Despite the world going to Hell in a handbasket, life goes on, at least for now, so let’s do this. As you may know if you happened to see our post aptly entitled WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED yesterday, Mitchell and I are currently in the same country. Bore da to you all.
We didn’t have a plan for this post, particularly, so it’ll be even more rambling than usual for us. Our method, such as it was, was just to watch the film together while we each took notes and occasionally paused to talk about things. You’re welcome to go watch the film now to refresh your memories before reading this if you like. We’ll wait.
I’m also going to attempt to learn to use ‘read more’ tags properly because this post is going to be ridiculously long. If it doesn’t work, which it probably won’t because I suck, please scroll down to see our other recent non-HP posts if you missed them earlier.
The format for this post has changed multiple times while I tried to figure out what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. In the end we went with ‘sod it, chronological order’.
Chronologically the first big change is right at the start: there’s no opening with Vernon going about his day while bits of magic happen all around him. Instead we jump straight to Dumbledore meeting McGonagall on Privet Drive. I was undecided about whether this was a positive or a negative, but I think it makes more sense overall – I like that initial scene with Vernon, mostly, but it wouldn’t have been interesting on film because there would be no way to convey a lot of the information that’s in the book version, and opening with wizards instead is a better initial plot hook.
Dumbledore et al arriving on Privet Drive was notable for having owls actually flying by night for once (don’t get too complacent, though, they’ll be diurnal for the rest of the film), and also for there obviously being lights on in most of the houses because what is stealth. Baby Harry is far too young, he’s actually an infant rather than a toddler – we’ll see him in a flashback later looking at least a year older, which makes this error all the more apparent. Hagrid’s also acquired goggles from somewhere, which seems remarkably sensible of him. And Dumbledore’s Put-Outer thingamajig looks mostly like a butane kitchen lighter, though from some angles it also looks kind of like a gun… Maggie Smith stumbles over trying to say Muggle, which will be a theme for the entire series of films – a lot of the spells later will catch people as well.
Timeskip, and Harry wakes up on Dudley’s birthday with sawdust inexplicably falling from the ceiling of his cupboard. I wouldn’t expect that in a well-maintained house that’s been used for ten years. Dudley isn’t blond, incidentally, nor is he particularly fat, and Vernon’s padding looks very lumpy in places. They set off for the zoo, minus Piers, and we launch straight into the snake scene – it’s a shame they couldn’t manage to incorporate any flashbacks to other times Harry’s accidentally generated magic, because there’s no real indication that this is a thing that happens to him a lot but appears to be the first incident.
The Dursleys are less vilified overall (apart from one moment I’ll talk about later). I don’t believe it was deliberate, and it was almost certainly to reduce their screentime in favour of other things rather than to improve them as characters, but a lot of the worst and least in character moments and lines are cut and their appearances are less exaggerated. They’re not abusive caricatures, just ordinary unpleasant people, which improves the tone.
[I actually think I disagree with this. My impression comes mostly from the tone of voice that gets used in these scenes, but I think the way they have the Dursleys speaking makes them sound even more like horrible caricatures. The only comparison I can think to make is to “Matilda”, though it’s been ages since I’ve seen or read that so it’s hard to be sure. Regardless, in the book it’s easier to read what they’re saying and notice plausible subversive interpretations; the film doesn’t seem willing to permit multiple interpretations. Quite a few things in their speech and behaviour seem to me like they’re likely to trigger survivors of physical and emotional abuse.]
The snake is just as stupid as the book version. It’s also probably female from the size, though has a male voice. And for some reason as it escapes it moves like a sidewinder. I don’t really know how Dudley fell into the cage, either – he wasn’t leaning against the glass when it vanished, and the fence in front of the tank wasn’t the right height for him to realistically trip over. Vernon and Petunia don’t seem particularly concerned anyway, the acting here isn’t the best. [They are screaming and freaking out, but it doesn’t seem like they’re freaking out about the right things, the best I can say is that the acting is weird.]
Back home, the Hogwarts letters start arriving. (There’s apparently a deleted scene of Dudley modelling his new school uniform for his family.) Apparently the owls are playing basketball, somehow managing to fly towards the door and let go of the letters in such a way that they continue onwards and post themselves through the letterbox. Each owl then perches on the roof to wait for a response, yet somehow nobody else notices – by the end of this sequence there are dozens of them all lined up waiting. Vernon’s attempt to board up the letterbox fails when the letters pour in with enough force to shatter a sizeable plank, and he has the world’s creepiest smile when Harry sees him burning some of the letters. We also witness Harry’s fail when letters pour into the house from every orifice – they’re piling up on the floor but he insists on jumping around attempting to catch one from the air. Dudley doesn’t try to pick one up and see what all the fuss is about, either.
