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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hallows & Horcruxes

It All Ends. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. The ultimate pop-culture phenomenon of our time comes to an end. And in 3D, not that the new technology helps enhance the picture in any way. It reflects the change the film franchise has gone through, in the last 10 years, in eight films.

I remember seeing the first film, The Philosopher’s Stone, in a pirated VCD, in a desktop computer in my hostel room at the University of Pune, with my roommate sniggering at me for wasting time watching a children’s film. It was indeed a children’s film. But, the current film is not, not remotely.

Talking about Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, someone said, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who have read the book and those who haven’t. Borrowing the statement, one can say that the world is divided by two kinds of people, those who are the fans of Harry Potter and those who are not.

Harry Potter is not just the books and the movies; its a cultural phenomenon, very much like what The Beatles were in the ’70. You cannot really rationalise why the series have been so successful among, not only the young adults, but even the grown-ups.

Personally, I don’t think Rowling’s writing is anything great. They are plain and at times repetitive, and at times, full of clich├ęs. However, if you compare her with Stephanie Mayers of the Twilight series, Rowling is vastly superior.

Again, her mythology is nothing original. She borrows heavily from Tolkien, Ursula K Le Guin, H P Lovecroft and other assorted masters. She follows all the archetypes of a heroic fantasy — despicable villain, clueless hero with an unbearable burden, selfless friends, sacrifices and so on.

Yet, yes, yet, the concoction she brews with the material she has is nothing short of a miracle. How does she do it?

I read the first book around two years after the first film was out. I was not really interested. And, then I finished the book and the next day acquired the other two available books, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. I devoured them and waited with bated breathe for the next one. I had become a fan. Since then I have read the books several thousand times, especially Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows. How does she do that? It’s inexplicable.

The one thing that permeates all through the series is Rowling unwavering faith in love. It was love that saved Harry in the first place. It was love, or the lack of it, that destroyed Lord Voldermort. And how she tops her message of love by giving Professor Snape the glorious chance of redemption.

Till The Half-Blood Prince who would be guessed that Snape is not just a villain? I am sure Rowling too had no idea how Snape’s character would turn up, and when she got the chance, she created a backstory so wonderful and so full of pathos that it demands a novel of its own. Professor Snape and his love for Lily demands a novel of its own.

Whenever I read these passages towards the end of The Deathly Hallows, when Harry revisits Snape’s memories in the pensieve, I’m moved. These passages are some of the best scenes Rowling has ever written, and she succeeds because the dominating motif of these scenes is love.

When Dumbledore finally reveals that Harry has to die, Snape is angry. Dumbledore asks him mockingly if after all these years of hatred he has finally grown to care for Harry. Snape whips his wand and a petronus glides along. It’s a doe. The same petronus Lily had. “After all these years?” Dumbledore asks. Snape utters just one word: “Always.” And, your heart breaks.

In the film, the scene is there for a fraction of a second, and yet the effect is tremendous. For this, you have to give it to Alan Rickman. He utters just one word, “always,” and you understand. I wish they give him the Oscar of best support actor next year. It’s not an easy task to maintain such mystery in eight films, in over 10 years.

And this is another thing that’s so wonderful about the Harry Potter series of films, how all the actors struck to the film in the last 10 years. Yes, Richard Harris died and Michael Gambon took over. Other than that, and perhaps the actors who played Harry’s parents, all the actors remained the same. Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grew up with the films, and became household names. Look especially at Watson. In the early films, she couldn’t even act in the dramatic scenes, and then, in the last three films, she became the soul of the narrative, and how she stole the scenes. I still remember when she climbed down the stairs for the Yule ball in The Goblet of Fire. She had grown up before our very eyes. It doesn’t happen often in films.

I am sure, years from now, cinema students will study the series as a textbook case of adapting a book to film. Adapting a book to films is a tricky business. You have to walk a fine line. It is especially trough when the most of your target audience knows the original source by heart, and expect them to be translated into the screen, especially when the books are tomes and you cannot depict everything on screen. (And sometime, a ‘faithful’ adaptation can backfire, like it did in The Da Vinci Code. The film was bad because of its over-reliance on the book.) The Harry potter films achieve this fine balance. There are scenes in the film which are lifted from the pages, line by line, for example the meeting with Aberforth, Dumbledore’s brother. And then, there are scenes, which are dramatised. In the book, we don’t see Ron and Hermione visiting the chamber to collect the Basilisk fangs, as the novel is narrated from Harry’s point of view. But here, we see them at the chamber and share a hurried kiss, and instead of being an intrusion, the scene becomes a special moment.

The same way, in the book, Nagini is killed in a less dramatic fashion. But on screen, especially in 3D, the snake is a fantastic action prop. So, we have Ron and Hermione fighting the snake; yet the film remains true to the book in the sense that finally it is Neville who kills the python with the sword of Godric Griffindor.

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