In an event that carried all the surprise and spontaneity of a military funeral Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released this past weekend and made over a million bajillion dollars. It is seriously amazing the piles of money it made. You could convert the grosses to million dollar bills and still not fit them all in your house. It had people lined up around the block, some dressed up as greasy Alan Rickman or as vaguely hippie-ish Michael Gambon, and it managed to break the box office record for a November release of a first part to a sixth sequel featuring an all British cast with a lead under 5'10''. And there was much rejoicing.
The biggest difference for me between the arrival of the seventh movie and the seventh novel is that this time I just don't care. Sorry.
I am unapologetic fan of the books. I jumped aboard between the fourth and fifth and despite having a deep aversion to fads I quickly became an admirer of Ms. Rowling. Her books, to my mind, are an unadulterated good. Of course her epic series is open to any number of valid criticisms from the way the last book drags in the middle to the way the logic of Goblet doesn't hold up to scrutiny. My personal grievance is the use of time travel in book three, a device which unavoidably opens up the whole series to gigantic holes the instant it is introduced.
But greatness and perfection rarely, if ever, go hand in hand. The White Album veers into self-indulgence more than once. Death of a Salesman has it's didactic passages featuring the ghost of the American dream personified. Even Shakespeare had his extraneous scenes there to placate the crowds of his day. What matters is not flawlessness but the heights reached, and Rowling reached greatness with the scope and detail of the world she created. Her books are one of those rare experiences where the reader gives themselves over entirely to the author, trusting them to the end.
The movies reached no such pinnacles. Deathly Hallows looks likely to follow in the footsteps of it's six predecessors, giving a reasonable facsimile of the novel before disappearing into the ether without making a lasting impression. It will be judged by fans and press alike as a 250 million dollar moving book illustration, but not as a movie - not as an object onto itself.
In retrospect, I think the series was doomed the moment they decided to start producing movies before the series had reached its conclusion. By starting in the middle the producers guaranteed Potter would never know where it was headed, and couldn't be envisioned as a whole piece. Rather it would have to settle for being a series of Greatest Hits album for each book, jumping awkwardly from scene to scene while accumulating no forward momentum as a series.
It's hard to blame the author. She made the respectable decision that she didn't know squat about movies and handed her baby over to the pros to do their thing without her meddling. What a series this sprawling needed was a mastermind to take control of the whole thing and figure out a way for it to hang together as a single story told in seven parts. Someone to do what Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings series, take it and mercilessly wrestle it into cinematic shape. Has there ever been a great book to movie transition that didn't involve substantial changes? Godfather, Jaws, The Wizard of Oz, One Flew and Over the Cuckoo's Nest were all chopped up and twisted on the journey to the screen.
Harry Potter was never adapted. Producers attempted to transfer it whole, jamming eight hours of story in each two and half hour movie. They turned up with each release to say, "Well, we had to give the fans what they want, ha ha." Sometimes you have to tell the fans to pipe down because you know better. Fans may say they want this or that, but when it comes down to it what they need is a quality movie. But a behemoth operation like this doesn't welcome experimentation. "Just give 'em what they want," was clearly the order of the day.