A lot of the business with Vernon undergoing a breakdown and the desperation to hide from Hogwarts was cut. I’m calling this a positive because it makes for a better story if we’re not meant to see Hogwarts as terrifying and borderline evil, but personally I preferred seeing how frightened Vernon and Petunia were. There’s a deleted scene where Petunia is cooking and finds Hogwarts letters concealed inside every egg she breaks and she almost cries, which would have been nice if they’d deemed it important enough to leave in the released version.
They decide to leave, and we don’t get to see a montage of their attempts to run away or of them rowing out to the random island – it just jumps to the hut on the rock. There’s no sense of panic here; they all packed nightclothes, and Petunia’s put her hair in rollers. We also don’t see Vernon buying a gun – he just produces it from thin air when Hagrid shows up, though nobody seems very nervous because the acting in this scene isn’t the best either.
Nobody in production knows how guns work. I’m reasonably sure that if a shotgun has a bent barrel, it won’t fire. [Much more likely it would explode than ‘hilariously’ putting bullet holes in the ceiling.] Hagrid is also proportionately quite a bit larger than he was in the first scene of the film, but his size changing is faithful to the book anyway.
The big reveal is marginally better verbally than the book scene, but it’s too out of nowhere story-wise. We really needed to see more weird shit happening around Harry prior to this. Also, I say ‘marginally better’ but really some of the dialogue is pretty dumb:
“Didn’t you ever wonder where your parents learnt it all?”
“Yer a wizard, Harry.”
Not the smoothest segue ever.
I really like the part of this scene with Petunia telling Harry about Lily being a witch; she sounds so bitter and hurt and angry and it was very well done, though almost certainly accidental since I imagine they were going with the book message of ‘jealous shrew’.
After assaulting Dudley, Hagrid takes Harry out into the storm, rather than waiting for morning like a sane person. Instead of changing his attack on Dudley, they elected to attempt to justify it by having Dudley steal Harry’s birthday cake, which doesn’t have the effect they wanted (at least for us) since he hasn’t been particularly demonised prior to now. We don’t see how they get to the mainland, and we’re not going to see the Dursleys again until the next film so who knows how they got back or if they ever did – meaning that the scene where Vernon tells us they’re going to have the tail removed is cut, and at one point Hagrid references giving him some ears to match it; it implies that the tail is permanent and Dudley’s just stuck with it. [I almost like this change, because it makes it clearer how remorseless and amoral Hagrid’s actions really were, but I doubt most people interpret it that way and the film keeps trying to play it for laughs. But do let’s keep in mind that book!Hagrid never had any knowledge the tail would be or had been removed either, this just makes that a bit more explicit.]
Diagon Alley is visually a lot of fun. The archway forming out of bricks behind the Leaky Cauldron looks good, and there’s lots of HEY LOOK AT THIS MAGICAL THING bits hidden in the scenery – you know this shop is magical because there’s a… fruit bat… hanging from the sign… okay sure whatever. As for the lead-in scene in the pub itself, it has some of the worst acting in the entire film, but I’m mostly okay with it because the general everyone-fanboying-over-Harry has been dramatically reduced and most of it is just in this one bad scene. [But this scene is really, really bad; I’m not sure that’s a win, on balance. I guess it does highlight just how stupid and absurd the idea of Harry being ‘famous’ is?]
Gringotts is… less fun. The goblins in the book are just short and darker skinned, more or less. In the film they’re much more obviously Jewish-stereotype caricatures, which is unfortunate. The money also looks ridiculous when you physically see it piled up – Harry’s vault would do credit to any dragon’s hoard. The fact that there’s a spotlight and some mystic smoke in there because reasons doesn’t help.
Draco’s first appearance in Madam Malkin’s is cut. So is his next scene on the train; we won’t see or hear him until they’re all at Hogwarts. As with the Dursleys, this accidentally improves his character, because these films can’t deal with villains correctly.
Ollivander is very obviously a visual nod to Willy Wonka, which I’m okay with. The wand choosing is a little too silly and slapstick, with the incorrect wands smashing up part of the store before Harry finds the one that switches on the wind machine – it triggers one of Daniel Radcliffe’s dafter facial gurns, too.
Interestingly, Ollivander is the first one to refer to Voldemort in front of Harry, though not by name. Harry doesn’t at this point know that his scar came from a bad guy or even that there was a bad guy (earlier he was told his parents got themselves blown up, with no indication that anyone else was involved) and shouldn’t have any idea what the wandmaker is talking about, but then that’s been true of the entire film – he didn’t ask enough questions in the book but he asks far fewer here.
