Saturday, July 25, 2009

Harry Potter and the Raging Hormones

I liked this recent film very much. My Potter-obsessed friends were quick to point out what the movie omitted and how it only cheapened the experience. I get excited about adaptations recisely for this reason. It's interesting to see how filmmakers trim the original narrative into something that works at the cineplex.

I'll start with the two biggest departures. The first is the climactic battle at Hogwarts. I remember a bigger battle from the books. Students equipping wands against the more powerful Death Eaters (Voldemort's minions) with Harry (Radcliffe) concentrated on Snape (Rickman). Dispensing with the skirmish, director David Yates only gives us Harry vs. Snape. I'm okay with this. The movie's already long enough (although, I can always have more) and for the sake of trimming, it's perhaps a good move.

The other omission is a little tricky as it concerns the film's subtitle, "the half-blood prince." In the book, Rowling hardly goes a chapter without mentioning it. The film hardly addresses the topic. Yes, it is introduced and the prince is revealed, but with very little in between. In the book, the young trio scavenge and research the prince to death. For a film whose title purports such a large narrative tipping point, very little is made of it.

But this is mostly a quibble and it could be because I know where the story goes. The point of this whole book is to setup the final one. In the previous books and films, Snape plays a supporting role - a teacher that Harry hates, and the feeling is mutual. We need this build up to establish the potential for Snape. Perhaps leaving many questions unanswered was a conscious decision. In the seventh novel, Snape becomes the fulcrum for the entire series. Indeed, a case could be made that he is the crucial character of the series, even more than the eponymous hero.

One final contentious point concerns the ending. It might seem abrupt. The climax occurs within an instant, not very drawn out and the film ends probably within ten minutes. Again, I am okay with this. This is the penultimate novel. Leave the audience with the greatest suspense and that means holding back as much as you can and what is commonly referred to as "getting out early." Leave the narrative as quickly as you can. Now, don't pull a TRANFORMERS 2 type ending which ends in about 5 minutes with a very tacked-on soliliquoy. HALF-BLOOD PRINCE ends where it should, leaving us just a little bit hanging.

I loved the opening shot of the movie, so perfect for how the movie ends. It begins right where ORDER OF THE PHOENIX ended. Dumbledore (Gambon) with his arm around Harry. Such a sign of things to come and where they have been. First shots that suck you in are invaluable. DARK KNIGHT's opening push in on a skyscraper was great.

Finally, the hormones! This is probably why I liked the movie so much - half of it was all teen romance! Ron and Hermione sexual tension. Harry and Ginny sexual tension. Actually, this is a kid's story, so maybe it should be "sensual" tension. This is a very dark movie, especially when you understand how far we've come. Columbus' first two films were rightfully cheery. Columbus did exactly what was needed, no complaint here. PHOENIX started the darkness and it only gets darker in 6. The hormones are a welcome distraction from the chaos.

Wrap up: everyone wants to rank the films. Well, here is my list in descending order.

4 is clunky. 1 and 2 are just what they needed to be, and I really think 2 is very well-done. I really like 2, just to give you an idea of how much I love this series cinematically. 5 was very controlled. 3 and 6 are touch and go. But 6 wins because of the hormones, and I just saw it. Like my good friend at FilmSchoolRejects, CULTURE WARRIOR, a marathon might be in my future.

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