Saturday, November 20, 2010

Number soup

It's Harry Potter time again.

I actually haven't seen the last two Potters in the theater, having lost my interest in theatrical screenings after the disappointing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In fact, I heard a brilliant summation of what's wrong with the Harry Potter movies on a podcast I listened to recently, in which one of the podcasters contended that no one can ever remember what happens in any of these movies. That is 100% true for me, at least with the last few -- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban being the notable exception of a great film within a series of mediocre ones. It should also be said that I'm a 37-year-old guy who only read the first book, so I don't know if I'm the best candidate to determine whether the events of the Harry Potter mythology have significance or not.

However, I became interested again when I saw the poster you see here, which showed up this past spring or summer in movie theaters, and chilled me to the core. I've still managed to avoid learning the ultimate fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron and Voldemort, so seeing Hogwart's in flames was an arresting visual indeed, making me think the series was finally getting serious. I suppose events that have meaning could have already occurred in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- in fact, I know of one event in particular that's a pretty big deal, because someone leaked it to me when the book came out -- but I can't say for sure because I haven't seen that yet. We'll finally be watching it this weekend in anticipation of a potential theatrical viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which will probably only transpire if I hear it's really, really good. (Don't forget, the baby elevates my standards considerably for what I will prioritize seeing in the theater.)

If you know me at all, you'll probably know that I'm not here today to discuss the Harry Potter franchise on the whole. Actually, I'm once again inspired to post about an issue of semantics.

When the last Harry Potter movie was released, I wrote about not liking the shift in the advertising philosophy, to start using acronyms to promote the movie. That movie was advertised -- not everywhere, but in a lot of places -- as HP6. The previous film had not been HP5, so calling this one HP6 seemed like not only a shift in strategy, but some kind of insult to our intelligence. I posited at the time that the racially sensitive phrase "half-blood" in the title might have had something to do with it.

I've gotten over this particular complaint to some degree, so that when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is called HP7, I'm not quite so bothered by it. At least now there's a precedent.

What does bother me is that they've chosen to advertise the last two Harry Potter movies as HP7: Part 1 and HP 7: Part 2. That's a few too many numbers for me.

You could argue -- and some people have -- that they should never have broken The Deathly Hallows up into two movies anyway, that the screenwriters needed to make decisions about what to excise in order to wrap the series up with just one movie. But since they did do it, I think you either need to market the movies as HP7 and HP8 or just by their full titles.

Let's think about it logically. By calling the previous movie HP6, you are trying to help the audience keep track of how many movies there have been. (And deemphasizing the phrase "half-blood"). You could argue that there is a too-sensitive word in the new titles as well -- what parent wants to take their kids to a movie with the word "deathly" in the title? Then again, the PG-13 rating means that younger kids should not really be seeing it anyway.

So if your goal is to make a tacit acknowledgement that the number of Harry Potter movies is getting ridiculous -- even though it was always known that there would be at least seven movies -- and to give audiences a way to start numbering them to keep track of them, calling them HP7 and HP8 would make the most sense. These acronyms are, practically speaking, divorcing the movies from their source material anyway, so why worry about whether people understand that the last two movies are adapted from the same (really long) book? The chronology of the whole series is sequential anyway, so does it really matter if audiences understand that the last two movies are "related to each other"? That there is a part 1 and a part 2? I mean, you could easily say that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is part 2 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, couldn't you?

Like many semantic arguments, this one probably gets a little circular the more you pick at it, and threatens to collapse in on itself. So, HP7: Part 1 and HP7: Part 2 it is.

One thing I will say as a positive for the people at Warner Brothers is that they really played it right on the decision not to retrofit Part 1 for 3D. They started doing it -- in fact, the original trailers advertised that both parts would be in 3D -- but they scrapped the plan when they weren't happy with the results. It might be just smart business, after seeing the lambasting that films like Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender received upon hurrying out shoddy 3D conversions. But I'd like to think that they had the best interests of the viewer at heart as well.

And I guess if they credit us with knowing the difference between good and shitty 3D, they probably also credit us with being able to deal with the number soup of HP7: Part 1 and HP7: Part 2.

In truth, probably the only people objecting to it are semantic pedants like me, looking for a blog topic on a gray Friday in November.


The Mad Hatter said...

The moment they decided to split this final film into two halves (which btw feels like a lifetime ago) I wondered about something:

Why not think of a whole new name for that final film?

Rowling titles every chapter in her books, so why consult with her on whether or not any of those chapters would make for a good title. ("The Battle of Hogwarts" has a particular sexiness, no?)

But I'm with you - '7 Part 1' sounds wickedly dumb, and for this sort of story 7.1 isn't appropriate.

What I'd give for a little bit of forethought.

Vancetastic said...


Great idea. I actually briefly thought about that in the writing of this piece, but I thought (as they probably did, too) that it would be more of a departure from the series' naming convention to name a movie after a book that did not exist, than to give it these marketing-friendly acronyms, even when they seem overly complicated. (Which should thereby make them less marketing-friendly.)

The Battle of Hogwarts would be a good one, though perhaps it is a bit too literal compared to the others, which all seem like they have a certain abstractness -- for better or for worse. (What is a "deathly hallow," anyway? Wait -- I don't want to know.)

Simon said...

The again, the series hasn't exactly been jumping through hoops to pull in new fans. Either you know it or you don't, the movies don't start with a recap or anything.

I'm glad they seperated it. Instead of condensing it all into one overstuffed film.

Vancetastic said...


Speaking of long and overstuffed (but very good) films, there's a natural tendency to compare the Harry Potter series with the Lord of the Rings series, since they are both in the fantasy realm and had their first films in the fall of 2001. (Incidentally, I'm sure it's intentional that the Harry Potter series is being wrapped up in about exactly a decade.) Would you have preferred that LOTR: Return of the King had been split in two? Even with its many false endings -- actually, the false endings could have taken up a whole movie themselves, ha ha -- I was glad to see that materialize as one 200-minute movie rather than two 100-minute movies. It's not a perfect comparison, but it's something to think about ...