Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter (Spoiler Alert!)

This weekend I took the family (and a family friend) to the sixth Harry Potter film, The Half-Blood Prince.

I am not a book to film purist. I recognize that scenes in books do not always translate well to the screen, and so need to be adapted. I also recognize that that storylines of hundreds of pages cannot be entirely represented in a film. So I think I'm fairly forgiving about all of those type of "mutatis mutandis" decisions that filmmakers need to make.

That said, I believe that most of the Harry Potter movies have been adapted with a tin ear, and this, the sixth, of the series was one of the tinnyist of the adaptations in the series.

First, specific critisms of the sixth movie: I still cannot believe that the final battle in the story between Voldemort's forces and the sundry forces at Hogwarts is reduced to Dumbledore's murder. The invasion of Hogwarts by the deatheaters is the culmination not only of the sixth novel itself, but of the crescendo starting at least in book four if not earlier. It is also just a great action scene. I cannot believe that it was removed in all but its entirety from the movie.

Even more inexcusable, to my mind, is the removal of Dumbledore's funeral from the screenplay. This is an -- if not the -- emotional high point in the series, and serves to let a number of characters from the previous books, as it were, pay their respects before being shuffled off stage for the final conflict between Harry and Voldemort in book seven. The merpeople, the centaurs, the exchange between Harry and Ginny, Dumbledore was worth all of the pages that Rowlings devotes to the funeral. And Dumbledore deserved better on the big screen.

More generally, this movie continued the earlier tendency to cut down the stories to the basic storyline concerning Potter and Voldemort. As far as I'm concerned, that central conflict between Potter and Voldemort is simply not that interesting -- and the reduction of Voldemort's agenda to a Wizard version of "racial purity" reveals a real lack of imagination on the part of Rowling.

To my mind what made the Potter series of interest was the rich, thick Wizarding-world backdrop that Rowling created. The school, the classes, the tertiary characters and events -- the Weasley twins almost by themselves -- those are what made the stories a good read.

For the most part, the films have increasingly minimized these elements of the stories and, consequently, have been much, much less interesting than the books, if not downright dreary at times.

In any event, I don't have a very high threshold for summer blockbusters (i.e., I'm happy to go expecting not too much and receiving not too much). But even by my traditionally low standard for summer movie fare, this Potter film wasn't very good.


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