Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Story Breakdown, Second Half

Finishing off the Potter!

Act One is here.
Act Two Part One is here.



SEQUENCE FIVE (or six, if you prefer!)

1: 14 The three kids are eating in the Great Hall before Harry’s first Quidditch match. Snape oozes by to wish Harry “good luck” in a tone that sounds more like he’s saying “I hope you crash and burn”. (RED HERRING). Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he thinks Snape let the troll loose in the school to cause a diversion so that he could get to whatever the three-headed dog is guarding on the third floor. (DETECTIVE VOICING HIS THEORY). An owl flies in and delivers Harry a coveted Nimbus 2000 broom – a gift from MacGonagall. (This is a classic mythic story element: GIFTS FROM MENTORS).

1:15 Going onto the Quidditch field. The next ten minutes of the movie are the Quidditch match, an action sequence (with some mystery clues woven in). This is a great film technique and one that’s especially useful to use around Sequence Five: an action scene keeps the story moving but allows the audience a break from thinking; they can enjoy the visceral ride without having to figure out what’s going on. The announcer kid is way too enthusiastic for my taste, but the constant commentary serves the purpose of letting us know what’s going on in the Quidditch match without making us strain our brains to follow the action.

Then toward the end of the match, Harry’s broom starts to go crazy (ATTACK ON HERO, JEOPARDY) and Hermione sees Snape muttering in the stands and assumes that Snape is cursing the broom and trying to kill Harry (of course the real culprit, Quirrell, is standing right behind Snape in the shot). Hermione runs through the stands (SUSPENSE) and uses magic to set Snape’s cloak on fire. Quirrell is knocked over in the scuffle and Harry’s broom returns to normal, but it looks like Snape is the one who has been foiled. (Continuing the theme of “Who is good and who is bad?”)

Harry snatches the golden snitch (actually, swallows it) to win the match, and enjoys a moment of triumph. 1:23

1:24 The three kids tell Hagrid that Snape cursed Harry’s broom. Hagrid doesn’t believe it for a second. In a series of Hagrid slips of the tongue, the kids learn that there is a secret way to calm the three-headed dog, “Fluffy” (but not the specifics), and that whatever Fluffy is guarding has to do with someone named “Nicholas Flammel”. CLUES, MYSTERY PLOT.

1:25 Shot of snow flying indicates another time passage.

Hermione finds the boys playing Wizard’s Chess, a violent, animated version of the game (SET UP). The boys are staying at Hogwarts over Christmas break, and Hermione charges them with getting into the restricted section of the library to research the mysterious “Nicholas Flammel” (FOLLOWING THE CLUES).

SEQUENCE SIX (or seven)

(You could just as easily say the end of Sequence five is the kids' scene with Hagrid, before the time passage.)

1:28 Christmas morning. Harry has presents from Ron’s mother (FAMILY DESIRE LINE). He also gets a cloak of invisibility with an anonymous note that says it was Harry’s father’s. Another GIFT FROM MENTOR.

1:28 Harry uses the cloak to get into the restricted section of the library. He finds the book on Nicholas Flammel and a horrible face screams at him out of the pages. Harry drops his lantern and runs, pursued by caretaker Fitch and his cat (SUSPENSE AND JEOPARDY).

Then he sees Snape fighting with and threatening Quirrell, saying: “You have to choose where your loyalties lie.” (Appearances deceive). Snape senses Harry’s presence and reaches out for him (SUSPENSE) but Harry gets away.

While he is trying to get out of the third floor (did I point out the number 3 again?) Harry comes across a chamber that is empty except for a large mirror, in which Harry is stunned to see himself with his parents.

1:33 Harry runs back to the house and wakes Ron to bring him to the mirror. Ron doesn’t see Harry or his parents in the mirror – he sees himself as Head Boy, Captain of the Quidditch team, and winning the House Cup (SET UP – Harry will use that boyish vision later when he is being threatened by Quirrell).

There is a dissolve and we see Harry sometime later, sitting cross-legged in front of the mirror, gazing wistfully into it. Dumbledore finds him and explains the Mirror – saying that it shows the deepest desires of your heart. (And Harry’s of course is his family). But there is a danger, Dumbledore warns: men have wasted away from it, even gone mad. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” So he’s going to put the mirror away somewhere else, and he asks Harry not to go looking for it.