[Despite the melodrama, I actually think they made a fantastic change in Ollivander’s dialogue. When he does refer to Voldemort, he calls him “someone we do not name” or something to that effect, it sounds much more like a thing someone would actually say than all of the You-Know-Whos and other forced euphemisms. When he later mentions ‘He who must not be named” it sounds more natural because he’s referring to something he said earlier in the conversation.]
Hagrid attempts to exposit to us about Voldemort – pronouncing the hard T; I believe it will take several films before they turn French about it, which Rowling says is the correct way. (I still mentally say the T.) [As I recall, they never stopped pronouncing the T in the films, she didn’t change her mind about that until later on Pottermore. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see, it’s been ages since I’ve seen them.] His attempt to impress us with the severity of the situation would be more successful if his dialogue contained a stronger description than ‘bad’; it was stupid in the book and it’s stupid here. That is not scary and it’s also not technically what ‘bad’ means; he’s basically calling Voldy incompetent, and at this point we’re not meant to know that. More fail dialogue:
‘Nobody lived once he decided to kill them.’
Yes, Hagrid, that is how killing works.
Then there’s a really clumsy jumpcut to Hagrid walking Harry to King’s Cross. I forgot to check whether Harry’s changed clothes or not – I always assumed that there was an implied timeskip here and that Harry went back to the Dursleys until September, but it’s easy to see this as them going directly to the station from Diagon Alley. This is allowable at this point in the film universe, since they haven’t specified yet that Harry’s birthday is in July. Hagrid then fucks off and abandons Harry to the whims of the plot, of course, and we get lots of lovely inaccurate train station shots. I’m not going to rant any more about the stupid train, I’ve done that to death now. The Weasleys are better handled here too, there’s less weird fanboy behaviour – the twins don’t seem to know who he is and Ginny, who surprisingly gets a whole two words of dialogue, doesn’t care either.
Harry casually buys literally every piece of food on the train for himself and his new friend. Even if he had enough money on him [and it really doesn’t look like he does, he pulled out a handful of coins] I don’t think they’d have let him do that, if only because I’m sure some of the other kids might want food too. Chocolate frogs are animated for some batshit reason, and we don’t get the card quoted to us. Hermione then casually shows up to embarrass the pair of them by casting Oculus Reparo on Harry’s glasses, while telling them she has of course only learned a few ‘simple‘ spells by this point. (I wish this spell was real. Also, yes, I did track spells – more on that later.) Not that we’ve seen any explanation for Harry having broken glasses, of course. Scabbers is also here, for his only appearance in this film. [There is no indication at all that he’s anything other than a normal rat (just as in the book), we just see him stealing food. I’m pretty sure PoA was already out when they made this film, so I almost expected them to throw in a nod of some kind.]
Incidentally, we never saw Harry shopping for clothing, but from Diagon Alley onwards he’s wearing new things that fit perfectly for the rest of the film. Continuity!
I have to admit the boat scene looks pretty, even if it makes no damned sense. It’s also the first appearance of the one token black kid, who is probably Dean, though in this shot it might be a different token black kid who is probably Blaise. Hard to say. Probably-Dean gets no dialogue at any point in the whole film so it doesn’t really matter. [I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be Dean, because we see him at the Gryffindor table at meals.]
On the subject of side characters, the gender ratio is far more skewed. Lavender and Parvati do not exist. Nor Daphne and Millicent. None of the female Quidditch players later on are named or allowed to speak (though their names do appear in the credits). Susan Bones gets to be Sorted onscreen because the girl playing her was the director’s daughter, but aside from that Hermione is the only female student. She is certainly the only one with a speaking role.
This is the first time we ever see Draco, when McGonagall is expositing about the Sorting and he nudges his friends and grins when Slytherin is mentioned, before later that scene being snobby and telling Harry that Ron isn’t the right sort to be friends with (which is true, frankly, if for other reasons) – he also does a brief impression of James Bond when introducing himself. This scene takes place half way up a staircase rather than in a special plotdump room. At least we’re spared the forced and unnecessary panic-atmosphere over the Sorting, and the Hat’s song is also mercifully nonexistent, as is the later school song.
[The Draco scene is a bit weird, frankly. I can see why they moved it here, to link his snobbery more closely to the pending Sorting, and having him speak immediately after McGonagall makes it look almost like he’s interrupting her. But at the same time I don’t think it’s enough to make him into the bully they want him to be, nor is it nearly enough to justify Harry’s ‘not Slytherin, not Slytherin’ in the next scene.]
The kids are sorted in a completely random order. I assume they may have gone with ages, since Hermione’s first and Harry’s last, but we don’t see any of the non-main-character kids except Susan Bones anyway and she’s only there so the director’s daughter could have a cameo role. Harry’s desperate ‘not Slytherin‘ thing makes even less sense here – nobody’s told him Voldemort was in it, or that there’s anything wrong with them at all. I think something was cut somewhere, because he has even less reason to be prejudiced against them here than he does in the book and the non-reading viewers have no reason to think there’s anything wrong with them either.
