5 Things the Harry Potter Films Did Better than the Books (Pt 1)

I know, right?  An opinion piece, and it only took half a year to write it.

In all seriousness, a majority of the blog is probably going to be dedicated to posting Legends from Aeramis episodes and updates about that world.  But when inspiration strikes I’ll continue to write articles about other things I’m interested in.

The new hype surrounding the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has slowly started to awaken my inner wizard again.  I absolutely love Harry Potter, it was one of the things I used as a kid to help me deal with my personal and family issues, as it did for many of my generation.  Like all things I love, I put way too much thought into it at times.  In this case, I started thinking about the films and how they relate to the books.  It’s pretty much a universal opinion that the books are superior to the films; just how superior is a matter of personal preference, but I certainly do not deny that the films lack a certain quality found in the novels.  I believe that the films fail in some respects; important scenes were omitted, new scenes don’t play out as well as they could, and certain alterations to the plot are unnecessary or illogical.  The films aren’t perfect by any means.

However, I must admit that I think a lot of fans are unfair to the films, ignoring any positives entirely and inserting imagined grievances.  You can’t walk into a discussion about the films without someone complaining about the horrible crime against humanity they are.  But there are things the films do well, and in fact I think some things are done better in the films than the books.   These points are, naturally, my own opinion.  You may disagree, and I’m sure many people will.  But this is my personal take.

And as always, obvious spoilers for the end of the series are very obvious.

Let’s start the list with…

 

1. Clothing

I am proud to say that I have a wonderful set of Hogwarts robes (Gryffindor!) sitting in my closet at this exact moment.  I love the design of the student uniforms at Hogwarts in the films, but they are absolutely nothing like what is described in the books.  Tumblr user lordddorian made an effort to depict the robes as accurately as possible to the books.  You can read the full article here, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve included lordddorian’s final design of four Hogwarts students (one from each house) below.

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Again, this is lordddorian’s art.  Not mine.

To summarize lordddorian’s post, the books suggest closed robes of a plain black color.  Nothing is said about these robes having the insignia of the students’ houses on them, yet in the books Harry knows exactly which house each student belongs to.  This is, likely, because each student expresses their house in a unique way, something the faculty seems to accept (if not outright support, as house unity and pride is quite important at Hogwarts).  As far as we know, there is no required dress under the robes.  Based on some painful memories of Snape’s, and Harry’s own actions, we can assume that students wear anything from just underwear to muggle pants/skirts and shirts/sweaters under their robes, depending on preference.

So that’s the book’s design for Hogwarts robes.  They are certainly interesting and definitely push that “different from muggles” mentality that’s present throughout the series.  Wizards just don’t know how to dress like muggles; it’s pushed time after time.  So what do the films do?

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From the Prisoner of Azkaban film.  You’d be surprised how frustrating it was to find a picture from the films that was large enough and showed a few people in various states of dress.

Here we have an open black robe with a lining of the color appropriate to the student’s house (maroon for Gryffindor, yellow for Hufflepuff, blue for Ravenclaw, and green for Slytherin) and the house’s insignia over the left breast.   Being that this robe is open we can’t expect the students to be wearing nothing but underwear underneath.  So they sport pretty typical and uniform boarding-school clothing; a V-neck jumper over a white dress shirt, house-appropriate tie, and dark trousers for the boys and skirts for the girls.  This is very muggle-like, contrasting with that idea that wizards almost never dress like muggles and are in-fact very bad at it.  So with this in mind, why do I like it so much?

Clothing is very symbolic throughout the series.  Much as it does in the real world, a person’s clothes can give you an idea of their personality and thought processes.  Dumbledore, for example, wears flowing robes with cosmic and magical motifs.  This is a common trope; who hasn’t heard of powerful wizards wearing robes bedecked with stars?  Because of this, Dumbledore’s first impression is that of a powerful wizard, and his long white beard (indicative of his age, experience, and wisdom) and half-moon spectacles (glasses being a common indicator of intelligence) help complete the idea that this is a powerful man with a great mind.

Symbolism is important in books, but visual symbolism is even more important in a film.  Films are visual (and auditory) media, and directors need to use that to their advantage to tell a story.  In a film the audience can visually see what a character looks like; they don’t get to have a long or detailed description to feed their imaginations.  And in those first few seconds a viewer will formulate an opinion on a character based solely on their looks.  We do this in the real world as well; it’s just human nature.  So I like the film’s school uniforms because of how symbolic they are.  The sweaters and slacks under the robes really push this idea that we’re looking at students at a boarding school somewhere in the UK.  Sure, it’s a magical boarding school, but a boarding school it is.  A viewer picks up on this immediately.

