Monday, July 20, 2009

Harry Potter #6 -- that was the best they could do?

The Monk and Monkette saw the HP6 movie yesterday and have a full he said/she said take -- the boss liked it, I thought it sort of sucked -- the worst one since Chris Columbus's kiddie flicks for HP1 and HP2.

Because the boss doesn't have a blog, I can have my say here.

Everyone knows the set-up: After HP5, the return of Lord Voldemort is known and irrefutable. Harry is now The Chosen One -- the wizarding world's Jesus. The best way to protect him is to keep him going to school in the exceedingly well-protected confines of Hogwarts. And as the Death Eaters perform their mischief in the wider world, and the darkness of old Snakeface begins to affect the world, Hogwarts is a safe haven. The kids go to school, become adolescents and suffer their hormonal fugue states, the professors continue their teaching . . . but all in the lee of a dark wind blowing.

The book itself is 600+ pages, but far tighter and shorter than book 5, HP and the Order of the Phoenix (800+ pages), or book 4, HP and the Goblet of Fire. Books 4 and 5 were made into far better movies.

Here is the Good, Bad and Ugly of HP6 (movie version):

The Good:

(1) Generally the kids are getting better and better as actors. Daniel Radcliffe continues to get middling reviews, but I think that's a bum rap. He's done far better as the series has progressed. Emma Watson is very good. Rupert Grint has a fine comic acting future.

(2) The reviews for Michael Gambon have been universally positive and with good reason. He plays a wistful and perhaps mildly regretful Dumbledore very well. The other old bugger of note, Jim Broadbent, is quite good too.

(3) The opening set piece with Snakeface's minions destroying the Millenium Bridge is pretty cool.

(4) The boys playing the young Tom Riddle are quite creepy, especially the teenage version.

(5) Luna Lovegood had a far larger role than in the book -- Evanna Lynch is just the perfect space case for the role and consigning her to the three lines she had in the book would have been a disappointment.

The Ugly: (we'll go out of order because the Bad may be a long list)

(1) the effects in the cave where Dumbledore and Harry fight the zombies protecting Voldemort's horcrux hiding place are weak -- too obviously effects.

(2) Helena Bonham Carter's teeth -- perfectly British, crossed with vampire.

(3) The comment by Tonks that the werewolf Lupin's agitation and irritation as the moon ascends to full are worst at the "beginning of the cycle" -- lycanthropy as the magical equivalent of the menstrual cycle. Ick.

The Bad:

First, a preliminary note. Warner Bros. pushed the release date of the movie back from Thanksgiving 2008 to mid-July 2009 to make it a summer "tent-pole" movie (supporting the company's earnings for the year). But with eight extra months to make the film better . . . the filmakers failed. There's no quality comparison between last summer's mid-July blockbuster (The Dark Knight -- an all-time great) and this mess. Specific criticisms (SPOILERS ABOUND):

(1) The Dumbledore-Harry relationship's foundations are undercooked. As compensation for avoiding Harry in book 5 (and movie 5, as the ending colloquy between them showed), Dumbledore specifically sets up a special independent study class for Harry with himself as the professor -- the life and times of Tom Riddle. This is the crux of the book and completely lost in the movie. It adds to the relationship between the two in the book, which is lost in the movie.

(2) Lost flashbacks -- there are at minimum four flashbacks of Tom Riddle and his evil foundations, only two are shown in the movie (although one isn't really about him being evil) and that's bad. The ones cut from the film show Riddle as a parricide and conniver -- making Voldy seem far more evil and adding to the dread of the book.

(3) The love-sick kids. One of the best scenes in the movie has Hermione pining for Ron and asking Harry how it feels when he sees Ginny Weasley kissing her boyfriend. As Hermione cries on Harry's shoulder, he says, "it feels like this." That's brilliant. But the ridiculous amount of screen time for Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) and Ron's love foibles is just far too much.

(4) Quidditch. Again, a bit much. HP5 had none and the movie certainly didn't suck. There were 10-15 minutes of quidditch in HP6 and it could have been cut in half.

(5) Pacing. Good gosh this was awful: bang-up opening, interesting scenes until Hogwarts, dreary, choppy, slow, inconsistent thereafter. The two final action sequences come completely out of the blue.

(6) The finale. This was botched twice over. First, one key aspect of the battle in the cave is that Harry must get himself and Dumbledore back to Hogwarts (and I think he took Dumbledore over the latter's objections) by apparating (Rowling's equivalent of teleporting). Harry had never done any such task -- he could only do so over short distances by himself. Now he shows his courage and dedication by performing such magic over a long distance to save his professor's life -- that was completely lost in the movie both emotionally and functionally (couldn't even tell Harry performed the magic).

Second, Dumbledore's death. This was a complete failure to mark the scene. Usually in large productions the movie handles such a scene as well as the book (see, Gandalf v. Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring). Not here. In the book, Dumbledore paralyzed Harry during the Draco-Dumbledore confrontation and Harry was hidden under his invisibility cloak. It is not believeable that Harry would just stay silent and hide when Dumbledore is in trouble, but that's what happened in the movie.

Third, the attack on Hogwarts is completely botched. This was a huge battle and action scene in the book; in the movie, the scene plays like the art museum defacing by the Joker in the original Batman movie -- a band of ne'er-do-wells committing mere mischief. But Hogwarts is the bastion of "good wizards" and the attack is a challenge to the peace and prosperity for which it stands. Good luck discerning that in the movie.

(7) The Half Blood Prince. This is one of the weaker mysteries in the series and a bit of a dud, but ultimately makes some sense. In the movie, it's barely a footnote and the revelation is a real yawner.

David Yates has the helm for the last two movies in the series (book 7 is getting split into two films). He did well with book 5, he needs to redeem himself after this adaptation of book 6.

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