1:36 Another lovely TIME PASSAGE: Harry lets his owl fly in a snowy landscape and the owl soars and comes back to a springtime setting.

This is also a time CHEAT that works well – because obviously months have passed, but we pick up the action right where it left off, with the next step in following the Nicholas Flammel trail. Hermione walks into the hall with a book, saying “I’m such an idiot, I’ve had the right book all along.” (Something like that!). In the book is a passage that explains that Nicholas Flammel is “the only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone”, which can make men immortal. Nicholas Flammel is the current owner of the only Stone in existence. That’s what the three kids think Fluffy is guarding under the trap door. (FOLLOWING THE CLUES, DETECTIVE VOICING HIS THEORY).

1:39 The kids go see Hagrid in his hut (at night, when leaving the house is forbidden) and tell him that they think Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. Again, Hagrid dismisses this as nonsense; he says Snape is trying to protect the stone. He lets slip that he and Dumbledore are the only ones who can get past Fluffy, anyway.

There is a commotion in the fireplace and we and the kids learn that Hagrid is hatching a baby dragon, something he’s wanted for years. He bought it off some stranger down at the pub.

As the baby dragon commences spitting up flames, the kids see Draco watching through the window, and know they’re in trouble now.

The three kids run back to the house, only to be caught by MacGonegal: Draco has tattled. The three lose fifty points each and all four are sentenced to detention; Draco is punished for leaving the house at night as well.

1:43 Fitch escorts the four out to Hagrid’s hut to serve detention. Hagrid is miserable because the dragon has been confiscated and sent to Romania. Hagrid takes the four kids out to the Dark Forest, another stunning visual, all blue and black and eerie trees. Hagrid shows them a pool of liquid silver: it’s unicorn blood. Someone is killing the unicorns of the forest and drinking their blood, and it’s their job that night to find this horrible predator.

Hagrid sends Draco off with Harry (this pairing is thematic, a reference to the good/evil dichotomy of the overall series). The two boys see a fanged, hooded figure crouched over a unicorn. Harry’s scar immediately begins to throb. Draco runs away and the hooded figure comes after Harry (NEAR-DEATH MOMENT) but a Centaur appears and chases the hooded figure away. The centaur explains that it was Voldemort drinking the unicorn’s blood – which will bring someone back from the brink of death but at the cost of being forever cursed. Now Harry and we know that Voldemort is alive and lurking, and will come after Harry. (STAKES and REVELATION)

Now, I’d say that was the climax of Act Two, but it’s a rolling climax; we get a few more revelations before the act break.

1:49 Back at Griffindore, Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he thinks Snape wants the Stone to give to Voldemort (DETECTIVE VOICING HIS THEORY). Harry is afraid Voldemort will kill him (STAKES, FEAR), but Hermione reassures him that Voldemort has always feared Dumbledore, so as long as Dumbledore is around, Harry can’t be touched. (SET UP – of course we know now that Dumbledore is about to leave the premises!)


Another time passage: we see the three kids walking out of their end of term exams. Harry sees Hagrid out by his hut and has a realization: it is all too coincidental that a stranger showed up at the pub with the exact thing that Hagrid was coveting: a dragon’s egg. Harry guesses that the stranger was trying to get information out of Hagrid.

(I have to say this revelation and clue are not handled with much finesse; for me it’s one of the few dissonant moments in the film).

The three kids run out to Hagrid and Harry questions Hagrid about the stranger who sold him the dragon’s egg, whom Hagrid says was hooded, so of course we realize this was Voldemort. Hagrid boasted to the stranger about using music to put Fluffy the dog to sleep.

The three kids now run to find Dumbledore – and MacGonagall informs them that Dumbledore is out of town on urgent business. Harry tries to explain to MacG that someone is going to try to steal the sorcerer’s stone, but MacG says that it’s under control and sends the kids back to their house.

With Dumbledore gone, Harry is vulnerable to attack by Voldemort (STAKES AND JEOPARDY).

Back at Griffindore, the kids start to talk about Snape being the one who will attempt to steal the stone, only to find him eavesdropping menacingly behind them. (RED HERRING, JEOPARDY).

