The Harry Potter film adaptations have had a long history of disappointing me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I was the only one of the series that I thought did its source material justice. Part II, however, can’t match that distinction. Be advised that this post contains SPOILERS for anyone who has not yet seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II or read the Potter series.
The Hollywood Epic Speech
Screenwriter Steve Kloves seems to have been imbibing a little too much Peter Jackson-Philppa Boyens-Fran Walsh Kool-Aid. Yes, fantasy films are known for climactic speeches and epic battle sequences, but one cannot give in to the temptation to give characters such speeches merely to increase an actor’s screen time or to pander to some much-lobbied-for fan expectations.
Neville Longbottom’s speech in DH Pt. II, coming after the supposed death of Harry Potter and the victory of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters, is a classic Hollywood trope. In the book, J.K. Rowling didn’t give Neville a speech; she didn’t need to, as it would have interrupted the momentum of the most climactic scenes. As she’d already paused the action twice during the series’ final battle – once for the Grey Lady’s story and again for Snape’s memories – a speech would have only frustrated the reader. Why Kloves would think that this rule shouldn’t apply to him with his cinematic viewers is beyond me.
The other, arguably more important reason that Neville’s speech never could have happened in the book is that it would have been utterly ignorant of the characters involved. The Dark Lord would never have allowed anyone to make a grandiose speech in his presence, let alone a Gryffindor student whose torture would make a splendid hat trick for Bellatrix Lestrange. Moreover, the only person the Dark Lord allows to make grandiose speeches is himself, as seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where, in true supervillain fashion, giving the grandiose speech instead of actually doing what he is speaking about – killing Harry – allows his quarry time to gather courage and ultimately escape.
“I’m going to kill you, Harry Potter. I’m going to destroy you. After tonight, no one ever again will question my power. After tonight, if they speak of you, they’ll speak only of how you begged for death, and I, being a merciful Lord, obliged.”
The Dark Lord would never have uttered the phrase, “Well, Neville, I’m sure we’d all be thrilled to hear what you have to say,”* even facetiously. He would have AK’d the kid faster than you could say ‘Cedric Diggory’. [See also: the Death Eater in the film who keeps interrupting Voldemort to offer his suggestions on attack strategies.]
No, the old Hollywood cliché of the grandiose speech in the epic fantasy movie didn’t work this time, because J.K. Rowling herself knew that it wasn’t true to either character to include one. Neville’s speech expresses sentiments that are uttered in virtually every fantasy, sports or war movie, and is even parodied in some great comedies:
“…people die every day! Friends, family. Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. He’s still with us…in here (points to chest). So’s Fred. Remus, Tonks. All of them. They didn’t die in vain! But you will – cause you’re wrong. Harry’s heart did beat for us – for all of us! -Neville Longbottom (Matt Lewis) – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
“A day may come when the courage of men fails; when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day.” -Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King
“What? ‘Over?’ Did you say, ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now. Cause when the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s GO! C’mon!” -Bluto Blutarsky (Jim Belushi) – Animal House
And if these examples aren’t enough, here’s a great compilation of 40 inspirational Hollywood speeches crammed into two minutes.
Sacrificing Details to Include Unnecessary Scenes
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 left me with many questions. Unfortunately, none of them have anything to do with what J.K. Rowling actually wrote:
Why is Harry walking into the Forbidden Forest with his wand in plain sight? Why is Slytherin House banished from the fight and treated like boils on the butt of wizardkind (which is contrary to everything Dumbledore and J.K. Rowling stood for)? Why is Neville running in from the front lines to profess his “mad” love for Luna? Why isn’t Hagrid sobbing as uncontrollably as he did when Buckbeak was sentenced to death?
Why is Harry confronting Snape? Why are the students in Dumbledore’s Army showing themselves in the Great Hall before the battle?
Why did Hogwarts change its entire architecture between films 6 and 8? Oh, right – the staircases magically change direction, so they just “magically” decided to conform to the set designer’s fresh whims.
Why isn’t Fiendfyre explained as a method of destroying Horcruxes? Oh, yes, because then we wouldn’t get completely implausible sequences where three different characters try to stab an attacking snake with another snake’s fang, presumably because basilisk fangs and Gryffindor’s sword are the only ways to destroy Horcruxes, according to Hollywood.
Why are all these important details left out? Oh yes, so we can show a scene that even J.K. Rowling found unnecessary to include – Ron and Hermione going to the Chamber of Secrets. Rowling excluded this scene as she would have also had to include a lengthy description of how the Horcrux fought against its own destruction, not to mention yet another digression from the battle raging on. Instead, we get a post-destruction reaction instead of the Horcrux fighting against being destroyed in the first place. Plus, how creepy is that to have your first kiss with your new boyfriend in Slytherin’s lair? Ew.
*paraphrased from what I remember of the film