We also get some shots of the staff table, featuring a lot of filler actors and actresses who will never show up in classrooms or otherwise contribute. The ghosts are pretty fun, incidentally, just casually trolling the children and being assholes – there’s no Peeves but the rest are more or less acting like him minus the violence anyway. [Sir Nicholas is played by John Cleese, which is rather indicative really.]
We get Seamus’ backstory, such as it is, though he hasn’t actually been named yet. None of the other children contribute to the conversation, and none of them are named either. Neville has been vaguely named by default, since Hermione mentioned he’d lost his toad earlier and he has now found said toad, but he gets no dialogue. In fact, Neville’s presence in the whole story has been drastically cut. Presumably in this instance it was so Harry could continue to be special by being the only abuse victim.
Lessons. Well, lesson. Well, gratuitous Animagus transformation sequence, at least. It looks cool, I’m not going to bitch too much. Sudden cut to the Potions lesson, which isn’t well done – it takes a moment to realise it’s a different classroom, and by then Alan Rickman is making a speech and nobody’s watching the scenery anyway. Changing Harry’s behaviour to have him attempting to take notes could have been a good choice, theoretically, but here just makes him look stupid because a) that’s not how you do it and b) there was nothing there to note down. Hope you all enjoyed these scenes, though, because it’s almost the last lesson we’re going to see until the next film.
I’m undecided about whether film!Snape comes off better or worse than book!Snape. Obviously better because Alan Rickman, but from a story point of view you could argue either way. He’s far less of a villain for most of it – some of the more forced Harry-eavesdropping scenes were cut, and his opening Potions lesson is shorter and doesn’t end in him taking points (there is a deleted scene of the full version, in which he does take points). I’m not sure if this is positive, since it makes it hard to tell why he’s the villain in the first place – the children literally suspect him with no reason, since there’s been nothing onscreen to indicate that he’s untrustworthy until the first Quidditch match (though overall they’re generally less rabid about him being TEH WORSTEST VILLAIN EVAR, particularly Harry). The second match where he stands in as the referee was also cut, as was a lot of the exposition and backstory about his motivations later on.
There’s a pointless invented scene of Seamus – finally given a name – apparently attempting to Transfigure water into rum. I don’t know why rum; I can’t think it’s because they thought whisky would be racist stereotyping given how hard they’ve tried to make the Irish kid look stupid. Seamus is also a halfblood, and much like Ron’s earlier attempt to turn Scabbers yellow he ought to know that spells are not four-line doggerel poems. For reference, we couldn’t fully hear the spell he tries but it was something like this:
“Eye of rabbit, (something thumb?), turn this water into rum.”
The flying lesson starts well enough, though what they did to Neville turns into pure slapstick and also takes far too long. If they’d avoided devoting so much time to the CGI they could have included one of the later scenes that got cut. The Remembrall is also huge compared to the book. Harry catching the thing is more visible to McGonagall than the book version [it happens outside her office window and she just looks up and sees him; we thought that was an improvement], but that doesn’t explain how she teleports outside to shout at him. Also when she fetches Oliver Wood from class we see Quirrell holding an iguana for some reason.
Speaking of Oliver, not only does the character have a vague innuendo for his name, but the actor is named Sean Biggerstaff. I am so sorry, dude.
More Quidditch talk, and Hermione drags the boys to the trophy room to show them a trophy we could not figure out. It’s presumably the Quidditch cup, but I don’t imagine Hogwarts keeps multiple cups – I assumed they’d just update the names. We don’t see the whole trophy, but three of the shields have names and dates – the one we’re meant to focus on says James Potter, Seeker, 197X (we can’t tell if the final number is a 2 or a 0) and is the only one to specify the position the person played. One of the other shields says R J H King, 1969, and is of no interest, but the last one? We were watching on a physical TV so I don’t have a screengrab, but it says M G McGonagall, 1971. Theories, anyone? We were at a loss. McGonagall has no family, it’s not that common a surname, and although we know she was on the Quidditch team when she was a student the date is several decades out.
[In some kind of alternate universe where either McGonagall is much younger, or a different teacher were the one to see Harry and put him onto the quidditch team – maybe Hooch? – we thought it could have been a nice touch for that person to have been a teammate of James’, as that would have given them an understandable, if not laudable, motivation for bending the rules to get Harry on. I suppose the other option could have been if the teams had staff coaches, and McGonagall had coached James previously; that could also explain her name on the trophy, if it were more sensibly designed. That’s the best I’ve got: there could have been ways to make this work, but they utterly failed.]
The Trio work much better for the whole film, incidentally; it’s easier to believe they’re actually friends. Hermione hangs around with them right from the start and they all seem like nicer people. Most of the time, anyway.
