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'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows': Do the films stand on their own?

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“The director Chris Columbus essentially made costume dramas in an effort to be really faithful to the books,” he says. As a result, he notes, “he has the inverse achievement, particularly with the second film, of making a boring movie that sucks all the life out of what is actually a really good story in the book.”

Alfonso Cuarón, a director with some very adult films on his resume, however, breathed life into the filmic world in the third installment by moving away from such scrupulous re-creationism, says Mr. Nel. Instead, the creator of the R-rated, Spanish language “Y Tu Mamá También" took the themes and emotional journeys of the "Potter" characters and re-imagined the whole world, including mussing up the obligatory robes the Hogwarts pupils don during the day and allowing them to appear in civilian outfits.

“Alfonso Cuarón created an artistic experience in the third film, even though it didn’t have all the plot elements that the first ones did,” Nel says.

New Zealand director Peter Jackson’s treatment of the J.R.R. Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) trilogy is the most frequent comparison for book-to-film creations. The award-winning blockbusters generally leave the Harry Potter films on the sidelines, both in the critical and popular imaginations. Mr. Jackson had the advantage of adapting a completed work, so the issue of what to include or leave out for later relevance didn’t trip him up.

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