Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why the New Harry Potter Isn't As Good as Everyone Thinks

In the months leading up to the release of the newest installment in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” my desire to see the movie went through considerable fluctuation. I’ll admit that the initial release seemed exciting; I’ve been enjoying the movies since “The Prisoner of Azkaban” changed the series from childish junior-high fantasy to dark, horror-suspense action. The acting has never been superb, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the territory. However, when the release of the newest film was pushed back several months, I found myself caring less and less about the series as a whole. It’s been so long since I read the books that I feel the studios are losing a portion of their audience to boredom.

Nonetheless, going into the theater to finally see the movie had me excited again. Social hype and positive reviews galore set up what I expected to be at least another good, if not excellent Potter film. Let me just say that I both expected and wanted this movie to succeed, regardless of my continuing annoyance with the series’ increasingly obnoxious fanbase.

The movie didn’t exactly start on the right foot; an awkward scene of two average-looking teens flirting in a train station isn’t exactly how I would have set up suspense for the impending takeover by the world’s most dangerous villain. Nevertheless, I gave the movie a chance.

I sat through about an hour and a half of the film before I started to realize that this pointless drivel was not going to end any time soon. I was particularly struck by the overall disingenuous portrayal of the film’s favorite subject: awkward teen romance. One scene in particular drove this point home for me, when everyone’s favorite ginger kid tries out for the Quidditch team. I discovered several things in this scene and the following few. First of all, the decidedly average-looking Lavender is every teenage male’s fantasy: a fawning, physically aggressive moron who wants nothing more than to suck Ron’s face off. Second, it turns out that Ron is kind of a douche. I know the movie wants us to think that he doesn’t see Hermione’s affection for him, but I’m not buying it. No guy is that stupid. Most guys go out of their way to convince themselves that any female who gives them the slightest amount of attention is trying to seduce them, and I refuse to believe that Ron is that stupid. I mean, he’s pretty stupid, but I’m trying to give the guy credit here. And last but not least, I discovered that Hermione is yet another high school driven stereotype, the girl who breaks into exaggerated sobs whenever her ginger of choice glances at other females. Bear with me, because this all has a point, which I will soon relate.

Another matter to discuss is how incredibly boring the villains of this movie are. Say nothing of Lord Voldemort (he never shows up), but let’s examine the next most obvious one: Draco Malfoy. For the first time in the series, my disgust with his character had nothing to do with the acting, but instead with the writing behind it. Throughout the movie, I counted exactly two things that Malfoy actually succeeded in doing: pulling sheets off closets and brooding. That’s it. He does nothing else. Yeah, he breaks Harry’s nose, but what happens because of that? Nothing. He’s supposed to kill Dumbledore, but it turns out that he’s even better at whining than he is at looking depressed, so he complains to the old headmaster for a while before the much more interesting Snape shows up to cover his inept ass. As for the old potions master, he’s almost completely irrelevant to the plot of the movie, despite the fact that it’s named after him. I fault the writers here for giving no weight to their best asset, which is Alan Rickman’s considerable talent.

Whatever. In the end, none of this matters. Dumbledore’s murder scene contains exactly zero tension, and off the balcony he goes. Despite the fact that an evil witch can’t shut the hell up and starts breaking all kinds of shit in Hogwarts, no one has noticed the presence of the villains, so no one tries to stop them. This is where I was most disappointed with the film. If you’ll remember (like I didn’t; I had to be reminded), there is a massive battle scene at the end of the sixth book that is mysteriously absent from the film version. How odd; the filmmakers seem to have found a way to completely ignore the literary progression, and have skipped from buildup and gone straight to resolution. Amazing, isn’t it? One minute, the greatest wizard in the world is falling off a tower, and the next, the sun is shining and Harry is looking forward to his next meeting with Ginny.

I guess the point of all this is that the movie removes everything that is good about the Harry Potter franchise and replaces it with everything that is bad. Essentially, then, “The Half-Blood Prince” takes Harry Potter where no story should ever go: into the “Twilight” realm. Magical action and dark suspense have been replaced by teenage awkwardness and forced romantic conflicts, and no one seems to have noticed.

See, the great thing about the Harry Potter series is that it manages to create a beautifully magical realm that is almost entirely separate from our own. The books are interesting because, while teenage romance factors into the stories, it always takes something of a backseat to the intricately woven good-vs.-evil plotline. Want to know why? Because high school problems are boring. Awkwardness isn’t funny in these stories; it’s just awkward. Maybe I’ve grown out of these movies, but I really think that the hype created by shitty, boring romances like “Twilight” has seeped into the Potter franchise, and I’m disappointed by that. The fact that two movies are being made out of the final book doesn’t dissuade me from this conclusion, either. I can only hope that the filmmakers ignore the misplaced hype and get back to what made J.K. Rowling’s fantasies great to begin with.

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