Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter 6: A Movie Review

Being the impatient hedonist that I am, I simply couldn't wait to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. My son agreed to brave the hoards and the lines with me, and we caught a 9:30 showing last night in a packed movie theatre.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But the experience left me with this nagging sensation that something about it didn't work for me. After sleeping on it, I think I've figured it out.

To avoid spoiling, my review is after the jump. And there will be SPOILERS, so stand warned!

First, the very good about the movie: Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. These three actors could not have been more perfectly cast than if J.K. Rowling had been staring at them the entire time she wrote the books. They've all grown so much, both physically and talent-wise. I honestly can't imagine these movies with anyone else playing Ron, Hermione and Harry.

Rupert Grint, especially, stole the show. He provided most of the belly laughs from everyone in the entire theatre. In fact, the best thing about the entire movie was the genuinely amusing moments it contained. By far this is the funniest Harry Potter movie.

Jim Broadbent did an excellent job as Professor Horace Slughorn. He played the part a bit more addled than my interpretation of the character from the book, but it worked all the same.

I have to give major props to Tom Felton. His Draco Malfoy was perhaps the most nuanced and tormented character in the movie. In fact, I'd wager it is fair to say that you almost felt more sympathy for Draco than you did for Harry. His was a boy who was tormented, who had been given a task he neither wanted to do nor felt capable of doing yet understood that not doing meant certain death for both himself and his parents. On a completely superficial level, the wardrobe they gave Draco was fantastic. He looked amazing, even in all of his white-blond evilness.

And once again, Alan Rickman proves why he is one of my favorite actors of all time. Thus far, he's played Snape mostly for laughs. This time, however, he gives the character the perfect amount of ambiguousness. Those in the know - the ones who've read the last book - will see Rickman's portrayal for what it is, the ambivalent feelings warring inside a man who has not quite been able to embrace the dark side completely due to reasons known only to himself and Dumbledore. Those who have no idea Snape's true motives will probably see him as a Bad Guy who pulled one over on Dumbledore, just as Rowling intended for him to appear at this point in the story.

Now, for my particular issue, the thing that is keeping me from raving about this movie as I thought I would.

As you would expect, the movie version of HP 6 is not a 100% faithful recreation of the book it is based on. Just as the previous five movies have diverged from their respective books, some (HP 1 and 2) less so than others (HP 4 and 5). It only makes sense that audiences will never consent to movies that last for 12 hours and thus something has to go, especially any something that might be extraneous to the main plot and/or slow the action down to a crawl or result in long blocks of exposition. This is just the way it is with book-to-movie conversions.

And thus far, I haven't been much bothered by the lost-in-translation aspect of the HP movies. I've been able to enjoy them very much as their own entities. The books are the books. The movies are the movies. They can't and don't substitute one for the other.

Sure, I've questioned how future plot points would be resolved when key elements are cut out in earlier films. For example, I'm baffled how cutting out house elves Kreecher and Dobbie won't come back to haunt screenwriter Steve Kloves come some crucial moments in HP 7. But I have faith that they'll figure out a way to make things work out in the end. And for the most part, I've understood why they've cut the things that they've chosen to cut. I never thought the whole S.P.E.W. storyline was very interesting and surely didn't miss it in the movies.

But for the first time, I felt the cuts and changes TPTB took with the movie version of HP6. And it wasn't even so much what was left out, it was how they handled what was left in.

And here comes the spoilers...

Some of my very favorite scenes in all of the HP series happened in Book 6. Specifically, Harry's relationship with Ginny - I loved the moment when Ron and Harry come across Ginny and Dean making out in a hallway, and Harry finally realizes that he has other-than-brotherly feelings for her. These feelings sneak up on him unawares, but at that moment, they erupt as a fully formed jealousy monster that pretty much smacks him right between the eyes. As a follow up, my other favorite scene is when Harry forgets all about what Ron might think about Harry hooking up with Ginny and kisses her in front of the entire Gryffindor House. It's one of those passionate moments that makes me smile every single time I read it.

So I was really looking forward to these particular scenes in the movie. Except, guess what? Neither scene made it. In fact, Harry's entire "relationship" with Ginny progressed in a completely different way throughout the movie. The Big Passionate Moment fizzled out as a teeny tiny afterthought of a sweet kiss. Harry's kiss with Cho Chang lasted longer and had more build up. I couldn't be more disappointed.

It could be a lack of chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright, as I read in one on-line review. There just aren't any sparks between these two actors, nothing that makes you long for them to be together. And the Harry/Ginny relationship build-up is presented so subtly, the matter isn't helped along at all. Because of lack of screen time in previous movies, Ginny is somewhat of a blank character, coming at you from out of the blue. At least in Book 6 you get an idea of why Harry might all of the sudden be seeing Ginny in a new light.

