Wednesday, July 29, 2009

FILM: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

On Thursday afternoon, I snuck out with a couple of colleagues for an "offsite" to see the latest Harry Potter episode. We all really enjoyed it. Of course any discussion of a Harry Potter movie centers around how faithful it was to the book. Personally, I hold no unrealistic expectations that they can render the book completely in the film version. There's just too much to fit, and I accept that things must be cut. I think they captured the essential elements: the Death Eaters and their reign of terror are on the rise, the kids are experiencing typical teenage romances, and Harry, along with Hermione and Ron, are left at the end with the huge task of finding the remaining horcruxes to kill you-know-who. I think they did a good job of surgically removing certain plot elements, like the parts about Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry, while keeping the overall story coherent and intact. Some choices in the end, however, were a bit puzzling. Could there not have been at least a bit of a fight? In the film, it seems a bit odd that the other teachers and students are nowhere to be seen, as the Death Eaters turn over a few chairs and then leave. And it was a bit odd for Harry to just quietly lurk and passively watch the final scene (in the book, he is petrified by Dumbledore, but the film omitted that). But even though the ending was anticlimactic, I think it was unavoidably so. That's just how this book ends. Unlike the previous books, where the kids break for summer, this time their future is filled with terror and uncertainty. Though the Death Eaters didn't seem to do much in the end, their triumph was that of the terrorist, a psychological blow, to put a Dark Mark in the sky over Hogwarts, eliminating the last "safe space" for the good guys. That's what this film is about is the onset of terror. The gist of this film was perfectly captured in a wordless moment where Mrs. Weasley watches with a mixture of grief and resolution as her house burns. The end of this film is just like the end of the first Lord of the Rings movie: it basically leaves off with things looking bleak, and the heroes contemplating the seemingly impossible task they must complete in order to save the world as we know it. The young actors continue to do a fine job in their roles, refining their chops as some roles get more complicated (especially Malfoy). And of course veteran oldsters (Rickman, Gambon, Smith, etc) are all brilliant. I think they did a fine job with this film, and I enjoyed it very much.

Just to add a couple personal idiosyncratic notes. First, a quibble. The Felix Felicis potion was supposed to be luminescent gold. Would that have been so hard to get right in the film? On the upside, I loved all the rugged Scottish Highlands scenery, which seemed more prominent in this film. That is magical countryside indeed.

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