Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pros and Cons

Having had another 12 hours or so to think about the latest Harry Potter movie, I thought I'd write a few more notes, mostly for my own benefit.
These will just come as I think of them....sorry it's not a bit more ordered.

Pros: superb technical proficiency. Just one example: the camera shot starts in the train with a group of characters, pulls back outside the train, sweeps along as the train moves past, and catches up with another group of characters further down the train. Of course, it would have been much easier to have done it as two separate shots, but there's a kind of exuberance about this approach.

Cons: No Dursleys. This film begins with the deatheaters do nasty things to London.
Cons: No Voldemort - at least not in his current guise. He turns up (via two very good young actors) as Tom Riddle, in two memory sequences. This film can in no way stand on its own: there are too many characters you're just expected to know, and too many things you're expected to remember from earlier episodes. And characters who don't appear that you're expected to know about as well. Okay, it's all a matter of how much screen-time we've got, but...

Cons: lots of loose ends. London being under attack is shown initially and then forgotten about. And how does it relate to Hogswart and what's going on there? And why is the countryside outside the train so bare?
Why do the deatheaters attack the Wand shop, and who are they dragging out and what do they do with them?
The Horcrux business arrives quite late in the proceedings, and then, after all the effort to get one of them (with Dumbledore nearly dying in the process) it turns out to be a fake. Okay, this is in the book, but it's treated in a very off-hand way here.

Pros: the usual superb mise-en-scene, wonderful sets and design, but....everything is so gray. Harry says right at the end something along the lines of 'I never appreciated how beautiful this place was.' But he's looking at a very gray version of it. It's been a lot more beautiful in the other movies. Admittedly the grays are beautiful in themselves - the early shot of the London office people looking out at the storm is full of wonderfully toned-down colourings. So that's sort of a con and pro in one.

More loose ends: the Weasleys house goes up in flames - we hear no more about this, and no one seems particularly worried. Hagrid's house goes up in flames: is he inside? I'm not sure if we find out in this movie, as I can't remember him being in that late scene where everyone is raising their wands in the air in tribute to Dumbledore.

Con: everyone who knows the books will know that Dumbedore dies at the end of this episode. But curiously there's a lot more emotional feeling in the death of Cedric Diggory in The Goblet of Fire than there is here in the death of Dumbledore. Certainly there's a wonderful piece of elegaic writing in the music score at this point, but somehow it doesn't affect you emotionally. Odd.
When I read in the book about Dumbledore's death, it was shock - this couldn't happen! And you waited in vain in the last book for him to appear safe and sound. So it's a bit of a puzzle that it's nowhere near so affecting here. Perhaps it's because most viewers will know what happens to Dumbledore, and it's difficult for the filmmakers to overcome that. It would be interesting to know what people who hadn't read the book thought about this point (assuming they weren't totally confused by the movie anyway!)
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I said yesterday the film seemed slow. Thinking back again, there are still some very exciting sections: the search in the cave for the horcrux, for example, or the attack on the Weasley's house. And the Quidditch match is superbly done. Think back to the way Quidditch was done in the first movie to compare how much more technically superior this section is. But there's no explanation as to why Ron should be playing Quidditch after all these years, when he's never shown the slightest interest in doing so before, and why Harry isn't playing. (I'm sure there's a good reason in the book, but for some reason the filmmakers have chosen not to tell us.)

Pro: Luna Lovegood. Evanna Lynch has made this character utterly her own. Whatever you thought Luna should look like has been thoroughly overtaken by this actress' interpretation. It's a delight. (Emma Watson, as Hermione, on the other hand, is still 'wrong' in my mind. My impression of Hermione, from the books, was always that she wasn't particularly attractive; it was her intelligence that marked her out. In fact, my original picture of her was of someone not especially slim. Watson's beauty in the film versions makes it hard to understand why she's so interested in Ron, who's not only lazy and unintelligent, but a bit of a slob. And in this film he barely gives her a moment's notice.)

Con: the stuff about the necklace that's supposed to curse Dumbledore and ends up cursing the messenger instead. That's all handled a bit oddly in the movie; it makes Rowling's consistently clever plotting seem clunky. (Maybe it was a bit of that famous Nintendo jewellery I'm always on about...?)

Obviously it's time to go back and read the book and figure out some of these peculiar loose ends and untidy plottings that are in the movie. Thank goodness for the books, which leave far more room for our imaginations than the movies, for all these superb visual reconstructions, do.
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