The scene with Fluffy is fairly clumsy. It implies that the entire third floor is out of bounds, which honestly I quite like since that’s a decent amount of space for an animal that large, but the dog’s still only shut in one room. There are also magic motion-sensing torches, because reasons. And there’s no Neville, because I assume they wanted the symmetry of three children’s heads and three dog’s heads or something. He simply doesn’t get to be in most of the plot, which I’m sad about because as our book posts showed he’s really awesome. It’s not about not wanting to confuse new watchers, because other children get more screentime that wasn’t needed – witness Seamus and the running gag of things exploding; also the constant presence of a token black unnamed student who we think was meant to be Dean. For some reason they just cut a lot of Neville’s scenes.
Brief exposition about how broken Quidditch is.
‘You catch this, Potter, and we win.’
‘Nobody else matters. I don’t know why I like this sport so much, I’m totally irrelevant.’
It also considerably downplays the threat of the sentient cannonballs.
This is followed by Halloween, and a Charms lesson featuring Seamus somehow managing to cause an explosion trying to levitate something. This running gag was never funny, guys. Ron insulting Hermione afterwards makes no sense in this version, since he’s been perfectly nice to her up until now rather than hating her all along.
The Halloween feast is literally 100% candy; you can feel your arteries panic just watching. Since we have no other female students, the line about Hermione crying in the bathroom is given to Neville, thus saving him from being renamed Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. And Quirrell’s dramatic entrance is still possibly one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.
The actual troll scene is a bit hit and miss. There are some things I like – Snape being visibly injured here instead of bleeding for three days until he reaches a point where Harry can witness it, and Hermione coaching Ron through a spell instead of freezing and needing rescuing (though this does beg the question of why she didn’t just do it herself, but it is Ron’s only chance to do magic this film). The troll itself is just bad, and the way it somehow swings both Harry and its club at the same time to ensure it doesn’t actually hit him is stupidly contrived. And I wish they’d altered Hermione lying to the teachers; it doesn’t need to be there because they don’t need her to do so to save them from anything and it’s just dumb. It makes even less sense here than in the book, if that’s even possible, because she doesn’t need to bribe the boys into liking her either.
Harry is given his deus ex broomstick in front of everyone with no attempt at secrecy. Nobody else gives a fuck, which is nice but also makes no sense since as we see when the match starts all the other players are using manky school brooms. This is another scene where cutting Draco accidentally makes him look like a better character – in fact, he has yet to do anything to Harry personally at all.
Marcus Flint has been given a dental prosthetic to make him look evil and ugly. I know they attempted to give Emma Watson a prop to give her buck teeth as well, but she couldn’t actually talk properly with it in, so they scrapped that idea.
The Quidditch match lasts far too long. They wanted an action scene so they filled it with stupid stunts, half of which aren’t physically possible. It gives viewers entirely too much free time to notice things – such as Hagrid’s obvious familiarity with the kids when neither Ron nor Hermione have ever met him in this version, and the way that the entire school including dozens of unnamed extra teachers all witness what happens to Harry’s broom but still absolutely nobody does anything about it except Hermione.
Harry then implausibly manages to stand up on a speeding broom, eat the flying walnut and do a forward roll to dismount before puking up said walnut again, because someone thought that was a good way to end things. About the only positive is that Hermione’s actions are far less conspicuous and it explicitly shows Snape and Quirrell both losing eye contact simultaneously. Once again, no Draco picking a fight and starting a vaguely homoerotic brawl – he’s still done nothing to class himself as an antagonist; the midnight-duel scene is also cut.
For a while we actually thought they’d made Lee Jordan female to try to balance the abysmal gender ratio, but no, he just has a more ambiguous face and voice – sorry, Luke Youngblood! In our defence you were never onscreen for more than seconds at a time and it was hard to tell.
Hagrid talks a little about Fluffy. The dog’s previous owner was Greek in the book, which both of us liked, but is here changed to Irish for literally no reason except that it’s the less clever option. [Maybe they were thinking it was more likely Hagrid would actually encounter an Irish person? That’s the best I can come up with, but it’s still stupid; Greek actually made sense.] Hagrid seems refreshingly self-aware here when he accidentally namedrops Flamel, but that will never happen again.
There’s nothing else of note except an unnecessary filler scene of Harry flying Hedwig, until Christmas, when we’re treated to a chess game that is more obvious and clumsier foreshadowing. Hermione seems to be taking the whole Flamel business more seriously than the boys, and in the movieverse looking in the Restricted Section is her idea.
