at 11 years old I probably just thought it was lame. Nevertheless, I still think kids have an acute bullshit detector and mine was off the charts.  Although, this time I’ll admit I was wrong.

I finally got around to watching the first movie in 2002 and loved it. I went out and bought the first 4 books and devoured them. The Goblet of Fire struck me as especially brilliant. I also watched each film adaptation, impressed by their vision and faithfulness to the source material. I respect any work whose targeted audience is children that resists relinquishing sophistication: Just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean you have to settle for slapstick and fart jokes (although, I am a fan of both.) It’s all about treating your audience with respect, and J.K. Rowling explores ideas of death, loss, coming of age, mortality, and evil with disarming sincerity.

Then the 5th book came out. You’d be crazy to deny there is a sharp decline in quality between The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. The first 4 had a looser serial formation, in the sense that each was a standalone adventure with the not-so-nebulous specter of Voldemort tying them together. However, with the return of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named at the end of the 4th, a new arc begins and the series takes a different path. The story has a loss of innocence when Cedric Diggory dies, signalling a more mature tone, and I respect that; but I think Rowling lost something when the series shifts: the subsequent novels don’t feel as focused, or fun.

(Or: Harry Potter and Voldemort’s Shitty Fucking Wand)

Which brings us to the final installment of the Harry Potter universe as we know it: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows pt. 2. The Deathly Hallows was the best of the final three books, and on a first reading it gave a very satisfying end to the series (except for that godawful epilogue, but more on that later). Also, I thought it was initially a good idea for them to break it up into two movies, considering how epic it was bound to be.

I enjoyed the first part despite the narrative’s inherent flaws. However, I thought the second took pt.1 for granted and basically just threw you into the story, which I found rather jarring and I could never really get my bearings for the rest of the film. It seemed like a bunch of stuff just kept getting thrown at me and I never connected to the characters.

Also, I don’t care for David Yates’ direction. I find he often decides to linger in strange moments, filling the theater with silence. I realize he’s trying to create tension, but the drama feels unearned thus coming across as corny. While the first 4 movies had 3 different previously established directors, for the final 3 the studio enlisted a no-name tv director. Seems odd to me.

So, what are these “inherent flaws”? Well, I honestly never really got the whole horcrux thing. Although she manages to tie it back to the diary from The Chamber of Secrets, I felt like Rowling jumped the shark with this. They seemed like a desperate plot device she thought up so she could extend the storyline (although that’s not the exhausted one I’m referring to in my title, more on that later). There were just too many, and they were items that had no previous significance to the narrative – with the exception of the diary, Nagini, and Potter himself. Consequently, the pacing was uneven. Initially, there’s a long, dragged out search in pt.1, and then in pt.2 they just start knocking them down, one by one, Harry having become a horcrux-radar.

Then there’s You-Know-Who. In The Deathly Hallows, what used to be a great villain is reduced to self-parody. As I said earlier, his not-so-nebulous presence in the first 4 gives him an incredible gravitas, and when he’s finally revealed at the end of The Goblet of Fire and kills Diggory he’s truly threatening. But, throughout the next 3, his menace is chipped away with each failed plot to kill Harry. Seriously, I eventually started to think he would begin shaking his fist, growling, “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!”

I can’t even count how many times Voldemort has tried to kill Harry and failed. When your big bad antagonist can hardly scratch a peachfuzz protagonist, the stakes are significantly lowered. Hell, by the end, Voldemort has diminished so much that even Neville Longbottom is standing up to him. That’s some sad shit, bro.

More specifically, if Voldemort is this great, evil genius of a Wizard, why the hell can’t he figure out that casting spells against Harry Potter is NOT A GOOD IDEA?! Stab the little bastard for Christ’s sake. There are at least 4 times  Voldemort tries to cast Avada Kedavra only to have it misfire. I’m watching, thinking, “No way! Did Voldemort’s spell misfire AGAIN?! I did NOT see that coming!” You got the sense that Voldemort was doomed to fail and there was no real threat.

(this made me laugh out loud)

Now, Rowling manages to create some tension by establishing Harry as one the horcruxes, which I thought was a nice touch. When Harry ventures into the Forbidden Forest to confront Voldemort – and his own mortality – it is one of the most moving sequences in the series. However, this is the true climax, and should’ve been the end of the story. Unfortunately, the tale drags on making the wand battle feel forced. Once you’ve used a trope too many times, the audience checks out.

Speaking of dragged out. How ’bout that epilogue! Yikes. In the book, though it came across as slightly cheesy, it did give it a deserved sense of closure . In the film, however, it was embarrassingly awkward. Instead of using different actors, they tried to age the cast, which made them look more hungover than mature.

Nevertheless, despite my gripes, I would say it’s still a decent way to end it all. I have to respect a series that is able to sustain a narrative across 7 books – and 8 movies. The Deathly Hallows pt.2 also has (as of writing this) a whopping %96  Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I think I’m a pretty lonely voice in my criticisms. I’ll be interested to see what J.K. Rowling comes up with next.

With that I’ll leave you with this touching letter to Rowling from the incomparable Alan Rickman:

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on July 25, 2011.

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