Harry Potter on Film

My wife and I finished watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night, sort of gearing up for the release of Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

To put it mildly, we have not been very impressed with the movies thus far, and, with the assurances of people we trust that the movies have gotten better and better as the series progresses, we decided to give them another chance.

Well, it gets a mixed review, and definitely still tilting in the negative direction.

The production values have vastly improved.  The kiddie-lite version of Quidditch has been replaced by a far more robust, realistic version, for example.  The sets are far "earthier," instead of the pristine, digitized versions in the earlier films.  It was not an unenjoyable film to watch.  However, production values aside, there are problems, problems, problems... problems all day long. 

Why Rowling's masterpiece needs the incessant directorial plot tinkering is just beyond me.  Significant details are ignored, others are completely misstated, and there appears no rhyme or reason to this phenomenon at all.  Harry not being stupefied to keep him from intervening in the death of Dumbledore?  Truly bizarre.  The near-absence of the invisibility cloak, one of the Deathly Hallows, for crying out loud?  Bizarre.

Unfortunately, the cast is... well, the same.  From one perspective, it truly is an amazing cast: Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Timothy Dalton, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent?  I mean, these are the creme de la creme of the British acting scene.  Unfortunately, nearly every character (Broadbent's Slughorn and Carter's Bellatrix Lestrange are the happy exceptions) is just horribly misplayed.  Have I any feeling for Gambon's Dumbledore?  Nope.  Maggie Smith, at first blush a great Minerva McGonagall, is just far too meek.  She's supposed to terrify the students, and she is way too sweet for that.  Alan Rickman, by virtue of his birth, has a noble bearing and stature.  Wonderful, except that Severus Snape is a misfit.  A greasy, insecure, character about whom "noble bearing" would be the last thing to come to mind.  Not to mention Rickman is way too old and mumbles all of his lines.

And our most important protagonists?  Alas, they simply cannot act (With the delightful exception of Luna Lovegood).  I'm amazed at how little the director can get out of these youngsters.  The dialogue is interminably stilted.  Harry mopes around and is not generally very likable (I thought that was supposed to be relegated to Harry hitting puberty in Order of the Phoenix).  Hermione's lines at the end of Half-Blood Prince are supposed to be moving, when she tells Harry that there is no way she and Ron are going to let him fight this battle alone.  Instead, she comes across as extremely egocentric: "You don't really think you can find all those horcruxes by yourself, do you, Harry?  You need us."  That is not the tone struck in the book, where it comes across as valiant, moving, unconditional friendship.  Speaking of that scene, can anybody explain to me why Harry and Hermione are having a tender little conversation at the balcony while Ron sits fifteen feet away staring dumbly into midair, not speaking a single line?  Bizarre.  Like Hermione, Ginny Weasely is pretty, but not very good at delivering lines.  Draco Malfoy is the one instance of a child actor not "aging well," shall we say?  And, finally, in Half-Blood Prince we have the benefit of having Tom Riddle as a character.  Only the Tom Riddle who, in the books, charms all the teachers and students, in the movie is a character right out of The Omen.  Dark, brooding, demon-possessed, and just all-around ominously freaky.

So, all in all, a series that started out on truly awful footing with the utterly wretched Sorcerer's Stone is simply locked in, it appears, to its own trajectories.  That is a crying shame, and it leads me to believe that within my lifetime somebody is going to do a remake of Rowling's novels to get it right.

And let me make it clear.  Rowling's seven novels are probably the most original and ingenious fiction I have ever read, and they deserve far better treatment on the silver screen.  Thankfully, not having been a devotee of the films, I don't see the Hollywood characters when I read the novels.  The films seem to me to be akin to reducing, say, War & Peace to a 30-page comic book.  So, if you're relying on the movies to figure out what all the fuss is about over Ms. Rowling's work, do yourself a favor.  Read the books to see what the fuss is all about.  For the most part, you'll meet characters who, by the end, truly will mean something to you.

Brian Mattson