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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Catching Up With Harry

For the first four films in the Harry Potter series, I dutifully attended them at the theater, reading the book beforehand. After the fourth, though, I got a little disenchanted. I loved the books, but I was so busy reading other things that they became less of a priority, and the films were starting to become a chore to sit through. Therefore the most recent two of the series, films five and six, were unseen by me until I watched them on consecutive nights. The results were decidedly mixed.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the worst of the series. It works on almost no level. The entire film is a dry condemnation of mid-level bureaucrats and the manipulation of facts by the media--it could be shown to wild applause at a Tea Party convention. Harry spends most of his time suffering from a persecution complex, and the supporting cast--namely Hermione and Ron--are given little to do. The showdown at the end between the re-emerging Voldemort and Dumbledore failed to get my blood pumping--it's just two guys pointing wands at each other.

So how surprised was I the next night when the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had me enthralled, and is easily the best of the lot? Both films were directed by David Yates, but for Half-Blood Prince he seems to have been inspired, as the film is beautiful to behold (with gorgeous Oscar-nominated cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel) and framed exquisitely. This film is sort of the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back was in the Star Wars series--a dark, shadowy, brooding contemplation of the duality of good and evil. After watching it I can't wait for the final film.

I have not read either of the books that go with these films, so I'm sure there's lots left out. But the screenwriter for Half-Blood, Steve Kloves, has done a great job in making these characters seem like real people, even if they are wizards. When he had Dumbledore, early on, asking to use the loo, I was hooked. The sub-plots involving Hermione and Ron, which were left out of Phoenix, are richly developed here (though I could do without any more quidditch matches). And the best part of this series is shaping up to be the character arc of Professor Snape. I still don't know whether he's a double- or triple-agent, and it's a testimony to Alan Rickman that I'm so intrigued by his character. He's just one of many terrific British character actors who have been showcased through the years by these films.

I'm also intrigued by Luna Lovegood, played by Evanna Lynch, who won a talent search to win the role. Her portrayal of this dotty young witch, who shows up in a lion costume without explanation, is a pleasure to watch. I have no idea what role she will play in how everything turns out in the last film, but she's still fun anyway.

As for Harry, he's still the least interesting part of the whole enterprise. Much of the worst dialogue of the series belongs to him, and his act of refusing help gets tired. I see that he seems to be stuck on Ginny Weasly, but the film makes no mention of why poor Cho Chang got thrown over. Oh, the fickle behavior of teenagers!

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