Many of us fans like to complain about the Harry Potter films. Oh, we do so lovingly (for the most part), but we still complain. We wish that this or that scene had been included. We can’t understand why they changed that particular thing when they could have just as well followed the book. We point out how they completely MISSED THE POINT OF BOOK THREE!!!
Deep breath. I’m okay.
But there are some moments in the films where they totally nailed it. There are moments where they managed to capture whole swaths of the story in one lovely visual. There are times when the actors just captured the characters so perfectly that we can’t imagine the scene any other way, even if we know that it was different in the books.
Here are four of examples of what I’m talking about:
I get it, they couldn’t include the entire week-long sequence of letters arriving, more and more each day. I must say, I would have loved to have seen Uncle Vernon trying to hammer in a nail with a piece of fruitcake. I really wanted to see Dudley hitting everyone with his Smeltings Stick. But I do understand that they had to shorten that part. And I loved how they did it in one lovely shot. Harry glances out the window and sees owls everywhere. They’re on the lawn, on the roof, everywhere. The visual shorthand works perfectly: you can’t stop the onslaught, Uncle Vernon, post or no post … it’s not only coming in spite of you, it’s already here!
I complain about Voldemort setting up headquarters in a boathouse instead of the far-more-creepy and appropriate Shrieking Shack. But the way they used that boathouse set, with it’s opaque glass wall, allowed them to present the graphic and gruesome death of a major character in a way that still portrayed the horror without forcing us to watch a vicious snake attack and fountains of blood. Honestly, I don’t want to see that. I find it far more effective and horrible to be separated from it by a wall and feel Harry’s helplessness, his inability to step in and his mixed emotions at Snape’s senseless demise, and therefore to be forced to simply witness the murder in grim silence.
The clock tower
Yes, I am known to disparage the way Hogwarts was portrayed in the films. I much prefer the version in the books. But you can’t deny that movie-Hogwarts is a wondrous place and extremely visual. Check out the moving staircases (not found in the books, by the way). Non-canon? Sure. Cool to look at? You bet! So what about the clock tower? The concept of time is very important to the story of the third book, both with the time travel element at the end and with the larger concept of Harry discovering the backstory which forms the basis for everything that’s happening to him in the present. The clock tower dominating the castle brings this home wonderfully. I love the way the camera moves through the clock tower, the way it frames various scenes, and the way the moving pendulum visually illustrates the idea of time inexorably moving forward. Then, in the fifth film, the clock tower becomes a looming, oppressive presence as Umbridge stands there glaring down at the courtyard below like a harbinger of doom. Nicely done.
Alan Rickman as Snape
So Snape is supposed to be 35. So he’s supposed to go completely off his rocker at times (check out the end of book three if you want to see just how foaming-at-the-mouth crazy he’s supposed to be). Yes, I get that. But let’s face it … while Rickman may not be accurately portraying the Snape of the books, he is accurately portraying the true character which comes through in the text. Just as the Hogwarts of the films has to include some non-canon visuals in order for it to seem like the real, magically alive place we imagine when we read the books, so the Snape of the films needs so have some “non-canon visuals.” Alan Rickman, while being too old and too calm to be book-Snape, was absolutely perfect in the film role. The way he delivered the lines in the Potions Dungeon way back in the first film completely sold me — he had me at “bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.” He brought menace and dislike, sure, but also a huge dose of mystery to the role. From that moment on in the films, the way he pronounced every syllable convinced us that there was something weird and mysterious and strangely sad going on under that greasy hair. When we discovered what we fans had long suspected, that Snape had a twisted obsession for Harry’s mother, we believed it because Rickman had put that mania into every line and every look all along.