Friday, July 17, 2009

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton
Director: David Yates
Runtime: 153 min.
Rating: **
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

        I’ve been complaining this for a while now, and the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise only cements my claim. With reinforced concrete. That television is the most dominant amongst all forms of media, and that our generation’s imaginations are primarily influenced by it. To say that the television-isation of our culture is almost complete isn’t stretching things too far. Our books seem to have taken a fondness for the bloated much like of what is on television, and our movies have gotten sillier. There’re no real endings but only illusionary ones which are nothing but ridiculous empty cliff-hangers. That we’ve to sit through seven eight films in a story that just bloats itself further and further just to find a reason for another installment. You need proof? Try having these films stand alone, and see how they stumble.
        Reader, I’m not sure the movies are the only ones responsible here. I look at the stories, and I can see how slavishly they have been adapted, and I realize the books wouldn’t be all that good. I haven’t read them, but I know enough to put two and two together. The first two were the sweetest, and okay, throw in the third too. But thereon, I can clearly see a venture that has long sucked dry from the teat of imagination, and all it was doing now is dishing out. That is the books though, and I shall leave it to the ones who have read them to analyze their narration, and the richness of the plot. And the innate logic.
        This film though, just like the whole franchise is television on big screen. We’re just watching installments, which as well might be episodes. The only objective is to stretch the thing for over two hours. The plot meanders, wherein silly romantic arcs provide the diversion. Or the source of bloat. Depends on the way you look at it. For every character, these stock romantic angles are not unlike those we’ve on those silly sitcoms. The girl is interested in the guy, and though the guy subconsciously loves her, he is too stupid to realize it, and in a case of hormonal rage picked up right off the shelf, he falls for another girl, causing envy and tears to the first girl. And so on. And so forth. There’re potions after potions. Are our young so unimaginative to actually fall for this trick, again and again? Is modern cinema really so unimaginatively repetitive? Is this all it come up with in the name of character development and back-story? Where’s that young kid J.G. Ballard conjured up, and Steven Spielberg brought to life in Empire of the Sun?
        And when we’re not busy in unfunny comic-relief sequences, we follow Draco Malfoy (Mr. Felton) lurking around the halls of Hogwarts with I-AM-THE-BAD-DUDE written all over his face. The faculty does not realize it, and maybe they have a secret plan. Doesn’t matter. Harry is unaware. So, in what seems like a ridiculous piling up of coincidence, Harry almost always manages to sneak behind Draco whenever he is pursuing his evil endeavor. Most concern a visit to a room called Room of Requirement where Draco is doing some kind of experiment with an old cabinet. It is one of the mysteries of the plot. He places in an apple and it comes out eaten. You should wonder what it can be. It is one of the film’s few better threads that actually have a sense of intrigue about them.
        Others, not so much. Half Blood Prince has little understanding of what consists of a mysterious plot, and how to unravel a mystery. Nothing here unfolds. They just happen at their designated time. Dumbledore and Harry stumble upon a secret of Lord Voldermot. This leads them to a secret cave. But reader, if you happen to be a viewer who hasn’t read the books, you shall wonder what exactly led them to the cave. What are the reasons behind Dumbledore’s cave-trip? You never know. Our thirst for that mystery is never quenched. For that matter, the film doesn’t do much with its title either. There’re mere references to the Half-Blood prince, and though the identity is supposed to be a mystery the film never sets upon to discover it. We just handed it out as an obligatory piece of information. We don’t even get to know why the half-blood prince is the half-blood prince. The problem is that too many of these adaptations of popular books assume we have a fair knowledge of the source. I’m sure many readers shall answer many of my queries, but that is not the point. The point is why the film is unclear. The point is not that I seek a Potter-expert and seek my answers from him. The point is that I am drawn emotionally and visually into this world, from whereon I can understand and feel it on my own. I shouldn’t be left cold during the romantic interludes, I should be smitten by them. I should feel the dread, the mystery of these characters, and not just tick off plot points. Most adaptations ignore that in their race to cram as much of the book as possible. There’s obligation piled upon obligation. I perceive that as a failure of imagination and creativity.
        Visually, there’s nothing that stands out, outside of a couple of tracking shots. One of them has all the principal characters perched at various places of the towers of Hogwarts, as the evening falls into night and night falls into morning. The sky and the background are all standard-issue exercises in creating a dark menacing atmosphere. Yes, the Hogwarts hallways have come a long way since those early days of chirping. They now seem lonely and without much lighting, and I wonder why. What happened to the pictures on the walls? I don’t complain, but I believe consistency of art-direction is something I’m concerned with. The place is murkier now, the sky is cloudier now. Sun’s on summer vacation. This attempt at creating atmosphere grows so heavy-handed that it comes across as dull. Not impending doom, but resident gloom. I asked myself why I didn’t like the visual strategy of the previous Order of Phoenix, and I found the answer here – that dull grey palette washed out of all color. It is such a visual cliché. Scene after scene after scene in Half-Blood Prince have been drained of their color, and almost to the point of boredom. I’m not sure that is the only shade that can rein in a sense of danger and mystery and darkness. Look how Christopher Nolan designed The Prestige. Look how Peter Jackson designed the Lord of the Rings movies. Look how Steven Spielberg designed Temple of the Doom. The last one strikes me as particularly fascinating because its visual strategy also manages to rein a sense of revulsion within us, and not boring us down.
        Coming from an outsider, I see nothing fascinating in these characters. No particular ones seem worth reflecting over. They have regular issues, and their reactions are all straight out of the shelf. The plot of course is obligatory. If this had been a real film, as against the flimsy excuse it is, we already would have had the pay-off. Come on, Lord Voldermot is already out. What are we waiting for? Why are we whiling away our free time? I mean, this already IS war, and here I see two films, back-to-back, which neither have a proper climax nor they provide any deal of closure, except to kill off an important character. Passionate followers might be emotionally engaged. To us others, this school is called Hogwash. This is where we have been all this while. And trust me, they can continue here for the rest of time, providing episode after episode under the disguise of an adventure. You know what they have? The Formula Spell.

1 comment:

Perx said...

David Yates has ruined it man.. totally, the third one was the best yet and look what it says about the others as it was also an ok-good adaptation.. the books are so much more intriguing and rich.. there's a reason why they're so thick and it would take a wizard like peter jackson to convey a book so large, so beautifully on the silver screen in just 3 hours..
I guess we're gonna have to wait for a reboot 20-25 years later.. :P