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Harry Potter and the Irritating Cliff-Hanger

The first instalment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is due out in cinemas this autumn, marking the beginning of the end for a series that has already taken $5.4 billion at the box office. Enjoyed by children and would-be children alike, it has never failed to whip up a press frenzy. To be honest, I preferred the books.

The first three books (and later, their celluloid counterparts) were released in quick succession. Great works of children’s fiction, they were fast-paced and imaginative enough for adults to enjoy also, and quickly made J K Rowling a household name both here and over the Pond. The young Harry is innocent and naïve, just discovering the wizarding world with all its wonder and eccentricity. In the early days the films were in competition with Lord of the Rings, which for me is made clear by the choice of actors. The wooden performances of Radcliffe and Grint (and to a lesser extent, Watson), could perhaps be put down to their age, but this would imply improvement later. Cheap shots from a bad actor aside, the early films were still very enjoyable.

By the fourth book, Harry is an adolescent, which unfortunately leads to lots of tantrums, brooding and slow parts in films. An accurate rendition of teen years perhaps, but dull viewing on screen. As the satirical Potter Puppet Pals series subtly hinted, this was a period of much wizard angst. Harry comes face to face with Voldemort, who is definitely scarier on paper, since his pale-skinned bald screen counterpart just looks like a computer scientist who hasn’t been out in a while.

Towards the end of the fifth book Harry grows up, if only a little, and the fifth film benefits from some great wizard fight scenes (aside: if you are an amateur filmmaker wanting to have a go at Wizard fight scenes, check out this series of tutorials from my current employer. Don’t worry, I won’t benefit from that blatant plug). The Order of the Phoenix is one of my favourite books, much of which is due to the antics of Fred and George Weasley, whose role as school troublemakers is perfectly rounded off in the book, and received a great scene on film.

Book six was excellent, with high points in the form of the horcruxes and Quidditch, enough to outweigh the irritating Professor Slughorn. Rowling does a great job varying the narrative from happy moments like the Gryffindor winning the Quidditch tournament, and darker moments such as the unfolding story of Voldemort. The film was visually stunning, with great production values, and considerably better performances from the young lead actors. The emotional finale in which Albus Dumbledore is killed was well executed according to most, with plenty of people crying in the cinema (impressive since most knew it was coming), and added to the dark feel of the film. A sense of foreboding and a great atmosphere had been built up for the final chapter.

Unfortunately, its taken rather a while to make the last film. Thanks to the Writer’s Guild strike of 2007/8, the script was delayed, leading to a longer gap then Potter fans had hoped for. However, if the book and trailers are anything to go by, we are in for a treat. I can happily admit to having read the final book more than 5 times. In fact, on the first day of release I read it twice. An effective end to the series, with appearances from all of our favourite characters. It also included an inexplicable chapter at the end, in which some of the main characters aimlessly chat, nineteen years later. Presumably some sort of printing mishap.

The seventh book doesn’t lend itself well to being split over two films. Whilst there is a clear division between the first half (in which there is a wedding, an argument, and a whole lot of moping), and the second half (reunion, insurrection and the final battle), convincing people to sit through all of the first half could be a little tricky. Every time I’ve read the book I’ve been tempted to skip the mopey chapters, which seem even longer than usual when you know of the pending action and adventure. Not that it will stop me going to the cinema on the first day in the first week to see the film.

Which brings me to the title of this post, the Irritating Cliff-Hanger. Not only will most of us know exactly how its going to end, with plenty re-reading the book just to make sure, we’ll have to sit through the boring half of the book, knowing full well its another six months to the end.

However, its worth noting there is one thing that benefits us all, whether we like Harry Potter or not: at least it will stop people talking about bloody Twilight.

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