On March 13th 2008, Warner Bros. confirmed1 rumours that had been circulating for a number of months that they would indeed be splitting the seventh film in the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two parts. This essay will set out reasons why this long-time, self-confessed Harry Potter uberfan is appalled by this decision.
The Harry Potter films have been overwhelmingly successful. According to IMDb,2 all five previously released films occupy spots in the top twenty-one grossing films of all time. Three of them are in the top ten. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone if you are not British) is the highest placed with $968 million+ box office takings, and even Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at number twenty-one took a very respectable $789+ million at the box office.
This is the cash cow, or for the purpose of this essay, the cash hippogriff, that has served Warner Bros. very nicely indeed, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, the cash hippogriff is about to milk its last drop, because with the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film, this lucrative film franchise runs out. The cogs in the WB machine must have squealed louder than Dobby when they read the final book and realised that Lord Voldemort had eight portions of soul, instead of seven. “Let’s do the same with the film,” squealed delighted film bosses as they got ready to count their galleons in the Lightning Struck counting tower – and so instead of seven films to match seven books, we get eight films.
Now at the start of this, I must confess that I am not a fan of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In July 2007, just before the release of the novel, Jo Rowling told ITV News3 that “Some people will loathe it. For some people to love it, other people must loath it. That’s just in the nature of the plot.” Well she was spot on, because even though I have read the book five times now, I still loathe it as much as I did that first time. However, as someone who has huge respect for what Jo Rowling has achieved, it is still important to me that Warner Bros. does justice to this amazing world and does not abuse their position as holders of the copyright and trademarks. In fact, a well executed film could provide me, and others who did not like the book, a new appreciation of it in the same way the excellent Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film did for many.
What made Harry Potter work for me, what made me fall in love with this excellent series (and despite my loathing of the final book, I still regard the first six as works of genius), was her excellent characterization. J.K. Rowling succeeded where so many other authors have failed by creating peripheral characters that a reader could truly care about. Adult characters like Remus Lupin, Minerva McGonagall, Molly and Arthur Weasley, and the younger characters like Luna, Neville and the Weasleys. Even the traditional baddies like Bellatrix were utterly fascinating to read about – and was there ever a greater literary character than Severus Snape? For six books he created more heated debate than any of the other Harry Potter characters put together. So herein lies my first problem with a two part Deathly Hallows film – in the first part, you aren’t even going to see half of these characters. If Steve Kloves adheres religiously to the book, then we may be lucky to get a quick glimpse of Severus at the very beginning, but then that’s it until part two. No Hogwarts, no teachers, NO NEVILLE! The heart and soul immediately disappears.
Do people realize when they welcome a two part film, just how much of the trio we are going to get? If the film is split at the “Silver Doe” chapter4 for example, then we may get to see Voldemort and his Death Eaters opening the film, a rather anti-climactic goodbye to the Dursleys, “The Seven Potters” with a big chase and fight scene, the deaths of Hedwig and Mad-Eye, a wedding, and the rest will be Harry, Ron and Hermione. Yes there will be scenes involving the locket hunt at the Ministry and a visit to Godric’s Hollow, but are Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson strong enough to hold a film of this magnitude? I don’t think so. There is no doubt that all three of them have improved as they have made that difficult transition from child actor to adult – Daniel especially has improved ten-fold since those awkward first films, but several hours of Emma’s hypnotic dancing eyebrows is not enough to hold my attention. It is worth remembering that nearly all the action in this book takes place in the last third of the text, including a fantastic battle segment at Hogwarts, the resolution to the Snape storyline, and of course, the denouement to the entire series. The casting directors of the Harry Potter films have done an outstanding job in casting the very best of British stage and screen in these movies. We’ve been lucky enough to see Richard Harris, Sir Michael Gambon, Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis and many more award winning stars grace our screens together. What a tragic disappointment then to have a Deathly Hallows part one in which we may not even see these greats at all, or in tiny dribs and drabs. Those who don’t like the book often mention the camping. Those who love the book often moan at those who moan about the camping! But there is no getting away from it that part one of this two-part film is going to consist of a lot of the trio arguing whilst either planning their camping or actually doing it.