More than that, though, is how the films handle clothing from scene to scene.  Harry and his friends wear their school robes most of the time throughout the films, which makes sense as most events take place almost entirely at Hogwarts.  Yet during the climax of almost every film they are wearing muggle clothing.  Why is this?  Remember that clothing is symbolic.  I’ll drop a collage of Harry’s dress during the climax of all the films.  Do you see the pattern?

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First; Harry must really like that light-blue shirt with the black collar.  But there’s another pattern; just about any time Harry is violating wizarding rules or going against wizarding society he wears muggle clothing.  During these moments he is stepping outside the bounds of wizarding society, and as such does not wear the dress that would associate him with it.  The books contain this symbolism as well; Harry puts on his wizarding robes on the train to Hogwarts before every school year, the train and clothing acting as a marker of his transition from one world (that of muggles) to the other (that of wizards).  But the movies take it further.  In Philosopher’s Stone (PS) he, Hermione, and Ron break into the third-floor corridor to find the Stone before Snape does, breaking a rule in the process.  In Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA) the trio violates curfew to visit Hagrid before Buckbeak’s execution, and then (technically) attack a teacher, free Buckbeak, and help a wanted criminal escape persecution.  Order of the Phoenix (OotP) is pretty clear and utilizes this theme a lot; Harry and the others are in defiance of Umbridge at the end of the film, then they leave school grounds, and break into the Ministry of Magic.  Muggle clothing during this entire exchange.  Even during DA meetings this pattern holds true; the DA is composed of students learning and practicing magic, and as such its members remain in their school uniforms.  But at the same time they discard their robes, the most wizardy part of their uniforms, because the DA is in defiance of Umbridge and the Ministry, and thus the wizarding world.  Even earlier in the film has Harry attending his trial in muggle clothing, and of course he was there in defiance of the Ministry who was attempting to have him charged and arrested in order to silence his claims about Voldemort’s return.  Finally, in both Deathly Hallows (DH) films the trio are wanted by the government and constantly on the run from the law.  Unsurprisingly, they are wearing muggle dress pretty much the entire time.  Keep in mind that Harry is often morally right in what he does during these moments, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is breaking rules and violating the norms of wizarding society.

Half-Blood Prince gets a bit iffy.  After all, Harry is not really violating any laws per se when he goes with Dumbledore to find the horcrux, and yet he’s wearing muggle clothing.  I argue, however, that he and Dumbledore were collectively violating expectations of the wizarding world by going to that cave.  Remember that, as described in the books, Scrimgeour visits the Burrow and essentially asks Harry to be the Ministry’s poster boy.  He wanted Harry to be seen working under them, arguing that it would make people feel better.  Harry refused, telling the Minister that he’s Dumbledore’s man through and through, and would not be helping him.  His and Dumbledore’s trip to the cave, taking matters into their own hands, is thus in defiance of the Ministry which remains the authority of the wizarding world.  And so Harry wears muggle clothing.

So what about the other two films?  In Chamber of Secrets (CoS) Harry and Ron aren’t really breaking rules when they head into the Chamber.  Sure, they’ve taken Lockhart hostage (in a way), but he was supposed to be going down anyway.  Their actions are not in any real violation of wizarding society; they rescue Ginny and kill the basilisk, and no one (besides Lucius Malfoy) has much to complain about after the fact.  They are regarded as providing a great service to the school, something they didn’t even get after saving the Philosopher’s Stone (when they blatantly broke rules to do so).  In Goblet of Fire (GoF) Harry is absolutely not trying to break rules.  And in fact, he is unwillingly pulled into the tournament and into the graveyard.  He’s thus still wearing his TriWizard champion clothing during his confrontation with Voldemort.  It’s rather muggle-looking in style, but this is still wizard-provided and wizard-appropriate clothing.  We see this clothing symbolism earlier in the film as well; Harry is wearing muggle clothes when Hagrid (against the rules of the tournament) shows Harry the dragons for the first task.

In the books Harry is often described as wearing robes during the heavy action.  This is not a bad thing, but the added complexity of Harry’s wardrobe in the films is more interesting and provides a good visual reference for the audience.  I’m not sure if it was on purpose, but I’m willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here.

 

2. The interaction between Harry, Voldemort, and the Horcruxes

We all know that Harry and Voldemort shared a disturbing link.  Part of Voldemort’s soul resided within Harry, and this had the side effect of bestowing upon Harry certain character traits of Voldemort’s (not least of all his ability to speak to snakes).  We see this connection manifest early on in the series, with Harry’s scar burning whenever Voldemort was near.  Later it hurts during Voldemort’s moments of intense emotion, and then we have Voldemort’s conscious attempts to enter Harry’s mind as the books progress.  The two share a very unique and never-before-explored relationship.

