Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've had a tumultuous relationship with the Harry Potter series of books and movies. When the first movie was imminent, I decided that it'd be nice to read the book first, so I picked it up in a cheap mass market paperback format. I read it in one day.

Then, I turned around and bought the next three (the only ones available at that time) and read them all in a couple of days. Then, literally, I turned around and read the whole series again.

I really loved them at the time; I thought they were extremely charming books about extremely charming characters, and the turn at the end of the fourth book towards a darker atmosphere got me really excited as well. The movie went ahead and came out, and as an adaptation of the book it was... workmanlike. Nothing wonderful, but not an embarrassment either. The best parts about it were the production design, the eclectic casting of famous British actors in, essentially, cameos, and the John Williams score which, while not revolutionary, is still one of his better ones.

More books came out. I was actually very much put off by the fifth book, which disappointed me greatly (it's since grown on me some, but only some.) The movies continued coming out, and I think they've largely improved each time. The sixth book was a return to form, but the final book, again, disappointed me.

So, my earlier excitement and furor over the series has been greatly diminished by a few missteps, and in particular by a conclusion that didn't satisfy me. Yet, I still have a love for the characters and their setting, at least, and so it was with quite a bit of excitement that I went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Julie and the kids last night. Again, in case you missed it, this was one of my favorite of the books, a fine return to form after the disappointing Order of the Phoenix.

The movie was interesting. Visually, it was a treat. The movies have all improved in this regard. The acting is superb compared to past efforts. The young stars have really matured and honed their talents. The movie has a fair bit of comedy, especially around the budding romances brewing amongst the characters. Pacing-wise, the movie was a bit flat. If you didn't already like the characters, and enjoy seeing them interact for that reason alone, the movie may disappoint you. I do, so I enjoyed it, but the feedback from everyone in the family was that it was kinda slow and much lighter on action than previous ventures. A looming, brooding sense of impending menace wasn't quite sufficient by itself. And, although this is an artifact of the source material, it really also felt like an extended "coming soon" advertisement. Most of the Harry Potter books (and movies) have been pretty self-containted; this one felt much more unresolved at the end than any that have come out to date.

I think, without spoiling anything major, it's not too much to say that there are two budding romances throughout this movie; one of them was handled very well; believably, and even charmingly. The other felt rushed and undeveloped, and we were merely supposed to accept that it happened because the movie told us so. This is also an artifact of the source material (although it was more egregious in the movie), but the movie's subtitle was really an afterthought. The fact that they mentioned it at all felt tacked on clumsily.

Despite these minor quibbles, I enjoyed the movie, and I think it set up the remaining two quite well. I continue to be excited to see the conclusion of the series.

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