The other big change in the movie involved the finale. In the book, Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogwarts to find that Death Eaters have made their way onto the grounds and a fierce battle is raging between them and the few remaining members of Dumbledore's Army. Order of the Pheonix fighters arrive and help with the battle. The action is intense, the casualties painful, and the whole thing ends in a big bang with a confrontation between Harry and Snape.

The movie, however, removes the battle entirely. A tiny handful of Death Eaters meets no resistance inside the castle, and even Harry's confrontation with Snape is rather small given what it is that Harry believes Snape has just done - killed his beloved mentor in cold blood.

I'm not sure I understand the reasons for the removal of this final mini-battle. Perhaps it's because some key characters have never been introduce. Specifically, we have yet to meet Bill Weasley, who gets attacked by Fenrir Greyback in the book. (And I still haven't figured out what they will replace Bill and Fleur's wedding with in the HP 7 movies because none of it was a part of HP 6.) Maybe it was a matter of budget, although I hardly believe this.

Maybe it was a fear that a big battle might detract from the impact of Dumbledore's death.

In the end, I walked out of the movie feeling somewhat empty. I enjoyed it, but I was left wanting more. Part of the problem is that I had, literally, just finished listening to HP 6 on audio book after a long car trip, so the details of the book were fresh in my mind and therefore more glaring when they went missing in the movie. Perhaps the key is to maintain a gap between reading the books and watching the films. For HP 7, I'll declare a 6 month moratorium on the books so as to go in without any lingering expectations.

Reading through all of the "professional" reviews, I've found one or two that sum up my overall feelings about the movie. This one is especially spot-on for me. As is this one.

I'd thought to see the movie again, this time with my daughter. I'd figured that I'd love the movie so much I'd be glad for the chance to watch it a second time. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe seeing it again, knowing that it is not going to be the book put on film, will allow me to enjoy it for what it is, they way that I've always enjoyed the other movies.

What I do know is that I already can't wait until November, 2010, for the first installment of HP 7. Even disappointed, these movies - this story - is still one of the best things around. I'll miss it when it's all over.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Maybe Just a Little Bit More

I check the Entertainment Weekly online site pretty much daily because I'm trashy like that (but I don't read tabloids or People, honest). And this article caught my attention because...okay, because I'm kind of guilty for thinking it.

I admit to wishing that the Harry Potter series - Books 5-7 only - were just a tad bit more sexy.

I'm not talking about graphic, lurid details. Heck, I don't really like erotica all that much and I tend to skim long sex scenes in other romance novels because they can get kind of boring.

But I'm talking about more...romance? More focus on that buzz you get when you fall in love and discover the feelings are returned and things move forward into that very first kiss and it becomes not enough so things start to progress even farther...That feeling, so unique and perfect and elusive, is the one I'm always searching for when I read romance novels, or any book for that matter. It's my particular brand of crack, and I'm hooked on it completely. I'm always hunting a fix. Even in innocent fantasy books aimed at kids.

(Spoiler warning - spoilers after the jump)

One of my favorite scenes in the entire 7 book series is the one in which Harry, without stopping to think, marches up to Ginny Weasley and just smacks one on her. In fact, HP and The Half Blood Prince might be my favorite title in the series because I love the romance aspect of the book. Harry's awakening knowledge that he has other-than-brotherly feelings for Ginny, presented as a monster that lives inside his chest and alternates between growling with jealously over Dean and Ginny's relationship and purring when thinking about a Ginny/Harry pairing.

And while I fully appreciate that J.K. Rowling wrote the HP series for children to read, and that the focus is good versus evil and growing from child to adult, and romance between the characters resides not just in the back seat but in the back of the bus, I have to admit to wishing that this weren't so. I know that these books simply couldn't be written any other way and still appeal to younger kids the way they do (or be considered appropriate for them by their parents). But the grown up in me wishes they were a tad bit more sexy.

That Harry's feelings for Ginny were demonstrated to be more than just a burning desire to hold her hand or a warm cozy feeling when he smells her flowery scent. I'm willing to bet that 99.99999% of all heterosexual teenage boys are burning to do a whole lot more than hold hands and that their noses aren't the only body part that is strongly affected when they catch a whiff of their crush's perfume or shampoo. That monster in Harry's chest? In reality might be more accurately placed a few states southward in his pants region.

J.K. does give a tiny hint of a stab at showing us that Harry might be having some impure thoughts about Ginny.
"There isn't anyone I want to invite," mumbled Harry, who was still trying not to think about Ginny any more than he could help, despite the fact that she kept cropping up in his dreams in ways that made him devoutly thankful that Ron could not perform Legilimency.
But the closest we ever get to a suggestion that Harry and Ginny might have any sort of physical relationship is in a single sentence, is very vague, and could, in fact, be talking about them pouring over the latest issue of Mad Magazine for all the descriptive it contains:
On one such evening, when Ginny had retired to the library, and Harry was sitting beside the window in the common room, supposedly finishing his Herbology homework but in reality reliving a particularly happy hour he had spent down by the lake with Ginny at lunchtime...
For the adult me, this is the romance novel equivalent to shutting the bedroom door. I've invested time and emotion into these characters, and I've thrilled along side of them as they've found love with each other. But now I've been cut off, disallowed from seeing them in love. So not fair.