So let's move away from camping and talk about money – because money talks. Films like Titanic and the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy took enormous box office takings, not because of the amount of people who went to see the films, but because of the amount of repeat viewings. It’s why the Harry Potter franchise has been so successful – families and non-fans will only take box office receipts so high, it is the super fans who see the films three, four, five, even twenty times each that create such huge box office receipts. The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film took $937+ million at the box office. A tiny, miniscule percentage of that was my viewing it five times, I loved it, couldn’t get enough of it. Will I go and watch Deathly Hallows part one five times? Not in a million years, and I highly doubt others will either.
I’ve put it off too long – I now find myself having to write about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Allowed-To-Write-The-Screenplay, a.k.a. Steve Kloves. (Here I offer an apology and a blindfold to my friend, fellow longtime Leaky stalwart and Kloves fan Bandersnatch) but does the thought of a five hour two-part film penned by Mr. Kloves make anybody else want to jump through the veil themselves?!! Lest we forget, this is the man who in the Prisoner of Azkaban film managed to turn Ron Weasley into the cowardly lion, and Hermione Granger into the Bionic Woman! Be honest, is this the man you Snapeophiles trust with doing justice to your hero? Personally, I’m waiting for Lord Voldemort to cackle, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”
I just find it unfathomable to understand why Warner Bros. has been so averse to creating one film that is say, three and a half hours long. That is more than sufficient to do justice to the book. History shows that cinema audiences are more than happy to sit time and time again through long films; the examples of Titanic and Return of the King back this up. Titanic had a run time of 194 minutes,5 whilst Return of the King numbed our derrieres for 201 minutes,6 yet still we flocked to see them, making them the highest grossing films of all time.
Instead we are faced with getting two films, six months apart. According to the press release, part one will reach us in November 2010 and part two in May 2011. The first is two years after the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film and part two will reach us nearly four years after the release of the book. Again, I feel Warner Bros. has misjudged its audience. The super-fans are slowly losing their fervor for all things Potter, the fandom is slowing down. If part one is judged to be a failure, will the “normal” audience, those who are not super fans, even bother going back to watch part two? The denouement to the Deathly Hallows book is dominated by a fantastic battle scene that is covered in more than one hundred pages of nail biting prose. I can understand the producers perhaps believing that they could not do justice to this battle in one film (in addition to everything else they may want to create), but my argument is that they absolutely could do it all in one film, and do it well. Let’s look at the examples of the Lord of the Rings trilogy again. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was dominated by a battle at Helm’s Deep and, led by Peter Jackson, the film version of the novel was exquisite. Even better was the battle for Gondor in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a battle that easily overshadows the Battle of Hogwarts. If New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson could do it – why not Warner Bros. and David Yates? One longer film instead of two shorter ones will keep the dramatic tension flowing to great effect.
Back to money again. Once the films have sizzled or sunk at the box office, we then get the DVDs. I would be interested to hear what Warner Bros. have to say about this. Are we, as most anticipate, going to have to pay for two DVDs for one story? Instead of the usual $30 here in Australia, will I have to pay $60? There is no question of an uberfan like me not getting them, of course I have to and WB knows this. I have a nasty taste in my mouth that could be shampoo … no, it’s bubotuber pus … no, it’s the taste of being ripped off.
I’m sorry Mr. Heyman, you may be as gorgeous as Fleur Weasley, but this decision screams out, “money, money, money.” The Hogwarts Express gravy train is on its last journey and you appear to be clinging on by your fingertips. Time will tell whether this is a decision you come to rue.
1. Business Wire, “Warner Bros. Plans Two-Part Film Adaptation,” paragraph 1.
2. IMDb, “All-Time Worldwide Box office.”
3. Oatts, “Rowling: Some will loathe it,” paragraph 2.
4. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 296–314.
5. IMDb, “Titanic.”
6. Ibid., “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Business Wire. “Warner Bros. Plans Two-Part Film Adaptation of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” to Be Directed by David Yates.” Business Wire, 13 March 2008, http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20080313005332&newsLang=en (accessed 21 April 2008).
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). “All-Time Worldwide Box office.” http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross?region=world-wide (accessed 21 April 2008).
———. “Titanic.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120338/ (accessed 21 April 2008).———. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167260/ (accessed 21 April 2008).
Oatts, Joanne. “Rowling: Some will loathe it.” digital spy, 13 July 2007. http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/a65641/rowling-some-will-loathe-it.html (accessed 21 April 2008).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, London: Bloomsbury, 2007.