24 July 2009

Thoughts On: Harry Potter And The Something Something Prince

Potter’s back, and I thought this time, Ehh, not so much.

People like to rag on Chris Columbus's first two films, but I think they're cute and fun. The children are unbearably bad actors, true, but the details of the Potter universe are laboured over, explained, and given weight. At the time, people claimed it was all a bit too much, a bit too faithful and dry, and it was. The movies were overlong. 

But now things have swung too far the other way. And the movies are still long.

People loved Prisoner Of Azkaban, but I didn't quite feel the love. Azkaban is beautifully filmed and director Cuaron is definitely the man (see Children Of Men, see it, see it, see it!). Also, the kids are a bit more tolerable. But the movie manages to have a story that feels simultaneously rushed (who are all these people?) and bloated (why wont they shut up and actually do something?). The next two movies--Woah, I'm Growing Hair Down There and Woah, Check Out How Deep My Voice Is (Also, Duck! It's A Death-Eater!)--are pretty good, but they're bloated, too. They're also heavily cherry-picked from the books and feel it. 

From the start of the series, it's been a balancing act: what to include in terms of back story versus how much audience-friendly action and demographic friendly antics to include. In The Half Blood Prince, this balancing act is FUBAR. It's not a bad picture, it has great parts in it. But the ending of the previous film, in which Voldemort (i.e. Satan, i.e. Hitler, i.e. CNN and Fox) is shown to be very much alive and gunning for, well, everybody, has been completely forgotten. There's no hint of any actual implications being felt by anyone. These folks are the most lethargic and antipathetic potential victims of mass slaughter, ever.  

They're a bit gloomy, that's all. They wish they could enjoy their hickeys more.
This movie was the ideal time for trundling out vital history.  Instead, it seems deathly, hallowly AFRAID of do so.  Not only that, but there's not a single descriptions of just what's going on in the big, bad, troll-wandering world.  Who's killing who, what's being done, where all those side characters are and what they're up to.  Maybe the kids shouldn't know all this stuff, maybe they're being protected, but WE should know it. And THEY should be asking. The fact they're not makes them seem pretty dense and self-centered. You know, even MORESO than regular teenagers.

I could write off everybody being carefree and happy in the first three films because nobody suspected that Napoleon/Stalin/Wal-Mart was even alive. In the next two films, it was bit harder to believe given that people kept, y'know, actually dying. In this latest flick , the "teens as usual" behaviour of Harry and his friends crosses the line into sociopathic self-absorption. (Yeah, yeah, I know, teenagers... but still, it's hard to buy.) 

The A story here in Half Blood Prince is how Harry and his friends are getting on with the business of being teenagers. The (thin) B story is Dumbledore's Plan to fight the bad guy. Short flashes are given of the state of things.

Exactly upside down, and so much so that I was actively annoyed. 

The A story here should be fighting the bad guy. The B story should be the state of the wizarding world. And flashes should've been worked in about how the kids are TRYING to live regular teenage lives. Not only would tiny flashes of their romantic entanglements work better in shorter form, they would've meant more in the context of being overshadowed by what is essentially a raging Wizard World War II.  

What's going on with the Weasleys? What are those evil minion up too and who exactly are the new ones? Couldn't Harry have read some passages from the Half Blood Prince's book and cued up some useful flashbacks? Couldn't Dumbledore go into more back story when talking to Harry? 

 Instead we're given a story about how hard it is to indulge in young romance (which, admittedly, JK Rowling wrote about very well) and a B story about how Dumbledore needs to look into a man's memory to learn something he (Dumbledore) already seems to know.  (This is the kind of daft plot device JK Rowling wrote two or three of into every Harry Potter book).

The ending of Half Blood Prince was problematic, too. Flat like the pancake, frankly.  In that regard, I can kinda sympathize with the filmmakers' plight.  Not only did most people know exactly what was going to happen, they also know what the deceptive truth of the incident eventually turns out to be.  This PARTLY explains why the ending to this Potter film carried zero punch.