Friday, July 24, 2009

Latest Harry Potter - spoilers


After seeing Notes on a Scandal the other night, I checked out what James Berardinelli had to say about it, he being one of the reviewers I find gives good straight reviews of movies. (Roger Ebert didn't review the movie, apparently.) James thinks it's a great movie except that it has a flaw in the third act - I can only think this is the bit where the Cate Blanchett character discovers the diary with all the negative information about her. It's possibly a bit improbable, and it's certainly not well-signaled as to why she should find the diary. Nevertheless, like some moments in Hitchcock, the director gets away with it.

We went and saw the latest Harry Potter tonight. Don't read this if you don't want to know what it's like. I suspect it's going to go down in my book as the one I've least enjoyed. I couldn't particularly remember the story, except the ending of course (which no Potter fan could forget), and the stuff about the horcruxes. And I certainly don't remember the relationships side of things being so much to the fore. Rowling is cleverer than that, I suspect. Here we're treated to relationship problems almost continually, as though everything hinged around them. Perhaps on the page they didn't take your attention so readily; here it's all a bit soap-opera, which is a great pity, because there are much more important things at stake here than the ups and downs of teenage relationships. (And talking of teenagers: the two main boys in particular have turned into hulking twenty-somethings; both of them look as though they've been to the gym - their shoulders are too big somehow, for teenage boys.)

Ginny Weasley proves herself to be a strong character, which is good, but Neville Longbottom, who is the one of the cruxes of the whole saga, barely gets a look in. He's seen a few times, and speaks in about one scene. Lavender, the girl who plagues Ron Weasley, gets an awful lot of screentime, even though she's a minor character, and we barely get a glimpse of some of the other longstanding people: Wormtail, Crabbe and Goyle, Remus Lupin, and Molly Weasley. Jim Broadbent, on the other hand, turns in a fine performance as Slughorn.

It's interesting that the director, David Yates, regards The Prisoner of Azkaban as the best HP movie so far: it still stands out to me as the one with the most style and flair. And that's the problem with this one: I found it slow (as though the director was pacing everything for some electric moment that never quite comes) and the climax is muffed, somehow. Maybe it's the fact that the books became increasingly complex; yet some of the other films have managed to pack a huge amount in without overloading the works. Here you keep wondering when something significant is going to happen. Let's hope Yates, who's directing the last two episodes, will pull things together in those.

The film was preceded by two or three trailers for other fantasy films. Such is the power of CGI now that we accept everything on screen as being real enough, and more, we believe that anything is possible. When anything is possible, then it takes a good deal to make us excited by what we see. It isn't necessary to have lots of explosions and cameras racing all over: even in a film filled with special effects shots, it's the actors who carry it, who grab our emotions. The idea that actors wouldn't be needed in movies (as was briefly mooted a couple of decades back) went the way of the dodo very quickly. People don't just go to see special effects; if they're not integral to the story, then we lose interest quickly.

And there's a difficulty in the fact that the special effects have to be very good now: there was a scene in one of the trailers (I think it was for GI Joe) where the Eiffel Tower came crashing down. It was too much altogether and didn't seem to work (apart from acting as a spoiler to a scene from the movie). On the other hand, there's a moment early on in The Half-Blood Prince where a London bridge that my wife and I walked over only a couple of years ago is ripped apart by the Deatheaters; this is extraordinarily well done and scarily believable. The Half-Blood Prince is certainly full of such moments.
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