Oddly enough, this same lack of detail in Ron and Hermione's relationship doesn't bother me. Like Harry and Ginny, we get not much more than a single, spontaneous kiss between Ron and Hermione and a suggestion that maybe they'd been holding hands while sleeping side by side (in separate sleeping bags, of course). You would think given the full 7-book lead up to this particular relationship, the feelings of being cheated by any lack of expressed affection between them would be a huge let down. But it's not. Not in the least.

I chalk up my not caring so much about Ron and Hermione to the fact that my identification as a reader belongs with Harry as the third-person point of view focus of the story. Through all of these books, I've felt Harry's emotions, I've heard Harry's thoughts and watched the world move through Harry's eyes. It's his relationships that I'm most heavily invested in - I'm most disappointed to all of the sudden be cut off from living vicariously through him. Indeed, I've viewed Ron and Hermione's relationship through Harry, and as Harry, I wouldn't really want to watch my two best friends in a heavy makeout session. I'm just pleased to know that they finally realized that they are meant for each other and will now be happily together. No PDAs necessary, thank you very much.

Too, I think the Ron/Hermione pairing was, although a long time coming, inevitable. I was never a Harry/Hermione delusionist shipper. From Book 3, I've always known that Ron and Hermione had feelings for each other even though they both fought valiantly against them. The entire series was a giant display of UST, a slow dance between these two that moved forward so glacially that anything more than a kiss at the end would have thrown the pace out of whack. Their relationship had the feeling of an old time movie when, to quote the magnificent Joss Whedon's lyrics from Buffy's perfect episode "Once More With Feeling", "The curtains close on a kiss, God knows, we can tell the end is near". The main characters flirt and fight their way through two hours of screen time to finally end with a passionate kiss right before the end credits roll. That works for Ron and Hermione. Their happily ever after starts with that kiss, and there's no more story left.

Not so with Harry. Maybe because when he finally acts on his feelings for Ginny, we know there is still an entire book to go. If their kiss doesn't signal the beginning of their HEA, then we need either one of two things to happen - a) more interaction between them to demonstrate the struggles and conflict in their relationship until they reach their HEA or b) them to move on and away from each other, their relationship obviously not the Real Thing.

J.K. made option B work perfectly with Harry and Cho Chang. Harry thought he loved Cho. They experienced some angst getting together. Finally, they kissed. Beginning of their HEA? No. Because Cho wasn't Harry's One True Love. They broke up, Cho receded to the background, and Harry realized that his feelings for her had disappeared. That relationship wasn't the Real Thing. Any disappointment that Harry and Cho only shared one kiss? Not one single drop.

Option A isn't actually an option. Because of what Harry's story is - a story about his triumph over evil and his successful transition into adulthood - the conflicts don't come anywhere close to living in his relationship with Ginny. Other than his fear that his feelings for Ginny could lead to Voldemort using her as bait and thus his breaking up with her to keep her safe(r) - an action that Ginny accepts if not willingly at least only slightly begrudgingly - Harry and Ginny have no conflicts. Voldemort wanting to kill Harry notwithstanding, there is no reason Harry and Ginny can't be together. An entire book of manufactured conflict between Ginny and Harry is beyond stupid. It's a different story completely.

It is true. Harry's story is not a romance, and therefore any focus on his relationship with Ginny is not necessary. It's the dollop of whipped cream on top of the icing on top of the cake. As a series aimed at children, this is only right. Problem comes from the fact that non-children have embraced the series so completely.
We got teased, and now we're suffering a slight case of blue balls. Because some of us adults prefer not a dollop of whipped cream with our cake and icing, but a glass of really good wine. Something with a bit of kick in it.

I'm very excited to see the movie and how director David Yates handles the Harry/Ginny romance. I've heard the movie "sexes it up" a bit, but I take this with a giant pile of salt and don't expect much. If they deviate too far from the book, they will be accused of exploiting the material and risk losing hardcore fans. Too, I think the HP movie makers actually care about quality, and they aren't going to risk the integrity of their franchise just to beef up the teen girls demographic. I'm guessing they're hoping that Dan Radcliffe and Rupert Grint provide enough eye candy for that particular crowd, clothing removal not necessary.

Even so, I can see how and why this sexing-up could happen. After the staggering success of Twilight, both books and movie, TPTB in Entertainment Land are finally getting a clue that teen girls (and their moms) are a huge, money-wielding market. And teen girls (and their moms) like to swoon now and then. You want to bring them back again and again? Provide some swoon-worthy moments, à la Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart. If that means letting Harry and Ginny get a little action above and beyond what happens in the book, who's to complain?