When Snape moves off, Harry tells the other two kids that they will go down the trap door that night. So now we know the FINAL PLAN leading into Act Three and the final confrontation; we all know it’s going to go down when they go through the trap door.



1:53 Night. As the three kids sneak out of Griffindore, Neville tries to stop them, determined not to let them get the whole house in trouble again (an unlikely but charming GUARDIAN AT THE GATE). Hermione waves her wand and paralyzes him (IMMORAL ACTION by main characters).

The three use the invisibility cloak to sneak up to the third floor. Fluffy is sound asleep, lulled by a bewitched harp. The kids assume Snape is already inside. They have to move Fluffy’s paw off the trap door and in so doing the beast wakes up and lunges. The three kids jump down the trap to escape, and find themselves engulfed in Devil’s Snare, a strangling vine. Hermione remembers that Devil’s Snare hates the light and gets first Harry and then Ron out by using her wand to break through to sunlight.

Note that all of this is a classic set of Act Three circumstances: the three young hero/ines arre STORMING THE CASTLE, encountering a SERIES OF OBSTACLES AND TESTS, and using GIFTS given to them by mentors (the invisibility cloak, the knowledge from their classes), and their own natural talents to overcome obstacles, pass tests, and move on to each successive level.

The obstacles and tests continue as they enter the next chamber, which is swarming with flying keys. Harry must use his flying talents to catch the correct key, a large, old-fashioned one.

2:00 The next chamber is huge, and inside the three kids find a gigantic chessboard. The chess pieces are animate and prevent the kids from crossing; Ron realizes they must play the game to advance. Ron, the chess genius, plays out the game, with Harry and Hermione and himself as living pieces. To win the game, Ron sacrifices himself so that Harry can go on (“You’re the one who has to, Harry.”) Ron is felled by a Bishop, and Harry wins the game. He leaves Hermione to tend to Ron, and Hermione tells Harry he can do it.


FINAL BATTLE – and John Truby also refers to this step as “The Inmost Cave”, which is literally true in this film.

In the next chamber Harry is stunned to find not Snape, but Quirrell, standing in front of the mirror. Now Harry realizes that Snape was trying to save him with a counter spell during the Quidditch match; it was Quirrell who was trying to kill him. (REVELATION) Quirrell unwraps his turban and we see that he is two-faced (THEME) – Voldemort has been living in the back of his head as a parasite. (Don’t ask me how this works; it’s still a mystery to me). (TRUE NATURE OF OPPONENT REVEALED). Voldemort orders Quirrell to use Harry to find the stone, and Harry looks into the mirror and sees the stone in his own trouser pocket. He lies and tells Quirrell he sees himself winning the Quidditch cup (PAYOFF of the scene with Harry and Ron looking in the mirror).

Harry makes a run for it with the stone, and Quirrell conjures a ring of fire to block all exits. Voldemort tells Harry: “Join me and live”, and tempts him with what he wants most: “Together we can bring back your mother and father.” He also voices the counter-theme: “There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to use it.” These are all powerful temptations that reflect the overall themes of the series.

Harry refuses and Quirrell tries to attack Harry, but every time he makes contact with Harry another part of Quirrell’s body crumbles to powder, until he collapses.

The shadowy Voldemort flies at Harry in a rage, then flies out of the chamber. Harry collapses.

2:14 Harry wakes up in the school infirmary, surrounded by presents and flowers. Dumbledore comes to see him and explains that Harry was able to destroy Quirrell because Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save him, the ultimate act of love, and that love is in Harry’s very skin. (GIFT FROM PARENT).

2:17 Ron and Hermione are waiting outside for Harry, and the three joyfully reunite.

2:18 And then the finale is the Great Hall scene, the closing ceremonies of the school. (This is a very typical step in mythic structure: the ceremony and awards. Think of the end of The Wizard of Oz and the first Star Wars. Most movies end very quickly after the final battle but a story with mythic structure often has a long epilogue like the one we see here.). Slytherin has won the House Cup, but at the last moment Dumbledore awards a final set of points: 50 to Hermione for application of her lessons, 50 to Ron for the best chess game ever played at Hogwart’s, 60 to Harry for bravery, and 10 to Neville for having the courage to stand up to his friends.

