Harry Potter and the Half-Adapted Script

04-Aug-09 1:45 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

Though scoffed at by some as children's literature, the Harry Potter series has nonetheless made a fan of me, though not a hardcore one. I bought each book upon its release, read it once, then put it away, never to be re-read. In a way, my lack of fanaticism has prevented me from appreciating the degree of detail with which author JK Rowling has invested her world, as she rarely repeats herself, choosing instead to reward those who have dedicated themselves to her work.

But it took only a single reading for the sixth entry, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to be my favorite book of all seven, so I had high expectations for the movie. I knew the constraints of the film medium would likely leave it wanting, and I was right — but even with that forewarning, I was still disappointed.

I enjoyed the book's depth of characterization, especially as we came to know many players we previously knew only by name and deed. But in the movie, the history of Voldemort, Dumbledore, and the titular prince are all emasculated, and the ending stripped of much of its tension and the opportunity for Harry to show how much he's matured. Further, one of the joys of the books is never knowing what trivial fact will later prove significant. With the hindsight provided by the movies now lagging behind the completion of their source material, I can say that I'm challenged to see how this movie sets up the story's conclusion in the 2010 and 2011 releases of the two-part Deathly Hallows.

If I find fault with the script, I am not so easily critical of its actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint continue to perform admirably, as they have since founding the roles in 2001. Perhaps it was because I had, less than a week earlier, experienced my third viewing of the new Star Trek film, but it was in watching Half-Blood Prince that I finally realized that Rowling has done with her protagonists what Gene Roddenberry did with his: created a balanced triumvirate. There is the cool, logical, dispassionate sidekick; an emotional, human counterpart; and the main character who looks to both for support, balancing their advice while still relying on instinct. I am not proposing a one-to-one relation with Spock, McCoy, and Kirk, but there is definitely a tried-and-true formula at work here.

The film makes good use of its minor characters as well. I was consciously aware that Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) had zero lines in Order of the Phoenix, relegating her to annoying pouty faces, which is thankfully not the case here. And Natalia Tena is back as Tonks — but without the purple hair she featured in Order of the Phoenix, seems somehow less cute to me.

From a production standpoint, Half-Blood Prince left me with an observation I've never made about this film's franchise's previous installments: it has an excellent soundtrack. I don't just mean the recurring Harry Potter theme, but also the original pieces that swell dramatically at just the right points. Although composer Nicholas Hopper worked on this film's predecessor, that soundtrack didn't leave an impression. The last film to make me want to buy its soundtrack was Enchanted, which was a musical; for a non-musical to similarly motivate me is unusual.

I did not leave the theater disappointed; the action, acting, pacing, and soundtrack of Half-Blood Prince were together worth the price of admission. But fans of the books will miss what was left on the cutting room floor, and non-readers may find the plot a bit confusing without the underlying support.

I want to close by sharing a product of Emerson College (where I myself am a student), which collaborated with Warner Bros. to create this trailer that takes the unique approach of featuring no actual film footage, instead focusing on how Rowlings' fictional sport has influenced real-life athletes:

December Boys

17-Dec-08 9:12 AM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on December Boys

I recently noticed a feature of Apple.com's trailer park that I'd previously overlooked: recommendations of movies with the same actors. While watching the latest Harry Potter preview, this system led me to two other films of which I'd never heard. I'm against typecasting and felt that this fantasy film series' stars deserve their chances in other titles, so I sought out two films formerly unknown to me — the first being December Boys, a 2007 film based on the book of the same name.

December Boys is the story of four youths from a Catholic orphanage in the Australian outback. All four have birthdays in the same month, so they've been chosen together to enjoy a holiday with a foster family on the coast. Free from the scrutiny of nuns and surrounded by strange new people and places, they encounter exciting opportunities to explore and grow.

Well, hello.

Well, hello.

At its core, December Boys is a coming-of-age film, with each of the four boys seeking their own triumphs. Spit and Sparks are fairly interchangeable, with one setting out to catch the great fish of the local cove. The two other boys anchor them in age and are more crucial to the main plot threads. From the commercial I saw for the film, to the billing, to the Harry Potter trailer that precedes the DVD's main feature, I assumed Daniel Radcliffe as the older Maps would be the main character. But the film proves to be lightly narrated by Misty, the youngest and outwardly most proper of the group. When Misty finds out a local couple may adopt one of the boys, he sets out to be the one they choose, but the rivalry advertised in the film's promotions never struck me as the central story. It's more about four boys finding their place in the house, in the world, and in their relationship with each other. Think of it as a more serious version of The Sandlot, which even ends similarly to December Boys.

Despite the different vignettes each orphan is given, the film ultimately focuses on Maps, giving Mr. Radcliffe the chance to shine. He's grown up quite a bit since his Harry Potter debut, something the directors seemed to capitalize on: while his three fellow orphans splashing about in shorts, Maps fills a pair of jeans rather nicely. More important, not once while watching the movie did I think I was watching Harry Potter. Even if they are both orphans, this December boy is served well by stretching his place in the film world.

Phoenix Descending

18-Jul-07 5:55 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 5 comments.

The Half-Blood Prince was the only Harry Potter book that left me looking forward to the sequel. But before I take that step forward this coming weekend, I took a step back and watched the film adaptation of the series' most boring entry, The Order of the Phoenix.

The movie's opening is fashioned after one of the novels' most lamentable traits: a complete lack of introduction or context. Anyone who is just a casual fan of the series — that is, those who read the books only once each — will have trouble recognizing Dudley Dursley or Nymphadora Tonks in the opening scenes. Indeed, many characters' roles have been reduced, Potter's love interest is of little note, and the titular Order is rarely seen or referenced.

Most disappointing than these cuts, necessary to adapt this behemoth of a book to film, is that the parts cut were the parts I liked. Ginny Weasley speaks not a single word in the entire film, whereas in the novel, she provided a helpful connection between Potter's current dilemma and the one she faced in The Chamber of Secrets. Potter's hesitancy to pursue lessons with Snape is absent, yet that motivation is vital to understand the depth of Voldemort's manipulation. And though we know the Dark Lord is seeking a weapon, but the movie never solidifies what the weapon is, or its value and implications (including to Neville Longbottom and Professor Trelawney).

The Potter films often serve as a useful refresher to anyone who hasn't memorized the source material, and in this case, I was hoping to be satisfied by the movie in a way I wasn't by the book. Though the film was well-acted and had some nifty special effects, its lack of detail — or rather, its choice of detail — left me hoping the silver screen has not overwritten my memories of the original text.