Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter and the Cold-Blooded Film

Look! I can be rude like real film critics! But let's keep this casual: "Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince", the 6th of the eight-film series, didn't really do it for me. It's cool though, they've got a bunch more tries. They've split the final book into two films. I think after the first film comes out they'll announce they've split the second film into two parts, and then when part one of the second film based on the final book comes out they'll announce they've split part two of part two into two parts and so on until it's like a fractal or the virus from "I am Legend" except with increasing teen angst. I guess the head zombie in "I am Legend" was angst-driven. He really missed his zombie girlfriend. But who could blame him, she was so beautiful and translucent.

At any rate, let's talk about why the film didn't do it for me.

I remember reading this book. I remember taking it to summer camp where I ran the games program, and cracking it open whenever there was nobody looking. I was engrossed by Voldermort's backstory; the tragic tale of the orphan Tom Riddle, whose eyes I always pictured to be as green as the cover of the book. I learned the answers to questions I had been asking since seventh grade, and just as I thought all had been solved, out came the horcruxes, and the identity of the half-blood prince, and R.A.B. Who was R.A.B.? And then the coupling off. Oh, the coupling off. Harry and Ginny. Ron and Hermione. Me and Cho Chang. (In my imagination). And of course, there was Dumbledore's tragic death (just as I was beginning to recover from Sirius Black's murder at the hands of a terrifying witch who, thank god, I had yet to see in my head as the terrible Helena Bonham Carter). Yeah. I dug that book.

The magic of J.K. Rowling is in her ability to tell a story. Her pacing is fantastic, her words accessible, and her descriptions are cinematographic; they construct a scene visually in a way that forces the reader to see exactly what she sees as she writes it. No, she's not the best writer in the world. No, her books aren't cerebral or challenging or politically charged. But she told her story in a way that became as close to an addiction for me as anything I've ever read. "Half-Blood Prince" made my heart pound. Yes, okay, I cried when Dumbledore died. Come on, I dare you to say you didn't. I devoured that book and craved the final one.

The film...didn't make my heart pound. It wasn't whatever the filmic equivalent to a page-turner is. Maybe it was the pacing- it was long and slow. Maybe it was the lack of importance- it had no weight to it, almost as if it was made only to serve as a link that bound the fantastic fifth film to its final two installments. It felt like the filmmakers had to get this part of the story out of the way to make room for the conclusion(s). Clearly this film wasn't about action. The most thrilling part of the 2.5 hours was five minutes long and involved a sea of gooey underwater CG dead people. That's okay, the book didn't have a ton of action in it. What it did have was a fascinating story about the rise of Voldermort (one that's pretty essential to explain the location and importance of the seven pivitol, you know, cruxes, of the final film). This movie skimmed the surface of a mere two flashbacks. And they were the highlights of the film. Perhaps the best acting (save the brilliant Allan Rickman and Jim Broadbent) came from the two young Tom Riddles. That was interesting. That was moving. Where was the rest of that? I know the book had it.

At the end of the day, this movie did its job. It set up the ending. I just hope that director David Yates, goes back and figures out whatever he got right with the fifth film (my favorite thus far) and applies it to the final two. If he continues in the same direction as "Half-Blood Prince" we'll be left with two films that serve simply to wrap a story, and not to excite a crowd with a passionate conclusion. Mr. Yates needs to realize that removing almost all the color from a film does not make it dark and sinister. It just makes it bland.

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