Obviously, spoiler alert. Also, I have to make this disclaimer: I have not read the first three books. So, the only thing I can criticise about the first three films is their cinematic quality, not their faithfulness (or the lack thereof) to the source materials. But, I am more confident regarding the other adaptations.
Here, I will solely talk about Goblet of Fire (GoF) and Order of the Phoenix (OP). So far, they are my favourite books in the series and I love them for distinct reasons.
In spite of dark and intense moments here and there (especially during the climax, falling action and resolution), GoF is still a generally cheerful book. To this day, I am still gravely excited about the Quidditch World Cup, the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, even though the real me is far from a sports spectator and a party animal. I also adore the expansion of the magical universe where it is portrayed as a global community in which our hero’s home country is a tiny part of it, not its entirety; I am a sucker for such theme. It is mostly a festive of jolliness that makes the child in me rejoice… unlike its direct successor.
OP is gritty AF. In contrast to its more colourful predecessor, the fifth book is nothing but a barrage of grey and ferocious socio-political disheartenment. Dangerous misinformation. Political restrictions of the academia. Institutionally-sanctioned prejudice. The establishment embracing unsavoury individuals, opting to make enemies with ones who are innocent and/or more tolerant. Those are real life issues. To top it all, our hero has to deal with them while suffering from PTSD, adding the emotional severity. For the standard of escapist literature, this novel is a tough read; a reflection of the reality is inescapable.
I have high praises for both and I also had HIGH expectations of their screen adaptations. GoF was literally the first film I watched whose original source material I read beforehand. I was deeply disappointed because, back then, I expected any good adaptations to be literally exact copies of the source materials, albeit in different formats. Took me some time to recognise my own stupidity.
But, even after the slap on the face, I am still disappointed. The feeling of excitement is the only thing it got right. Well, not entirely. It explicitly depicts the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, two of the three main sources. But, it does not show a single second of the Quidditch World Cup match!
Like, why? No, time constraint is not an excuse! Even when shown in snippets, it still could exude the feeling! Exclusion of the entire match means the audience members who have not read the book cannot experience the excitement in its totality. Therefore, they don’t know the whole story and I am still scratching on the surface here.
I mentioned that GoF is a cheerful book with dark moments. Well, those moments give the story more layers of depth. Ludo Bagman, Bertha Jorkins, Dobby and Winky! They are characters with secrets and their erasure from the film is regrettable, considering they have the potentials to expose the tangling webs of secrets and deceit that grip the novel. I find it intriguing when lightness and darkness balance each other out in a work of fiction. As a result, the film’s darkness is still very lightweight in comparison. But, at least, it is still partially faithful to its source material, unlike its successor.
The novel’s embodiment of desolation mostly did not make it to the screen. Instead, the film is more of an adventure-comedy. Yes, I said comedy. Admittedly, I love its youthful sense of humour and I believe, when done correctly, it would blend well with the bleak storyline. But, the filmmakers preferred to drench the story in sickly sweet syrup, removing the acquired tastes for the sake of palatability.
Where’s the socio-political grittiness? Where’s the mental anguish? Never mind that they are the driving forces. They are the reasons why Order of Phoenix possesses such outstanding profundity! They are the reasons why the novel stands out! They are the soul of the story! The film may call itself Order of Phoenix and some moviegoers believe that. But, deep down, it has an entirely unrecognisable heart. It is a fraud who is beloved by the ignorant and most gullible among us.
Also, the climax of OP the novel is not the fight at the Ministry building; it is, in fact, Harry’s outburst at Dumbledore’s office. It is an accumulation of the suffering he has been experiencing for the past twelve months (and possibly his entire life) and Sirius’ death triggers the cascade of negative emotions. Its climax centres on raw emotions rather than superficial physicality. It can only be achieved by the embrace of emotional depth. You know, something that the adaptation refuses to do.
God, I sound like a total fanboy. I even haven’t reached to another problem present in both adaptations: how they conclude the plot lines.