[I found the chess scene noteworthy for exactly one reason, in that it showed the living stone chess pieces being literally shattered into pieces in combat. It did not in any way show if or how they might be repaired. Presumably this was done for drama; Ron’s tone of voice when explaining is certainly meant to imply it’s awesome. But it doesn’t make sense as a game, and is especially jarring when we’re meant to believe Ron is poor: how could he afford replacements?]
Harry’s somewhat distracted by receiving his present of a… very attractive… length of paisley velvet. Seriously, it’s hideous. Once he puts it on and his body vanishes, Ron brilliantly deduces that it must be an invisibility cloak; no shit, Sherlock.
Surprisingly, the Restricted Section is a tiny, tiny bit more restricted than in the book. There’s an actual door. It’s unlocked and unguarded, but it’s there. Our first introduction to the Mirror of Erised works more effectively, as well – Harry finds it more plausibly, there was none of the weird railroading to chase him to it, and they heavily downplayed the addiction (a later scene with Harry fretting over it and worrying Ron was cut).
And what Harry sees in the mirror was done well. There’s no implausible horde of random family members, just his parents, and they don’t look quite like we thought James and Lily would (though I suspect this was a casting accident) – they look older, and less like Harry, and more like something he’d imagine for himself.
The only other thing worth noting is that this is where he witnesses Snape and Quirrell melodramatically facing off, rather than implausibly wandering into the forest, therefore raising far fewer questions about their choices of meeting places. Snape seems able to sense invisible people, which isn’t really surprising – he had seven years to hone those particular instincts, after all.
[I will, however, note that they still have not really managed to do anything sensible with the dialogue in that scene. Snape asking Quirrell to ‘decide where [his] loyalties lie’ is still very odd, contrived to sound villainous, and doesn’t sound like a reasonable way to phrase what we know he actually means.]
The film is moving faster now and we rapidly tick through all the business with the mirror (Dumbledore explains things a little more, and there’s no nonsense about socks, which is nice), the Flamel reveal and the entire dragon sequence. After the time they spent on irrelevancies earlier on it seems strange, but there you go. The second Quidditch match with Snape as referee was cut – not that I want more Quidditch, but they’re doing a very poor job of making him look villainous.
Hermione’s the one to remember who Flamel is, in the end, and the rambling about the Chocolate Frog card was cut and features only in a deleted scene. She comes back from the Christmas break and brings her library book to the boys to show them the info. This makes far more sense than the book version.
Norbert was handled far better. Draco tells McGonagall the night the dragon hatches (which he witnesses personally after following the others), making him look a lot smarter and once again less malicious, and the dragon is taken away offscreen afterwards. There’s no contrived idiocy about the children trying to drag a half-grown dragon up to the top of the castle tower, or about nobody realising Ron was bitten by it, or anything else daft.
Once McGonagall takes the points off the Trio, that’s it. There’s no angsty bullshit about the entire school loathing Harry over it. I was very pleased about this because that was really stupid; there’s also less fanboying over Harry in general.
Though once again Neville gets screwed over. Ron is not an acceptable substitute.
The detention in the forest – which has consistently been referred to as the Dark Forest, not the Forbidden Forest – is just as stupid and implausible as the book, and none of the issues regarding unicorns that I ranted about previously were fixed. The scene isn’t interesting enough, I spent too much time noticing how implausibly well lit it all was – and Firenze looks utterly terrible, the CGI is pretty tragic (he’s not even palomino, and presumably there was no budget for Ronan or Bane or for Harry to get a pony ride). Once again Draco accidentally gets some good characterisation; he doesn’t prank anyone, and when he runs screaming from the mysterious unicorn-drinker he goes straight to Hagrid and gets him to come and help instead of just leaving them all to it.
Harry contributes to the fail dialogue:
“I think if he’d had the chance he might have tried to kill me tonight.”
He did have the chance, Harry. He’s had plenty of chances. Though interestingly Harry’s not insisting that this was Snape; it’s not clear who he thinks it is, actually. The film seems to be treating it as though this was Voldy already returned.
The film continues to rush hastily towards the finale. Should have cut some of the earlier filler. It does at least improve the timeline at this point, though, the Trio don’t sit around for weeks waiting for something to happen – which also means less rabid insistence that Snape is evil, which is good since we’ve barely seen him do anything remotely suspicious. Instead there’s a very short scene referencing that oh hey they had exams at some point before they try to talk to McGonagall and are told that Saint Dumbles has conveniently fucked off.
Someone remembered that Neville exists, and he gets to appear long enough to implausibly threaten to try and beat the Trio up before Hermione paralyses him. This would have made more sense had they not cut the earlier scene where Draco did the same thing to him and thus told us that the spell exists.
Fluffy’s scene is extended to make it as dramatic and stupid as possible. I’m not going to dwell on it, I’ve already commented on some things in the book posts anyway.
