Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

The End Of The Magic

with 6 comments

The Harry Potter films have been a masterclass in polishing a turd but unfortunately this impressive showcase in transmogrification comes to an end with The Half-Blood Prince.

The books dropped off rapidly after The Prisoner of Azkaban, bloating out with The Goblet Of Fire, dispensing with plot entirely from The Order Of Phoenix and becoming tortuous and tedious. The films, on the other hand, went from strength to strength replacing Rowling’s awful prose with an increasingly rich and sure visual language and using the cream of British acting to bring genuine life to pantomime characters. In the later books not only does nothing happen but what does happen doesn’t make any sense. Now, for the first time, one of the films shares this problem. The Half-Blood Prince looks like a very big book made into a pretty big film – you can see the gaps in its jagged, stuttering structure, where scences hit the floor – which is a bit odd because what does make it to the screen betrays some very strange choices about what to prioritise. How many times do we need to see Draco whip a dustcloth off the vanishing cabinet? Was the spider eulogy really necessary? The Deathly Hallows is going to be split in two so perhaps this will solve this problem. Perhaps it will throw it into sharper relief.

In his scathing review Peter Bradshaw suggests that the opening scene is the only good thing about the film. Most of his criticisms are accurate but The Half-Blood Prince is still an enjoyable (if bum-numbing and squandered) film and a vast improvement on the novel. Regardless of the ungainliness that reliance on Rowling makes inevitable, I was still able to go with it, to enter the world evoked; like all the films, this has life. In contrast, in addition to being incontinently plotted, the books are emotionally dead: you never laugh, you are never scared, you just listlessly flip-flip the pages waiting vainly for something to actually happen. You get all that in the film plus even a bit of pathos as Draco struggles with the situation he has placed him in, although surely more could have been done with this. What you don’t get is any real sense of sadness when Dumbledore dies. This is probably because it is very hard to care about Dumbledore who, despite being Harry’s mentor, is never around to do anything useful apart from pop up at the end of each book to explain what just happens. There is no man behind the beard.

Written by Martin

20 July 2009 at 10:54

6 Responses

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  1. We’ve obviously had very different reactions to the books – they’re far from excellent, but I did most certainly laugh, and quite loudly too, at parts of them – but it’s hard to believe that even that accounts for our different experiences of the films, which I’ve found to be uniformly bloodless and shapeless. Rather than distilling the best out of Rowling’s novels, I’ve always thought the films show up her faults – Harry’s blandness, the plot’s unnecessary intricacy, the wizarding world’s thinness – while leaving out the sheer tide of story that makes these faults easier to ignore in the novels. There isn’t a single one of the films that feels like an actual narrative (though 3 comes closest) rather than a Harry Potter highlight reel.

    Abigail

    20 July 2009 at 11:07

  2. I’ve always been puzzled by the whole ‘mentor’ thing. In the films, the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is polite but there’s no affection there at all. In fact, the relationship between Harry and Snape is a good deal more interesting and emotionally charged. So I can’t imagine killing off Dumbledore would have very much impact at all.

    Jonathan M

    20 July 2009 at 11:28

  3. Harry Potter was only ever interesting as a coming-of-age story, with Harry’s daddy issues and oedipal revalations, which was what made both Azkaban and Phoenix such incredibly emotional flicks. Alas, that is now gone, and all that remains is the visual, which, while gorgeus, is ultimately empty and insipid.

    Mats

    20 July 2009 at 11:48

  4. it’s hard to believe that even that accounts for our different experiences of the films

    I can’t work out what else it is. My appreciation of the films is very much in opposition to the books. I wouldn’t say they “distill the best out of Rowling’s novels” so much as ellide and paper over her many failings (such as the ones you list). There are many specific scenes – particularly from Goblet of Fire onwards – that standout not so much in their own right but as how much they improve on the original. More generally the beautiful design and cinematography in the later films is such a vast improvement on Rowling’s turgid writing that it is hard to be swept along by it.

    Martin

    21 July 2009 at 11:15

  5. [...] of someone seeing the films with fresh eyes, especially since my views of the films are so coloured by the books. There are large chunks of Kaufman’s post I disagree with (starting with the opening [...]

    Twofer « Everything Is Nice

    22 November 2010 at 16:52

  6. [...] watching last year’s cack-handedly compressed Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince I wondered if the cynical marketing decision to split The [...]


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