The novels’ endings are rather bleak. GoF’s marks the beginning of the sufferings our protagonist will endure in the next volume. OP’s shows that, even after everyone believes and starts revering him, he still cannot feel joy because of his godfather’s death. Oh, and I said rather bleak, not completely so. For me, there are still shreds of warm yet unsentimental hope in them. How about the films’ endings? Horrible, of course.
GoF the film ends with a cheerful farewell for the foreign students and Cedric’s death as the only moment of sorrow; there is no foreshadowing of Harry’s own incoming misery. OP the film ends with a sentimental monologue by Harry; his own grief is given a half-hearted presentation. They are all about cloying sweetness. Again, no depth.
Okay, this is the part where I pretend to know what my readers are thinking (LOL! Who reads my blogs, anyway?).
You may argue I am being too harsh against OP and I sincerely acknowledge the possibility. You may also argue that not everything has to be profound which I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I feel sorry for those proudly flatulent dweebs who think having fun is beneath them. But, after much contemplation, I can say I am fair with my judgement.
People will hate me for saying this: I believe that an adaptation can still be faithful even with significant alteration to the characters and the storyline, as long it cherishes the source material’s deep-rooted spirit. In spite of being a fantasy novel, OP’s spirit is neither escapist nor fun; the narrative commands us to acknowledge our own wretched earthbound existence. Based on what I illustrated before, it is clear how the film refuses to share such burden.
Also, it feels like its script was written by an elitist Pothead with no experience in filmmaking who thinks Harry Potter films must be exclusively made for anyone who have read the books and inclusivity besmirches the prestige of his/her beloved series. To simplify my words: the film’s confusing AF.
Yes, exposition makes a horrible storytelling. But, the audience deserves any implicit hints about why and how the story came into being! Also, Tonks is not properly introduced, Lupin is not properly re-introduced and Percy suddenly appears out of nowhere, inexplicably working for the corrupt ministry! If an adaptation cannot stand on its own and still needs the source material for intelligibility, why bother making one in the first place? Oh, wait. Never mind! Of course, it is all about money…
Now, I am going to be slightly SJW-ish here.
In GoF the film, the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students make a hell of an entrance. Of course, I am referring to the gender stereotypes-affirming scene that portrays women as unnaturally tender and men as laughably brute. Disappointing, but expected from a Hollywood film. But, in this case, I am infuriated because the original scene is actually very gender-less (I made up that word).
When the visitors enter the school ground, they just walk straight in! No spectacles whatsoever! There is nothing about it that makes us think about genders! If I have to make an assumption, it feels like someone involved in the filmmaking read the books, became infuriated with their debatably feminist nature, decided to transform the co-ed schools into single-sex ones and shoved outdated gender stereotypes to one gender-less scene. It is too PC! Too liberal! We must protect our traditions of lumping complex human beings to superficial and repressive boxes!
See? I told you I would sound SJW-ish.
Now, to finish up my winding rant:
If only GoF the film also has the same complimenting and intricate subplots as the novel does and refrains itself from unabashedly committing gender pigeonholing…
If only OP the film opens itself to non-HP fans and embraces the novel’s dark and fierce spirit that makes it great in the first place…
If only both films do not conclude on such unrealistically positive notes…
I can confidently say that not only they would be of outstanding quality, they surely would elevate the merit of Harry Potter films or even the entire franchise! Even if they fail to elevate the artistic prestige of fantastical and commercial cinema, they surely would have special places in it.
GoF the film would probably not be hailed as groundbreaking regarding this. But, surely, it would not elongate the already-long list of motion pictures that unintelligently depict genders!
If the existing OP film balances its childlike humour with the novel’s sense of desolation, it could result in a high-quality drama-comedy. Who knows? Maybe the film’s merit could surpass the novel’s! Such a rare phenomenon would historical, convincing fans of certain works of fiction that film adaptations have the potential of reaching excellence!
After watching those wonderful adaptations, some Potheads would probably end up being blessed with higher sense of cultural sophistication, enriching their lives through inquisitive musing and love of cinematic beauty.
But, none of those matters, of course! The only noble goal in life to earn profit! Who cares if you have to exploit the feelings of devoted fans?
Support this deadbeat, preachy blogger on Patreon.