As for the Devil’s Snare, it should have killed them before Hermione remembered what it was – their necks were already being constricted. Also, relaxation makes no sense as the answer; why does it just pull you through itself? And it’s apparently a green plant that hates sunlight… I’ve got nothing. Though at least we’re spared Hermione’s cringe-inducing panic attack and the boys screaming orders at her and mocking her about it; all three of them are a little more competent here. It’s still a horribly stupid scene and makes no sense.
The enchanted keys are a better defence in this version, even if them attacking people makes no sense at all. Harry’s the only one with a broom and interestingly he doesn’t make the catch; Hermione does after he chases the key at her. Really, I’m questioning why Harry’s even here, more so than I did in the book. Spoiler alert, he’s still done no magic at all.
The chess scene is more or less the same as in the book, though there are conveniently already three empty places waiting for them. We’ve also had no foreshadowing that Ron’s any good at chess; all we’ve seen in the entire film is one move of one game that existed purely to tell us that it’s violent. Nonetheless, he plays along until being knocked off his horse and stunned – much more plausible than surviving being smashed over the head by a statue – and is then removed from the plot, not before time.
[There already being three missing chess pieces for the children to replace really bugs me, and forces me to think about things the writers probably would prefer if I didn’t. One potential interpretation, I guess, is that they’re missing because this setup is explicitly as a test for them, but the film doesn’t go anywhere with that. There aren’t enough missing pieces to be justified as the result of Quirrell’s having been through previously, though there are bits and pieces of wreckage lying around that seem meant to imply something like that (were there replacement pieces, but not enough?). If one side is missing three pieces, was it also like that for Quirrell? It also seems to highlight the stupidity of their plan in the book: it was Ron’s idea for them to replace pieces and “play [their] way across the room”, after which the pieces step aside, but the pieces were there, why couldn’t they just have played it like a normal chessboard? We’ve no reason to think that wouldn’t work, so Ron literally got himself injured for no reason at all.]
My biggest peeve in the entire film is that here they elected to cut the entire Potions sequence. I’m sure nobody is surprised, but it’s not just for fangirl reasons; it’s altered half the dynamic. We were told earlier that Snape was one of the teachers protecting the Stone, and this is now apparently not true. It also renders Hermione’s contribution almost nonexistent, all she’s done was hurt the plant, which could have been cut instead. Maybe they realised she’s been carrying the entire story and wanted to reduce that, but it means that later on she’s going to be awarded far too many points for what she’s actually done. It also means Harry going on alone doesn’t make sense – Ron’s not hurt, just unconscious, and the main reason Hermione couldn’t go with him in the book was that there was implausibly only enough firewalking potion for one of them. At least they cut the line where he claims he can survive against Snape, though again they’ve barely mentioned him and it’s not clear who Harry thinks he’s actually going to be facing.
The actual confrontation with Quirrellmort works better. Voldy is less melodramatic and doesn’t spend so much time telling us he sucks, Quirrell spends less time helpfully telling us everything, and the ending was much clearer – Quirrell explicitly dies, and quite nastily. Harry very clearly chases him down, grabs him and watches him disintegrate. Though the lack of the Potions puzzle (bitter, me?) means there’s no fire blocking the way out until Voldy remembers later on, so Harry could have run away at more or less any point.
Quirrell says he sees himself holding the Stone, not giving it to Voldy or using it, which means he ought to have had it given to him by deus ex powers. Oops. He doesn’t use as much magic as he did in the book either, though he has apparently gained the ability to fly because reasons.
[Quirrell wanting the stone for himself also might be an improvement; it’s not quite supported by the film, but it’s not too hard to interpret that as wanting it because it’s the only way he can survive the possession.]
Also, amusingly, the Voldy face actually has a nose.
And the following scene with Dumbledore is less objectionable as well, there’s less death-fetishisation and gaslighting ambiguity – they just cut the questions Dumbles refused to answer, and were clearer about Voldy’s inevitable respawn. It’s also clearer how little Harry cares, which is an amusing accident. Though Dumbledore does come across as somewhat senile; I’m not going to quote all his dialogue, but Mitchell summed it up as follows:
“Love leaves a mark, which is also love. Let’s move on to Bertie Botts. Also I have a theory, which is mine and is a theory.”
That’s pretty much how it goes. [I apologise for the Monty Python misquote, I can’t quite remember how that sketch goes.] They also elected to cut a lot of the Snape explanations; Quirrell told us he was saving Harry at the Quidditch match, but here Dumbledore doesn’t tell us why, which I approve of because it doesn’t imply that James was a saint and just suggests that Snape’s generally an okay human being. This makes sense, since as I’ve pointed out previously he’s not really done anything villainous all movie except threaten Quirrell and appear to attack Harry, both of which have now been explained. It does reduce his importance to the story and his characterisation, though, so his role in later films is less natural.
