Anyone who says that Harry Potter isn’t popular any more, that franchises such as Twilight have made it irrelevant or redundant, that the fad has worn off, can safely be ignored. Granted, the lack of book releases means that we haven’t had the mile-long queues outside of bookstores for the on-sale date, nor have we come across quite as much in the way of newspaper articles about it, outside of the film releases, but it’s still bubbling away. Waiting.
The recent opening of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, proved this. Journalists were nearly trampled to death as the grand opening came to resemble the Pamplona encierro, while adults young and old struggled to maintain a look of composure on camera in the face of their plain excitement. Likewise, the most recent film, The Half-Blood Prince, made $933 million in its worldwide gross box office.
These are hardly the signs of a franchise that’s dying out soon, or one that can merely be passed off as a cultural fad. Without meaning to force Twilight’s head under the water yet again, that’s the difference between the two franchises. The story of Cullen and Co is a fad, whereas the universal popularity of the Harry Potter novels implies something far more long-reaching.
Thus, the arrival of the first theatrical trailer (outside of the teaser debuted at the MTV Movie Awards earlier this year) will be greeted with much fervour. As it stands, though, I’m with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw when he says that he is experiencing “an inexorable disenchantment with this franchise settling in, a sense of familiarity and stamina-loss amounting to a crisis of Potterist faith”. That’s not to slight the books, which I still enjoy to this day, albeit with the major exception of the last book. It’s definitely to slight the films, which are becoming repetitive and dull.
Spicing up the director’s chair was a great idea with the switch from Christopher Columbus (Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber Of Secrets) to Alfonso Cuarón (The Prisoner Of Azkaban). It gave us the best film of the series to date, and it allowed a break from a style that had already become tepid and rote, two films in. Columbus did a fine job with the first film, in that he gave us everything that we expected. Who didn’t picture Maggie Smith when reading McGonagall, and who didn’t think of Diagon Alley and Hogwarts exactly as Columbus depicted them, for instance? It was solid, but my God, was it clinically sterile.
Cuarón, then, injected a Burtonesque feel of creepy quirk into the proceedings that it desperately needed. It was an adrenaline shot of personality through the heart, a downed-in-one Red Bull that suddenly made things interesting after the disappointment of The Chamber Of Secrets. Fans clamoured for Cuarón’s return, but the Mexican director yielded in favour of Mike Newell, for the mixed Goblet Of Fire. Newell’s attempt was a solid adaptation, working with a cumbersome and difficult script to give a film that was mostly solid. It lacked the worldliness of the previous films, in that it had a lot of events to get through in a very limited time, but some of the shooting choices, the score selection and the impending feeling of an approaching nightmare in terms of the tone were spot on.
Then, of course, it was David Yates’s turn. I’m far more critical about The Order Of The Phoenix than I have any reasonable right to be, partly because I’m in the minority that believe the book is the finest in the series. Where some found the novel lengthy, I found it filled out, where it was tiresome I was energised by the time spent in the world, where it was preponderous and angsty, I loved the characterisation. It was a fantastic entrepôt into the darkness of the approaching events, of the psychopathy that begins to consume Harry, of the straining of young friendships and the struggles of puberty. The film, I found, stripped most of this out. It looked very nice, don’t get me wrong, but the magic of the novel was lost. I couldn’t have been more dismayed when I heard that he would be directing the rest, Warner Bros. having decided to disband the director experiment in favour of Yates.
The Half-Blood Prince was a bit of a mess of a film. It didn’t convey the insanity of the central character so obvious in the novel. It excised the overwhelmingly obvious homosexual subtext between Potter and Malfoy’s interactions. It reduced the characters to caricatures.
As a result, I have little faith in the final films to deliver; it says something when I can’t wait for the films to be remade already, when they haven’t finished their original run yet. Although I can’t help but feel a little excited at the trailer.
And that comes back to my original point – it’s a spark that all of us who enjoyed the books and were fortunate enough to be a part of such a widespread cultural phenomenon will feel. The Potter franchise isn’t dead, it’s just finished its initial burst of energy, and is now settling into the steady pace of the marathon run.