Harry Potter and the Story Cleft in Twain: political economy of the split

Hallows split in two

split like Dumbledore's tomb

Disclaimer: this blogger is a Harry Potter fanatic. The views expressed in this blog post do not reflect this blogger’s enjoyment of the Harry Potter series of books or films. This is not a review.

Devotees writhed with excitement when they heard the news that the final instalment of the psychotically successful Harry Potter series would be split in two. It’s any book fan’s dream to see more pages of their obsession translated to the screen, especially fans like Potter’s known to be critical of the book-to-film translation. This past weekend saw the release of the beginning of the end – Part I of The Deathly Hallows hit screens and broke franchise records conjuring up an impressive $330 million worldwide over three days, and for the most part fans have approved.

Some early reviews were less than favourable calling the film “sloth-like” and “disappointing” often referencing the studio’s decision to turn Potter’s swansong into a two-part event. And in terms of a film narrative structure, one can understand this critique. Technically, this movie is only half a story – it’s got a beginning no doubt; it’s got a middle (that long stretch of moody camp scenes); the problem is that it doesn’t really have an end. It just kind of… stops. 

The question is whether Part I should be viewed as a stand-alone film, or just a prelude to Part II. It seems as though many critics have been doing the former. But maybe that is what film criticism is about, and, well, this movie is a stand-alone film – after all, this wasn’t a double feature; this intermission is 8 months long. When both parts are on DVD and inevitable Hallows marathons ensue, then perhaps Part I can really be considered as a part. But for now, maybe those critics are right in railing the narrative structure of the film.

"accio box office!"

What about those viewers that can’t tell a Kreacher from a Dobby or a Horcrux from a Snape? Well, it’s as if they don’t matter. The assumption that every viewer has read the books is perhaps the biggest flaw of Part I. Many things happen in the film that aren’t explained or even acknowledged. Non-fans may be hopelessly lost. But Part I is not for the uninitiated – the decision to split the films was clearly an act to appease detail-obsessed Potterites… Or was it?

On the one hand it is easily understood: turning a 600+ page novel filled to the brim with plot cannot be an easy task – yet, the fifth instalment of the series, The Order of the Phoenix, managed to claim the shortest running time despite being the longest of the books. By next July we will have gotten five hours of Deathly Hallows. With Part I translating nearly 400 pages of the book to the screen, where does this leave us for Part II? With approximately 200 pages remaining. Hallows – Part II will claim the shortest source material of the entire series. So, if with Phoenix they managed to turn the biggest brick into the most streamlined flick, you’ve got to ask: why not now? Since what we have in Part I is questionable in terms of a film narrative, we should be pondering the motives of the split.

It might have benefited the on-screen story to produce a 3-hour epic instead of a 5-hour two-parter, but the decision to split likely has its motives at the box office. There is no denying the cash machine that is Harry Potter. The franchise has raked in more than five billion dollars in box office returns alone making it the most successful film series of all time. With two instalments still to complete runs at the box office, the Gringotts vaults of Harry Potter‘s crew will certainly need to make some room.

Were you excited about the decision to split the story? How do you think it turned out? Sound off below.

One thought on “Harry Potter and the Story Cleft in Twain: political economy of the split

  1. I think fan response has made it clear that doing a two part version of this was the way to go. Frankly they should have started doing this since Goblet of Fire. Sure people might find the middle part “boring” but that’s because major movie audiences can’t handle complex films. Part 1 is obviously a lead up to part 2 and the tension builds and builds and once the screen goes black… All you want is the second part to come out. A 3 hour films wouldn’t have done it justice.

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