Hagrid doesn’t get to redeem himself, there’s no scene with him crying and expressing remorse for his stupidity. Good. The film’s also going to end with him suggesting that Harry spend the summer tormenting his cousin, rather than Harry thinking of it himself.
The feast is as painful as the book version, and makes even less sense. The Slytherins have not been villains. Draco has literally done nothing except insult Ron once, take Neville’s toy when Neville wasn’t actually there, and report that Hagrid has a dangerous pet animal. Snape has done nothing that they haven’t already explained away as him actually being a good guy except very mildly scold Harry (without even taking points) once in their first lesson. They never told us that Voldy was in Slytherin or that a lot of evil people were. The film has given us no reason to hate Slytherin and they just look upset [or comically horrified because they’re children still learning to act; why hello there, Tom Felton] when Dumbles fucks them over.
We get to see Harry presented with his photo album as our end scene, between Hagrid being an arsehole. The album makes more sense here, there are only a couple of photographs, which is more plausible. We also end on a better line from Harry:
“I’m not going home. Not really.”
How does the film stand alone, as a film? It’s not easy for us to judge, since obviously we knew the book first. Offhand the only people I know who saw the film without reading the book were my parents, who weren’t remotely interested and don’t remember ever watching it, so they’re no help. It seems to at least make some sense as a story (as much as that’s possible given the plotholes in the existing source material), unlike some of the later films, but I think it’s far more enjoyable if you’re already familiar with what’s meant to happen and most of the appeal is seeing parts acted out.
I think it’s also worth noting that the film is possibly more fun for British viewers; it seemed from our discussions that one of the reasons I like these films more than Mitchell does is that most of the adult cast are established British actors and actresses who I’m already a fan of from shows and films I grew up with. My headcanon of Molly Weasley almost certainly derives heavily from the fact that Julie Walters is fucking awesome, for example, but I don’t think she ever did much that made it outside the UK.
And the casting in general works really well to make the film enjoyable, in my opinion at least. There were a few iffy choices – more so in later films, I’m looking at you Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman (they’re both good actors but not for those characters) – but generally the matchups, in my opinion, were spot on. The children took a while to learn to act, naturally, which can be rather painful in some scenes, but overall it worked.
The major issue that would affect non book readers was that there’s no actual villain or antagonist. Harry occasionally remembers to tell us that Snape’s after the Stone, but we don’t see much evidence of that, and no evidence whatsoever that he dislikes Harry personally. We don’t get a minor enemy either since they accidentally made Draco a completely normal neutral kid. The ending is a bit confusing since you don’t really know why you’re meant to think Harry’s triumphed over something, and no really why hasn’t this young wizard done any wizardry?
And the main problems for book readers are the lack of Neville, the fact that Hagrid somehow looks even worse, and of course the lack of Snape.
Mitchell had nothing much to add here – he’s not interested in the films, really, and endured them for the sake of our coverage’s completeness. Most of this rambling was all me.
Finally I want to take a look at the revised spell count for the film (yes, I tracked it). For a start it made me realise the count from the book wasn’t entirely accurate – I started out only counting the spells the children did, so things like Hagrid’s attack on Dudley and Snape’s counter-curse at the Quidditch match weren’t counted, but then I tallied Quirrell and Dumbledore towards the end. I’ll try to get an accurate complete count for the book and for the film before we do some sort of conclusion post. In the meantime, I’ll do a film count just involving the children:
Hermione, 7. Ron, 1.
That’s it. Not only does Harry still never do a single spell, but Neville and Draco don’t get a chance to shine either. We’ve talked earlier about how heavily marginalised they were overall, but this is still ridiculous. Half the purpose of adapting the books for the screen was magic special effects, and they certainly had the budget for it, so why would they have chosen to not only not add additional magic but to remove many of the existing incidences? Particularly, why didn’t they take the opportunity to allow the protagonist of a film about magic to actually do magic? I don’t get it. Amused that Hermione continues to carry the rest of the cast single-handedly, though.
[We considered trying to include Seamus in the children’s spell count, because of the stupid running gag about making things explode, but decided not to because nothing he does works.]
So, final thoughts. I like the film, and it does handle quite a few individual things better than the book did, but I think the book still tells a better and more coherent story. Which given what a fucking mess the book is, is saying something.
Our next Harry Potter post will probably be the final one concerned with the first book. I’m not too sure what we’ll have to say yet, aside from accurate spell counts and maybe an attempted rewrite or at least rewrite suggestions, but there you go. We’re also planning to go and see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Part One of however many they can squeeze out of the dying cash cow, so there will also be some sort of post rambling about what we thought of that, but that may not be up until after Mitchell returns home since we’ll be seeing it near the end of his visit. See you when we see you.