Fine Day Sunday

in my opinion, best day of the week

“What’s a die-dum?”

Posted by finedaysunday on April 7, 2013

At some point in the recent past, I realized that I’ve gradually become less critical of films and television shows adapted from some of my favourite books, specifically when it comes to those all-too-critical moments when what I’m seeing up on the screen deviates from what’s on the page. I’d like to say that it was during the big final act of the Watchmen movie when it finally dawned on me (because boy was that a big one), but who can say for sure. The point is, while I still certainly expect to see a great deal of faithfulness in these adapted works, I’ve also become much more accepting of a few differences here and there.

The biggest example of such a change is one I embraced wholeheartedly, one that I didn’t even see coming.

The plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows centers around our heroes’ search for the last remaining fragments of Voldemort’s soul, each one housed in a prestigious magical artifact, based on what few clues Albus Dumbledore left for them. Once each piece has been properly destroyed, Voldemort himself will be rendered a mortal man and can finally be killed. These objects are known as Horcruxes and, as Hermione painstakingly explains to Harry and Ron before they begin their quest, there are precious few ways to go about destroying them. The most surefire method: basilisk venom, one of the most dangerous and magically corrosive substances known to exist.

And so they travel the world, following vague leads based on Tom Riddle’s history, their loyalties to one another are pushed to their breaking points, and before long they’re in possession of the Sword of Gryffindor. Conveniently enough, the blade is still impregnated with the venom of the basilisk Harry slew years ago in the Chamber of Secrets. They use it to destroy a Horcrux, and soon enough they’re back at Hogwarts with only a few of the soul fragments left. Here the dead basilisk proves useful yet again as the fangs from its skeleton are still intact, Harry and company having lost the sword by this point. Finally, the trio ends up in the Room of Requirement, and Harry locates Ravenclaw’s tiara (er, diadem) which they have enough evidence to believe is a Horcrux. Before they can get rid of the thing, however, in walks Draco Malfoy flanked by his two goons to stir up trouble. After a brief skirmish, a great mass of living fire erupts seemingly from nowhere and consumes the entire room. Our heroes manage to save Malfoy and one of his thugs (sorry Crabbe) and just barely escape with their lives, diadem clutched firmly in hand.

Then the dumbest thing in the book happens.

The diadem inexplicably crumbles in Harry’s hand. Mission accomplished! With not a drop of basilisk venom in sight! But how? Well, as Hermione quickly explains, that inferno they had just escaped was Fiendfyre, another substance deadly enough to destroy Horcruxes. She speculates that Crabbe must have conjured it up without knowing how to control or extinguish it. She adds that she totally knew about the stuff from the beginning, but never considered trying it because it was too dangerous.

Reaction

The fact that neither Harry nor Ron responds with an immediate “Oh, good. What with all the basilisks, centaurs, giant spiders, monstrous three-headed dogs, violent trees, dragons, soul-eating Dementors, werewolves, Death Eaters, mutant plants, merpeople, more dragons, mountain trolls, venomous snakes, boggarts, Blast-Ended Skrewts, as well as several close brushes with the Dark Lord himself we’ve had to deal with over the years, it would have really sucked to have to face something dangerous,” is a testament to the strength of their friendship.

This little revelation by Hermione takes up less than a single page, and let me tell you something folks, I was absolutely dreading seeing it play out in the movie. Great acting can gloss over a lot of awkward dialogue, but I don’t think even Emma Watson could have made this sound passable. But to my immense satisfaction, the film doesn’t even bother with it. Instead, Harry simply stabs the diadem with one of the basilisk fangs that they’ve already got with them, and Ron kicks its smouldering remains into the fire just as the door closes. It’s such a simple and obvious fix that I was, and still am, amazed that I didn’t think of it first. The Horcrux still gets destroyed, and you still get your thrilling escape sequence from a malevolent, sentient firestorm. Everybody wins. There is no reason at all for the bit about the Fiendfyre to exist.

Any time you set your story in a magical world with magical solutions to its problems, it’s understood that you have to exercise your suspension of disbelief to a certain degree. You have to accept a few instances of convenient plot insulation. I don’t mind that Harry happens to have a one-of-a-kind invisibility cloak which allows him to overhear countless meaningful conversations over the years. I don’t mind that he also happens to have a map of the castle that accurately tracks everyone’s movements at all times. I don’t mind that Order of the Phoenix introduces a room that literally conforms its size, shape, and contents according to the seeker’s whims. I don’t even mind that Half-Blood Prince retroactively adds world-changing significance to Harry’s actions at the end of Chamber of Secrets. The Fiendfyre, however, is where my suspension of disbelief can go no further, simply because it introduces a magical all-purpose solution to a problem that already had a comfortably established magical all-purpose solution readily on hand.

This is the sort of change that probably doesn’t bother many people about films adaptations, which might be because it changes a means to an end, rather than the end itself. There are plenty of examples of movies and TV shows that make numerous controversial changes to characters’ personalities and/or their relationships with one another. Sometimes its events are structured in a different order. Sometimes the entire tone of the narrative is changed. Heck, Watchmen remains to this day one of the most remarkably faithful film adaptations I’ve ever seen right up until the ending, which is still a topic of debate among fans to this very day.

It’s a very delicate balancing act in film and TV production, being faithful to the source material but still having enough freedom not to be shackled by it. Where do you draw the line? I believe that answer depends on the work being adapted, but that’s a much bigger subject for another day. For now, it’s safe to say that I’m relieved that someone working on the final Harry Potter film recognized an easy fix to a problem that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. It’s so satisfying that I’m almost willing to overlook “DID YA PUT YER NAME IN DA GOBLET OF FIYAH.” Almost.

“The in-flight movie was Juno.”

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