03 August 2009

Oh, to be young again...

I must digress once again, from my rants at the political class and the commentariat and conduct a review - this time of the new Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Do not judge me too harshly - I won the tickets... and I feel I must review any worthy film that I happen to see

Broadly speaking, this was a good jaunt - probably the best in the series (for what it's worth) and there was nothing major to complain about

Now, there is little point comparing the film to the book itself - to stick too closely to a large novel such as this will just create a poor viewing experience, the minor plot points and infinite set-ups that can be created in an open book are just too unwieldy to slot into a film (even if it is two and a half hours long)

As such, I don't care if some things were dropped, or characters were switched, or even scenes were invented - it's all artistic licence, the point is to create a good film while sticking to the story

As such, director David Yates opted for the teen romance angle - and in my view this was a good idea - having realised the main objective of HP6 was to be a page-turning mystery there was little point in recreating am on-screen mystery that we all know the end to (see: Da Vinci Code) - we all know Dumbledore dies, that Snape is the Prince, that Malfoy is a death-eater, hell, we all know the end to the whole series

So instead it must be about the journey, the experience - Yates wastes no time trying to make us guess what Malfoy is up to, in the book it is a big revelation in the finale, here we are witness to his scheme right from the start and we get an excellent new angle from which to view Malfoy as he struggles throughout the film, it is one of the highlights, and it is representative of the film's successes and failures - where scenes are properly re-worked for the screen they are excellent, when they are mimics of the book they fall flat

As I said, the teenage romance angle is the thrust of the film - again this works better, focusing on the trials and tribulations of lovelorn teenagers is far more enjoyable to watch play out, and arguably they made a better stab at it than Rowling did - especially Harry and Ginny, which felt somewhat tacked on in the novel, here it is the primary plot and is worked in to most events

Also, Jim Broadbent in the Slughorn role is surprisingly well done - the character being fleshed out a bit and also sticking quite faithfully to the book made his storyline one of the highlights

But where the film falls down a bit is the other references to the book - where Slughorn is well-developed, others are cast as cameos and make the film feel jumpy and shallow - in particular I note Lupin and Tonks, reduced to almost one scene that's makes a quick reference to their relationship - there seemed little point in doing this, as there was no development and therefore little emotion can be attached when the characters die in the next installment. They should have been simply ditched, like Dobby (which again is unfortunate considering his death is one of the most moving of the series) - if they are keeping the characters in for their death at the end of the next chapter then they shouldn't bother, or should've developed them - instead I fear we'll be getting a rather redundant 'cameo death'

It is these scenes that cheapen the film for me, and they ruin the flow of a perfectly good film - the references to the book are crammed in and yet they are haphazard - some are rather deliberately placed, while others are completely trampled over - they would have done better to stick to the trampling, the fans who insist on literary references would be offended enough by the massive changes anyway, and yet we still get a reminder of the gimmickry that made the first few films so bad

It also does not help that the film has so many things to do - while placing a great deal more emphasis on the love angle there were still things that simply had to be done to keep the plot moving - namely Harry and Dumbledore's trips down memory lane, which make up a good chunk of the book - here we are subject to only two of the memories - while some shortening obviously had to be done, I felt they could have done a better job on developing Voldemort and visualising some of the more interesting memories, which is one of the most obvious points of the book

Like I say - too many things going on, the memories were essential to the plot, but were limited by the amount of space given over to character interaction, the 'new' plot as it were - this was not helped by the addition of those trivial cameos that I mentioned, as well as some extra scenes that seemed a little frivolous

Why, for example, did we need to see the Burrow burnt down? I appreciate the moment it created, as well as it being something that shocked the audience, but it seemed unnecessary in such a busy film - in seemed to be for the purpose of creating some extra action in a rather actionless plot, as though the audience can't handle half an hour without an explosion

This was at the expense of some fairly major plot devices - notably the ministry does not even exist in this film - I wonder to what extent they can drop it from the final installment(s), as it was reasonably important and the sixth book did a good job of continuing the thread of the ministry from the fifth book (where it was a major player) - they must surely make the brave decision to drop the ministry scenes from the next films or else make the film series look decidedly patchy - true the ministry was left to tick over in the book, but it was a decent, if small contribution, to the plot - to ignore it would have made the continuity in the books seem rather ropey

A worry is that this 'series' of films will barely feel like a series, the sixth and seventh books were essentially one book, with the first being mostly set up and the latter being the action - I hope that the film's producers have the foresight to marry the two as well

It is this apparent apprehension from moving away from the book that stops the film being 'very' good, they made a good stab at combing love, humour and dark mystery but it really was trying to do too much in the end

Other points that are more personal to me - I felt the Death Eaters, who were given a slightly extended role in the film, were rather flimsy - there were only four of them, and while I'm happy to give Helena Bonham Carter as much screen time as she wishes in this role, they really do nothing - their major scene at the end is taken out, making the build-up throughout the film end in rather anti-climatic fashion - as they get into the castle, then watch Dumbledore get killed, and then run away - all very pointless in my view

This books have too many characters in for film adaptations already, and there was little point adding in a barely-speaking Fenrir Greyback, yet another pointless cameo - more room could have been given to Snape or Riddle

Another point of mine, that will be rather contentious, is Gambon as Dumbledore - I don't like it, sorry but I don't - it's not that Gambon is bad, he's not, he's a great actor, but he plays the role rather differently from the book, I know I said I wasn't comparing to the book, but that's not really my problem - it's that he's different, but then goes on to spout line-for-line quotes from the book - they don't really fit with his more stern Dumbledore - he seems to dart from stern authority figure, to the wizened old softie of the book

It may well be Rowling's fault, for massively developing a character that is probably incredibly hard for an actor to reproduce, but regardless I would rather he was a softer figure, I know that's a comparison with the book so, OK - I'd rather he dropped the airier lines from the book altogether as they don't fit his portrayal - now tell me, is that even possible with such a big character? Probably not, so I'd rather he was a bit softer

But all in all, this was a reasonably good film - it's not a classic in any sense of the word, but it's enjoyable fare, certainly better than the previous entries the series and is well worth seeing

Finito, it's out of my brain

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