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:

Double the Potter, Double the Monotony

13-Mar-08 12:05 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Harry Potter's sixth of seven books will release to theaters this November 21st — but it will not be his penultimate movie.

CNN reports that the series' conclusion, The Deathly Hallows, will be divided across two films. "Unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book," said producer David Heyman. The article also states that "the two final Potter films will be shot concurrently… The first film is slated for release in November 2010, with part two following in May 2011."

Right — because such a release schedule worked so well for The Matrix sequels. Here's an idea: how about the director cut from the middle of the book the hundreds of pages of pointless, inert camping? It didn't make for riveting storytelling in print; now imagine as their tenting explodes across the screen! Sheesh.

I don't approve of how The Golden Compass ended prematurely compared to the book. I hope Rowling's work doesn't suffer a similar ignominy.

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.

Return to Narnia

21-Jun-07 5:19 PM by
Filed under Films; 6 comments.

C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia, will be adapted to the silver screen in time for a May 16th, 2008 release, say the IMDb and Wikipedia.

I learned of this upcoming film only from an offhand comment in a completely unrelated blog post. I'm surprised only that I haven't heard more news about it, not that it's in development: with every Harry Potter book making its way to Hollywood, to tap only the first entry in Lewis' classic fantasy series without considering its sequels would've been unnatural. But I'm concerned at the rate of adaptation. The Potter books progressed rather rapidly, with only 18 months or so between each release. There's twice that between the first two Narnia films, which is a long time for its young cast (which is indeed returning for the sequel) to grow up. Kids age faster than adults, if you know what I mean, so I wonder how long this cast will be feasible. OTOH, the cast of the Narnia books is more mutable than the Potter novels. Future sequels will not contain the same characters, so without resorting to recasting, they can still cycle in fresh, young faces as the series progresses.

It's something to look forward to — as if next month's Potter plethora weren't enough. Which series do you prefer?

Demon of the Gibbet

01-Feb-07 10:03 AM by
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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the film to be released on July 13th, will be followed eight days later with the literary franchise's seventh and final installment: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Naturally, I'm looking forward to the book more than the movie. As I previously commented, the fifth book was more voluminous than it needed to be, serving as a dull but perhaps necessary bridge in the series. Its successor, on the other hand, was my favorite of them all (with Goblet of Fire running a close second), with an ending that left me eager and excited for the next book — something none of the other five books had done.

I'm one of the rare few who has read each book only once, though, so I will likely see the movie anyway, just to refresh my memory as to some of the vital details of which Rowling is fond of not reminding her audience. Watching the film will certainly be a succincter reminder than rereading the book.

But it won't be the only such film vying for audience's attention this year. I remember in March 2000, when I first told someone about the Harry Potter books, she thickly asked, "Is it about a bunch of rabbits?" Apparently, Hollywood has finally realized the opportunity to cash in on that confusion.

Hufflepuff, The Missing Pokémon

14-Dec-06 10:23 AM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

Previously available only in theaters and on YouTube, the trailer for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is now on Apple's trailers Web site.

I've commented to several people, "I hope the film is better than the book." Knowing Potheads to be almost as fanatical as Trekkers, I half-expected this sincere comment to be met with outrage. Yet, without fail, their response has been, "How could it not be?" I'm surprised that other people have found this fifth book in the entry to be a slow and tedious, if somewhat necessary, bridge between the outstanding fourth and sixth books in the series. It's nice to know that not everyone is blinded by what is considered to be the genius of J.K. Rowling.

Of course, she's no Gene Roddenberry.