Tag Archives: Albus Dumbledore

Growing up in public

Standing in line for the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realized it had been over a decade since I’d been able to catch a movie with the hardcore faithful. The last time I was able to do that was opening night for The Phantom Menace, and do I really need to tell you the antics of the diehard fan crowd ended up being more entertaining than the limp noodles on the screen? Though the Loews cineplex was mobbed — I think five screens were playing simultaneously — and the excitement in the crowd was palpable, it was a very restrained enthusiasm. Maybe everybody was keeping something in abeyance for July, when the second installment of Deathly Hallows will hit theaters and the movie curtain will come down on the decade of watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up in public.

I found myself waiting at the ticket kiosk behind a red-headed woman in a Slytherin robe. “Home field advantage?” I asked her, and she laughed. “I’m just bummed that I’m not going to be able to use this robe much longer,” she said. Turned out she did appearances at Potter-related events.

“At least with Harry Potter you got your money’s worth,” I pointed out. “Eight movies, all together. If you’d bought a hobbit costume, you’d have been done after only three movies.”

“I did get a costume for that,” she said. “Only it was a Legolas costume. I was very convincing with the bow.”

I’m sure she was. When The Hobbit makes its long overdue appearance in the plexes, I hope she’ll be at Loew’s on opening night.

One of the things I liked best about Deathly Hallows the novel was the big-hearted generosity of J.K. Rowling’s storytelling. She made sure every important character got a proper send-off — even the appalling Dudley Dursley was allowed to show a few glints of humanity as he said farewell to Harry. Draco Malfoy, the most odious little creep outside a Roald Dahl novel, was shown wrestling with stirrings of a wan, barely functioning conscience that led him to save Harry’s bacon at one crucial moment, then attempt to fry it in another. The second biggest mistake committed by the Half-Blood Prince film was to shorten the lead-up to Dumbledore’s death. Not only did Rowling’s scene show the headmaster’s coolness and courage in a desperate situation, it also certified that he thought Draco had a soul worth saving.

That soul is glimpsed fleetingly in Deathly Hallows the film, and while Dudley’s big moment is absent, the film makes up for it with a quietly devastating scene in which Hermione protects her parents by surreptitiously removing all memories of her existence. The sight of Hermione disappearing from years of family snapshots, and the blend of grief and resolve on Emma Watson’s face, demonstrates how high the stakes have become far better than the umpteenth Death Eater attack.

Part one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks great and manages to handle the immense challenges posed by Rowling’s novel capably, if not always very gracefully. But what really impressed me was the silence.  Given enough elbow room to tell the story, rather than scramble to hit all the relevant plot points within a two-hour window, Deathly Hallows allows significant stretches of time to pass without an explosion, an action beat, or even background noise. The novel’s long, pensive passages in which Team Potter can only hide out and try to regroup in the face of Voldemort’s near-total victory, get their equivalent on screen, which is downright revolutionary for a big-ticket blockbuster like this.

I can only wish Half-Blood Prince had been given a two-film adaptation like this; alone among the latter Potter novels, it earned its bulk with storytelling muscle and a wealth of necessary detail. But the good news about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that it honors its source material and sets the stage for — dare we hope — a great resolution. The young actors who devoted their childhoods to embodying these characters and maturing along with them will, I think, be able to look back over these films and feel their time was well spent. I remember walking out of The Return of the King feeling a little pang of regret that a fourth film wasn’t on the horizon. I don’t know if part two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will give me the same feeling, but I’m prepared to be surprised.

Tagged , , , ,

Harry Potter and the Bungled Sequel

Now that J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers have used their combined strength to crush a dorky Harry Potter fan and his fanboy lexicon, maybe Rowling can get a court injunction to keep Warners from releasing the upcoming film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Some undercover geeks have seen advance screenings of the thing, and the news is anything but good:

I had the most problems with the film’s final third. Harry and Dumbledore’s trip to the caves seemed to come out of nowhere, as did Dumbledore’s declaration that he had to drink the water from the podium in which the locket they were after was held. I don’t remember if that’s how it happened in the book, but I remember arriving at that location & conclusion in a way that at least felt more natural.

After that, they make their way to the tower and instead of using a charm to immobilize Harry and cover him with the invisibility cloak like in the book, Dumbledore just sends Harry away, and Harry goes downstairs, stops & watches the following scene through cracks in the floor above him. Malfoy tries to kill Dumbledore but realizes he can’t. Snape arrives on the floor below & signals Harry to be quiet, which he uncharacteristically does. Snape then goes upstairs & sends Dumbledore to his death. The modifications made to this scene from book to film are terrible, and they partially blow what may be the biggest surprise of the entire franchise.

Afterwards, there is no enormous battle. The Death Eaters stroll out silently. I remember the fight in the book being fantastic, and I personally would rather have had a short scene in the beginning with two guys talking about the horrible things the Death Eaters are doing than eliminate the battle at the end. Harry runs after them and confronts Snape, who quietly tells him he’s the Half-Blood Prince. Again, due to lack of attention paid to this plotline, I didn’t really care. In the book, he screams his response. The book has Snape screaming and the film has him using his indoor voice. What a disappointment.

And as if this weren’t enough, there is no funeral for Dumbledore. It’s been cut.

Yikes. Well, that’s only one guy’s reaction. What about somebody else from the same screening?

Uh oh: 

For a book based on Harry and Dumbledore’s quest to find out more about Voldemort, and how to stop him, via his memories, all but three memories have been cut from the film. Why is it that the filmmakers decided it was more important to focus on teen-age love rather than what are inarguably critical plot points? It is aneurysm inducing logic that will surely leave me dead in my bathtub.

And the ending. Good God, the ending. Not only is the fight between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix completely removed, but so is Dumbledore’s funeral. The last third of this movie is so incredibly mishandled that Dumbledore’s death feels more like an unfortunate accident than genuine tragedy. No one in the film seems even remotely upset that he’s gone and the Death Eaters who murdered him, including would-be-good-guy Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, the title-character in cameo form), walk out of Hogwarts unmolested.

I was sorely disappointed when Warners rescheduled this film from a November release to a mid-July slot, chiefly because (A) Half-Blood Prince is the gold standard book of the series, and (B) I was looking forward to seeing it in a theater with Dances With Mermaids, who came late to the Harry Potter craze and has only seen the films on video, having waited until we’d read our way through the whole series a couple of times. Now I’m beginning to think the schedule shuffle is a sign of a film in trouble.

One of the book’s greatest strengths was the way Harry’s blossoming happiness paralleled the investigation into young Voldemort’s transformation from a troubled boy to an outright monster. Cutting the Pensieve sessions down to a single scene while pumping up the teen romance angle is going to be catastrophic to the narrative. And getting rid of the final battle? Stupid. Really stupid.    

Maybe we’ll just wait for the DVD on this one as well.

Tagged , , , , ,