For the most part the books and films match up really well in this regard, but there are two things I want to discuss.  One is a detail about their connection, and the other is an outright alteration to the rules set forth in the books.

So first, I want to talk about this.

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This tick that Harry does is golden.  We start seeing it during OotP, as Voldemort tries to invade Harry’s mind more.  We know that Harry is frightened during this year.  He feels anger all the time, is constantly yelling at his friends, and he keeps having dark thoughts and desires to hurt Dumbledore.  This is Voldemort’s influence; the more he tries to enter Harry’s mind the more Harry feels himself slipping and so the more often we see this thing he does with his neck.  And we see Voldemort doing it first, during that hallucination Harry has at the train station (arguably he does it as early as GoF).  This may be a stupid scene to some fans; obviously Voldemort wouldn’t be standing in a muggle train station wearing a suit of all things.  But that’s exactly why that scene works, it shows what a difficult time Harry is going through and how he is slipping.  And then Harry starts doing that thing with his neck, too; while he’s alone, while in Dumbledore’s office (at which point he immediately screams at Dumbledore in anger), and during Voldemort’s attempts to possess him.  It’s a fast symbol for Voldemort’s influence over Harry.  Remember that films are visual.  An author can describe how a character feels or thinks, but a film has to show these things.

Then we get to HBP.  We haven’t seen this neck thing in a while, but we remember what it means.  Harry lightly prods the ring that Voldemort had made into a horcrux and gets flashes of snakes and Tom Riddle and Voldemort doing creepy things.  And then does the neck thing as Dumbledore explains that magic leaves traces.  I get goosebumps during that scene, I think it’s shot so well.  It cements, again, that a part of Voldemort was inside that ring, and Harry can still feel it.  It’s such a great visual reminder of what Harry is going through, and his connection to Voldemort.

The books do have something like this tick; usually Harry unconsciously reaches up to touch his scar as it pains him.  But I rather like the creepy, almost animal-like gesture used in the films.

And this brings me to my second point, this one about horcruxes.  Here are two facts about horcruxes as presented by the books.  First, a person cannot feel when their horcrux is destroyed (or at least that Voldemort can’t, because his soul is too damaged).  Second, that a horcrux is not marked by anything and appears entirely benign and ordinary (no dark whispers or being icy cold to the touch, or anything like that).  In the books the trio knows about the diary, locket, ring, cup, and snake when they start DH, later discovering the diadem only after speaking with Luna (though they were pretty certain it would be something of Ravenclaw’s beforehand).  Voldemort, being unable to feel the destruction of his horcruxes, realizes the trio is attempting to find them after the Gringotts break-in, and his thoughts about where they are all hidden is what tells Harry that the final horcrux must be at Hogwarts.  Harry realizes after getting to the Ravenclaw common room that the diadem he spotted two years earlier in the Room of Requirement must be the horcrux.

The film turns all of this on its head, but in a way that I think ends up as a net positive for the story.  First let’s talk about point two; that horcruxes are benign and unmarked.  In the films Harry never sees the diadem in his fifth year, meaning there’s no way for him to remember it later.  There is also no mention of the cup or Nagini during the Order of the Phoenix, while in the book Dumbledore mentions the cup and also suggests that Nagini is a horcrux as well.  So how do the trio figure out what the horcruxes are?

That scene with the ring establishes the logic!  There is a fragment of Voldemort’s soul inside Harry, and it’s already been established that through this link he can literally sense Voldemort’s presence.  If Harry is connected to the “main” soul then why would he not have some connection to the other bits of Voldemort’s soul?  Why wouldn’t he be able to sense them in some way?  And in the films we see Harry does have a bit of a sixth sense about the horcruxes.  Nothing insane; he can’t zero in on them like the Force from miles away, but when left in the same room they call to each other.  Almost like the two soul fragments want to be rejoined (splitting one’s soul for a horcrux is, after all, an extremely unnatural act; the soul should remain whole).  That scene in Godric’s Hollow is great, because there are three horcruxes clumped together (Harry, Nagini disguised as Bathilda Bagshot, and the locket) and they all seem at least partially aware of each other (Nagini looks at Harry’s chest while the locket clicks and cracks).  I personally like this connection a lot; it reestablishes Harry as the one who needs to kill Voldemort because Voldemort “marked him as his equal.”  This can mean a lot of things, but why not throw in the idea that, as a vessel for Voldemort’s soul, Harry was given “powers that the Dark Lord knows not” which allowed him to sense the very things that Harry needed to destroy?  We know the soul makes Harry a Parselmouth, that it allows him to see into Voldemort’s head and thoughts.  And in the films, it also allows him to sense horcruxes, at least to a limited degree.  And in a way this cements Voldemort’s downfall; Harry would have had a harder time finding the cup or diadem without that sixth sense pulling him to them.  I actually think this should have been a canon feature of the books; it just makes so much sense.

