Charles Dickens’s books have been made into movies, but the most successful adaptations, I think, are miniseries. The intricate stories and enormous casts need time to flower into the lavish gardens they are on the page. One can compress the novels, of course, but in doing so, one loses a great deal of what makes Dickens Dickens.
I think of the Harry Potter books in much the same way. Author J. K. Rowling owes much to Dickens, from her unapologetically sprawling plotlines to her numerous tellingly named characters. As with her predecessor, the charm of her writing is in the imaginative little details, the emotional beats, the vivid sketches of minor players, the immersive world she creates—exactly the sort of elements that tend to be squeezed out in film adaptations. And frankly, that’s why I’ve never had much interest in the Harry Potter movies. I’ve seen the first (I’ll never forgive director Chris Columbus for the flat, inert portrayal of the death of the unicorn, a scene that resonates with loss and foreboding in the novel) and the third (I’ll happily watch virtually any film directed by Alfonso Cuarón), but only once each. Even Cuarón’s effort disappoints me as much as it delights.
So I didn’t have any plans to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but then Sean wanted to go and I wanted to go with Sean, and here I am writing about it. I have to admit it was better than I expected—quite good in some spots—but still, ultimately, not good enough. Movies simply aren’t the best medium in this case.