The decorations in the hall magically change to Griffindore colors as the House Cup goes to our heroes. And the wizard and witch hats fly in the air as Draco gnashes his teeth. (DEFEAT OF SECONDARY OPPONENT).

2:21 The three kids are ready to board the train back to the ordinary world. Harry says it’s not really going home, and looks back at his real home: Hogwart’s. Harry runs to say goodbye to Hagrid, who suggests that he might keep his cousin in line by threatening magic. It’s not allowed to work magic at home, but Harry’s cousin doesn’t know that.

And the train pulls out of the magical land as Hagrid strides back toward the castle. (CLOSING IMAGE).

Upcoming events: (see here for dates)


Unknown said...

I was curious about these tags you drop in to label specific developments in Acts. Ex:

Forgive me for sounding dumb, but I recognize some tags as classic myth, but are the others your own tagging or is the tag defined somewhere else like 'Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure'. Thanks

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Allan - what a great question! Might have to repost it as a more recent blog.

I haven't ever seen anyone else use the tag: DETECTIVE VOICING HIS/HER THEORY - but it's a label my screenwriting partner and I used because it is so freaking useful, a narrative trick employed in virtually any good mystery, and used in non-mysteries, too. It keeps the audience or reader clear on what's going on, and I think it's absolutely essential for clarity. You can also mess with the audience or reader by having the detective say one thing aloud and hold something back (as in MALTESE FALCON, famously...)

STAKES AND JEOPARDY are classic terms.

STORMING THE CASTLE is a beat John Truby and Blake Snyder also talk about, possibly others.

TRUE NATURE OF OPPONENT REVEALED - I've read this beat called different things by different people. Whatever you call it, it's hugely important to keep in mind - we want that look into the abyss. This is definitely a scene to make a top ten list of examples for!

DEFEAT OF SECONDARY OPPONENT - I don't think I've seen this talked about elsewhere, but I think it's pretty obvious that you can and should clearly identify and put some thought into the defeats of each minor opponent - those are delicious moments for your reader and audience to experience vicariously along with your hero/ine/s - so why not milk each one?

GIFTS FROM MENTORS - this would be a term from Joseph Campbell, talking about mythic structure, but it's just as important or even more in fairy tale structure.

Unknown said...

Hello again,

I am trying to wrap up a few things regarding the structure of the first harry potter film:

I am trying to determine where 'The Road Back' begins. Is it the crisis in the Forbidden Forest, where the shadow(drinking unicorn blood) tried to attack harry or does it begin when the three cross the threshold(going through the trap door guarded by the 3 headed dog...Fluffy)?

Could you also point out the resurrection?(I think it's harry waking up in hospital)

You mentioned 'approach innermost cave' when harry went to confront Quirrell, but I thought 'approach inner most cave' occurs in act II before the ordeal?

'Return with elixer' is obvious(wrap up and awards for deeds)

Is there an 'Approach innermost cave' in Act II? I was wondering if that was the big clue they received about seeing the trap door, for first time, by accidentally wandering up to third floor.

Thanks for your help.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Allan - sorry, I only just saw these other questions.

And your questions really point out what to me is the danger of being too literal about the Hero's Journey steps. I simply don't agree that the "Approach to the Inmost Cave" is in Act II. Once in a while you see it there, but almost always in a modern story, the inmost cave - I think pretty obviously! - is where the final battle takes place. Unless what Vogler is saying is that most of Act II is the Approach to the Inmost Cave, in which case, okay. If you'll notice - Vogler's steps are very detailed in Act I and Act Three - but almost nonexistent in terms of that long Act II.

And "The Road Back" is another point of that Hero's Journey that is just confusing. It's a big part of a lot of myths and fairy tales - the chase back to the real world - but I can't identify many films - or books - at all which use that beat. It's in The Wizard of Oz, of course, with the whole wrap up with the Wizard after the climactic battle with the witch. And in LOTR, obviously - the journey back.

But other stories don't have it and don't suffer for not having it, either.

In Harry Potter (1), I would say the road back is the scene outside the train with Hagrid, and then the departure of the students.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Oh, and yes, the resurrection is Harry waking up in the hospital.