Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Half-Blood Prince

Like most everyone else in the world, I've read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books. Amanda and I debated whether or not to see the movies, since the world was so firmly in our heads just from the books, but eventually we decided to see what modern moviemaking techniques could offer in depicting such a whimsical and mysterious universe.

I had no intention of seeing any of the films more than once, especially after the first few, to which I felt more or less "well, there's the book." There was nothing unique added or a new perspective offered; if anything the movies were much the poorer for trying to cram every plot point into a feature-length running time. Stripped from the stories were the parts that I found most fascinating and endearing: the day-to-day life in a school of magic, where, despite the fantastical, the kids all struggled to make friends, to keep up with classes, to navigate around school bullies, to be resourceful and creative in the face of their challenges. The adventure and intrigue is good and all, but the real fun for me was the sense of living abroad in a new and unexpected culture.

Then came the movie version of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" — the first film in the series to be appreciated, I think, as its own entity. It's helped by the fact that the book is something of a breather between climaxes (something that frustrated me to no end when the book was finally released, when I'd been waiting so long to find out what happens next!), but the lack of big plot points to cover makes this the first film in the series to come alive on a day-to-day level: against a background of looming war, when their minds must certainly be on conflicts beyond school, the students are still human. They fall in love, get jealous, put friendships to the test, converse with mentors, do their schoolwork, and confront their new and maturing selves. The fact that the amazement of the earlier movies has worn off a bit, as things like password doors and giant spiders and Quidditch have become commonplace, works to the film's advantage and lets it explore solely the emotional landscape. I've watched the movie twice now, finding it rich both times, and alone among the Harry Potter films it's the one I plan to watch again.

I'm curious to see what "Half-Blood" director David Yates does with "The Deathly Hallows" films, and whether he'll continue the emphasis on quiet moments and character tension. It would be really interesting if books more or less followed the trajectory of the small and personal story of a young boy's coping with loss to a sprawling worldwide battle for supremacy, and the movies followed a trajectory from the fantastical and showy to the small, quiet, and emotional.

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