Let’s go back to the first point.  In the films Voldemort starts feeling his soul fragments being destroyed, but this happens only when he has about half of his horcruxes left.  We know that Voldemort did not feel the destruction of the diary, the ring, the locket, or the cup.  It’s not until Deathly Hallows pt. 2, when the diadem is destroyed, that Voldemort starts to feel it.  With its destruction his soul has now become so damaged and so much of it has been destroyed that he can sense every bit of further damage done to it.  And Harry feels it too, coming back to that idea that he is connected to Voldemort and the rest of his horcruxes through the soul fragment within him.

Voldemort still realizes that the trio are after horcruxes because of the Gringotts break-in, but by allowing him to sense the remaining horcruxes as they die it establishes his fear for the audience.  Every time a horcrux is destroyed after that moment he (and Harry) collapse from pain, and we see Voldemort’s anger after ever one.  He becomes more dangerous, in a way, like a wounded animal.  And there’s another purpose to these reactions; they better cement the idea that the trio is actually doing something.  We, as human beings, need feedback.  We need it to function in the world; without seeing responses to the things we do we will naturally feel uncomfortable or assume something is wrong.  Press the power button on your computer and it will probably light up and/or make a sound.  That’s feedback, a response to your actions which tells you that you’ve done something; in this case that the computer has properly turned on.  Imagine what you would feel if that light didn’t come on and you didn’t hear anything from the drives.  You’d assume that the button didn’t work; that the computer did not power on.  You didn’t receive the feedback telling you that your action resulted in a reaction.  Millions of things in the world give a response when acted upon because we need those responses to feel comfortable; buttons light up or audibly click, switches have weight and satisfyingly snap into place.  I’ve heard a story that audio quality for phone calls got so good that people started to think that the calls had been dropped; the audio was too clear.  Phone companies started adding in an artificial static in the background during a call because otherwise people did not have the feedback they needed to know the call was working.

For a book, knowing that Voldemort’s horcruxes are being destroyed is enough for us to be satisfied.  We already don’t have any feedback while reading as we can’t see or hear the events going on.  Everything is being described to us, and we have to imagine the results.  So when we are told the horcrux is destroyed this is enough to satisfy our need for feedback; the book just told us it was destroyed.  But a film is different.  In a film we don’t have to imagine as much.  We can see everything happening in front of us.  As the films continued on, and we get closer and closer to the final confrontation, not including those scenes of Voldemort stumbling or reaction to the destruction of his horcruxes would have created a dissonance between the act and the ultimate result.  Seeing him react, watching him fall or hesitate and feel pain; these give a visual reference that something has been done, that Harry is succeeding in some way.  His actions have weight that are corporeal and real.  Otherwise it would begin to feel unsatisfactory.

I think these scenes add to the weight of the film and final battle.  It stresses that things are coming down to the wire and that, yes, Voldemort is actually being harmed.  We, as the audience, see Voldemort’s every reaction as his horcruxes are destroyed, and we are satisfied by that.

 

3. Hedwig’s death

Hedwig’s death in the books is one of the most tragic.  She’s stuffed into a cramped cage and killed completely by accident.  She has no chance to fight back, no chance to avoid the Killing Curse that takes her life.  As Rowling herself stressed, Hegwig represents Harry’s innocence and childhood.  She was given to him, his first legitimate birthday gift, by Hagrid during Harry’s first foray into the wizarding world.  And she was Harry’s connection to that world during the long summers at the Dursleys’.  Her death is symbolic of the loss of Harry’s innocence as he ceases being a boy and becomes a man.  With her gone he steps into the role of actively fighting against Voldemort, while in the previous books he had been reactionary more than anything.  This is handled well from a storytelling perspective and I like it.

But I can’t help but really like how the films play out.  Hedwig is allowed to fly in the film, and her last act is to defend the boy she loves and cares about.  She’s targeted when she dies, ended by the Death Eater chasing after Harry and Hagrid, and Harry watches her fall.

This may be me being far too sentimental, but I appreciated so much that Hedwig was able to go out fighting.  She had always been portrayed in the books as quite haughty and sassy; she would absolutely attack anyone who was hurting Harry.  The idea that she was killed while trapped in a cage has symbolic merit, but I think that her fighting carries as much merit and symbolism.  If we agree that Hedwig represents Harry’s childhood, then by fighting it represents that Harry, even as a child, would not go down without a fight.  Ultimately she is lost regardless.  But like Harry in the graveyard, she doesn’t go down without some measure of resolve.

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Goodbye, ol’ girl.

 

Due to the size of this post I’ve split it up into two parts.  Part 2 can be reached by clicking here.

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