Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rant or Rave: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I enjoyed the Harry Potter series quite a bit. I don't fully embrace them as enthusiastically as some, and exactly why Harry was such a HUUUUGGGEEE hit is still unclear to me, but they are very well written, the characters develop extremely well during the series and the general tone and character of the books got better as they went along.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, book #6, was probably my favorite of the series. I loved the gradual revealing of Voldemort's past, the interaction of Harry with Dumbledore, and the ending was absolutely riveting.

But I approached the movie version of the book with considerable reluctance. Overall, the movies had failed to live up to the books. Not that surprising, most movies fail to live up to their books, but the thing that always made the Potter movies at least pretty good representations of their written originals was the absolutely terrific casting of the movies. With one, glaring exception. When Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore in movie three after the death of Richard Harris, that casting went from just about perfect to pretty darn poor.

Gambon never fit the role in movies 3, 4 and 5, alternating between abrasive arrogance and fidgeting impatience. He never conveyed the sense of quiet confidence and compassion that is so central to the Dumbledore personae and which Harris achieved seemingly effortlessly.

Which was the central reason for my concern over movie #6. The Half-Blood Prince involves Dumbledore far more often, and more signficantly, than any of the previous books. With that in mind, and my serious reservations over the casting of Gambon as Dumbledore, I really wasn't expecting much from the movie.

So I put off going to The Half-Blood Prince but this past weekend, finally broke down and went to see it. I was pleasantly surprised when Gambon seemed rather more like Dumbledore than I had ever imagined possible. He was actually quite good in the role. And the movie itself found a good pacing, rolling in enough of the multiple plot lines of the book to make it a rich experience without losing the overall flow of the story. The cinematography reflected the darker, more somber atmosphere of the sereis by book number six, but there was enough of the book's good humor to leaven the darkness and dread. As always, the acting was stupendous.

And then came the finale. And I was sooooo disappointed. The rest of the movie had well captured the tone and tenor of the book, so by the time the climax came around, my initially lowered expectations had begun to rise. This was a good movie, one that was not always "true" to the book in literal terms, but was a very good big screen adaptation of it, along the lines of Peter Jackson's treatment of The Lord of the Rings.

So, I was really looking forward to the conclusion since, as I mentioned above, I thought the ending to book six was just riveting. But they CHANGED it. I won't go into detail, but I can't figure out WHY. There was no reason to do it, and the changes they made weren't insignificant ones. Rather, they were substantial changes, and not a single one of them made the movie better. Dreadfully disappointed.

Rant or Rave? I really liked the first 90 or 95% of the movie. Big raves for it, with only a few minor complaints. But the ending... urgh. I left the theater thinking, "Boy that could have been a really, really good movie. Why'd they have to screw it up at the end?" So, a big rant against the changes made, for no discernably good reason, at the end.

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