Saturday, 18 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Halfway Point

I've just seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I worked a 12-hour day at work yesterday and am knackered so I shall review it thusly:

Characters:
• Jim Broadbent was brilliant. Wonderfully captured Professor Slughorn. Shines out in an excellent cameo as Kenneth Branagh did in the Chamber of Secrets.
• Alan Rickman was very good, but at times Snape still remains a bit too opaque for the audience to connect with what, if anything, he might be thinking. At least he doesn't mince so much anymore. In the first film, I kept expecting him to break into song. He was too camp for words.
• Daniel Radcliffe was a lot better in this film and he has great comic timing, but he still can't pull off the heavy stuff. Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy acted him off the screen in ever scene they had together and held his own a lot more comfortably with Michael Gambon et al at crucial points. You genuinely felt Draco's pain and confusion, though you never really, truly, felt Harry's.
• Maggie Smith, good but just seems like she's going through the motions.
• Helena Bonham Carter, beautifully demented, shame she's not in it more.
• Evanna Lynch, effortlessly weird, sadly underused.
• Rupert Grint, the best of the main three, but it's a shame he's not given more to do besides comic relief.
• Emma Watson, not nearly so annoying and over done as in previous films, though her friendship with Radcliffe's Harry feels like a more convincing one than her supposed romantic entanglement with Ron.
• Bonnie Wright can actually act now. Surprising.
• Voldemort aged six/eight. Not very scary. Doesn't act interested enough in being a wizard. Sounds like a wannabe cockney rude boy. Voldemort aged 16ish, has metamorphosed into someone who sounds like he came from Eton. Charming and intimidating.
• The annoying thing were Fred and George talk in unison the whole time is back. Shudder.


Plot: SOME SPOILERS HERE.
• They go to school. Teenagers do that teenage thing. Large parts of the book missing. Not much takes a long time to happen. Suddenly, Dumbledore discovers a possible Horcrux. They go to look for it. They come back. Bad things happen. The end.
• Random additions such as an attack on the Burrow do nothing to move the film forward. Cutting the final battle at the end makes Draco's flight seem too easy and the film just sort of tails off. It was shame not to include Dumbledore's funeral but it was pretty long as it is.
• The dialogue was at times incredibly well done but at others also incredibly clunky just to fit as much exposition in as possible. There have to be better ways.

Cinematography:
• This film looks brilliant and the whole thing is leached of colour which gives a sombre and foreboding feel to it. It's not quite black and white but it's getting there. A lot of people wear a lot of black.
• Scenes are nicely linked together, with characters, usually Draco Malfoy, appearing in interesting bits of the screen framed in an usual way, propelling us into the next bit of the film.
• The visual effects are all very smoothly done, though the Inferi in the cave scene are not very convincing and the fire seems a little overdone.

General:
• Could have done with a bit less teenage romance. It's funny and well-acted, but the film could have been shorter without it. I've been reading the book again and have come to the conclusion that it's just there to hide the fact that not much happens in this book. Harry does his sixth year at Hogwarts. The end. The book is filler and while this film tries hard not to be, there's not that much it can do to avoid it.
• It can't have escaped the film makers' notice that the particular angle at which they shoot Ron and Cormac McClaggen astride their broomsticks with handles protruding from between their legs is indecently phallic. Seriously, it's not just me.

Conclusion:
I have never been able to understand why anyone would go to see these films if they hadn't read the books. You only know that things are significant because they're so obviously signposted the whole way through and without the background knowledge some of the films big reveals, like the identity of the half-blood prince, make no sense. The plot of the films is strangely paper thin yet also trying to cram in an enormous amount of information, but it's not always the right information. The strange thin and thickness of the plot may be because the pacing is very choppy between ACTION and exposition. I enjoyed it very much and liked the ending and can't wait for the next two. But I know I only like them because I fill in all the details of the books myself. I know I only put up with the methadone of the films because the supply of heroin of new Harry Potter books has long been exhausted.

3 comments:

BamBi said...

Having seen this on Saturday, I'll throw in my opinion as a comment until I do a full review here in the near future:

- I agree that Broadbent was excellent as Slughorn. I was highly skeptical of this piece of casting when I first heard it, and I'm not the biggest Broadbent fan anyway, but he won me over and put in a sterling and believeable performance. Reminded me of Rowley Birkin from The Fast Show.

- I love Rickman as Snape too, although six films in it feels like he's going through the motions too much now. A shame seeing as this film and the fifth really could have given them a chance to flesh Snape out a lot. I think the campness comes with the territory of the role though, and Rickman hams it up no end, loving every second.

- Tom Felton > Daniel Radcliffe, in every way, apart from maybe comedy, but Draco clearly doesn't get a huge amount of funny scenes in this one.

- I felt like the film took a very long time to actually get going, and not just in terms of storyline. For the first half an hour or so the whole thing felt like it was pretending to be a Harry Potter film - it felt like all the actors were just doing the film because they had to, not because they wanted to, and the usual charm was not shining through. The dialogue in the first half an hour felt overly simple and poorly delivered in general. It did get going eventually, but this installment was certainly not one of the stronger films in the franchise.

- I agree with you on the cinematography. Despite still clearly being aimed at children/teenagers, this is the first one I remember feeling was actually made as an adult film (not that kind of adult film). I did find the "magical" elements of the film pretty underwhelming overall though.

- Not sure I agree that the book is filler. Its purpose is to build up to the final book and provide some character development. Transferred to the screen this doesn't work, seeing as the films have a tendency to remove any character development not related to Harry, and as the last book is being split into two films, the build-up this one provides for those feels somewhat awkward and unnecessary.

- Basically, the films now seem pretty much incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't read the books, and unfulfilling for anyone who hasn't read them recently. At times I felt the significance of some elements was underplayed to the point of me simply not understanding what was happening, as it's been a couple of years since I read any of the books. Consequently, I simply don't know exactly how I feel about the film. I'll still go and see the last two films though, and I have no doubt lots of others will too, so the filmmakers have nothing to worry about.

TheTelf said...

I'd be interested to know which bits of the dialogue you thought were well done, since I was fairly underwhelmed by all of it.

Was annoyed they cut the final battle too - I remember the book making the whole thing feel like a shock-attack-and-escape plan, whereas in the film it seems like only Harry is actually opposing the Death Eaters, and they can take as much time as they like creeping around the school.

Seeing each of the films convinces me more and more that it's just not possible to fit this much ... stuff... into a film. Not just in terms of events, either. Whereas a character like Dumbledore comes across as complex and troubled in the books, in the films he is only able to frown a lot and spout exposition.

I'll probably go and see the last one (or two), but it'll only be for the visual realisation of the world, rather than any sort of expectation that they'll be good films.

Hanspan said...

"I'll probably go and see the last one (or two), but it'll only be for the visual realisation of the world, rather than any sort of expectation that they'll be good films."

Ditto. And also, Alan Rickman as Snape and Tom Felton as Malfoy. And Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. Thought he was really good in Film 4. Can't remember what happened in Film 5.

I skim re-read Half Blood Prince before I went to see the film. And it still felt like filler.

As for examples of good dialogue: the scene with Snape, Narcissa and Bellatrix captured the essentials of the same scene in the book in half the time, the scene with Malfoy and Snape in the corridor about Katie Bell (incidentally I also loved the way that was shot). Contrasted with "Harry I know what you're going to ask me, but I don't know who it was." Which makes Harry look like a cold unfeeling bastard. He might have wondered how she was at least...