Jul 24, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Arsed Prince

There are a number of rave reviews of the latest HP film on blogs about the new maturity of the actors, the poignancy of young love and the awful death of Dumbledore. I saw the film and it mostly left me yawning. For full disclosure, I am a HP fan, Malfoy and Snape fan, a reader of slash and fanfic, and a JK Rowling critic.

The high points of the movie for me was that it was fairly coherent, if a tad prosaic. Of course, elements of the story were left out but at 153 minutes, it was long enough already.

Alan Rickman was, again, criminally underused. Snape is the anti-hero and should get a little more than a few reaction shots. Tom Felton put in a surprisingly nuanced performance as Malfoy, looking more and more haunted as the film progressed. It seemed to me that Potter more interested in Malfoy than in Ginny Weasley with his near constant stalking of the latter.

The wonderful Jim Broadbent played the part of Professor Slughorn to perfection. He captured the insidious nature of Slughorn as a collector of youth. His collection is a twisted love of beauty and prowess that borders on paedophilic. The obvious naming conventions of Rowling ensure that although the characters may not see Slughorn as a direct threat, the audience is aware of something that is not quite right with this character. Slugs are rarely associated with the side of light.

In ordering him to get close to Slughorn, Dumbledore is putting Harry is a treacherous position although he appears not to acknowledge the same. Harry takes the opportunity to orchestrate moments alone with Slughorn and the creep factor shoots up. Using a child to manipulate a collector of children puts Dumbledore firmly in the morally grey column. While he is trying to defeat Tom Riddle, the ends do not justify the means and Dumbledore is hardly the paragon of virtue normally extolled.

Love is in the air at Hogswarts which given the characters’ ages is normal. What is not normal, however, is that the majority of the girls are portrayed deceitful and obtuse. Romilda Vane did use a love potion but crowds of girls are shown in the Weasley shop and in Slughorn’s dungeon lusting after love potions. Not a single boy displays an interest. The point of a love potion is to deceive and to trick somebody into falling in love with the purchaser. It can be likened to date rape drugs or mind control. The film places girls as deceivers and rapists-in-training which is not an accurate portrayal in the world outside Hogwarts.

Lavender Brown knows that she wants Ron Weasley and she gets him. Mission accomplished. Then she is broken into an obtuse irritant. Few adolescent girls would write “Ron loves Lavender” in front of Ron’s best friend. Few teenage girls would have a strop in front of teachers especially the most-hated vampire of the dungeon. The confident Lavender who succeeded in getting what she wanted is reduced to a simpering mess.

On the other side, Hermione Granger, who has been consistently been played as a strong if stereotypical brainy girl, turns into an cheating and vengeful mess. She, uncharacteristically, bewitches Cormac McClaggen to lose so Ron Weasley is chosen for captain of the team. Strange behaviour for the champion of hard work, honesty and elf rights. After Ron starts to go out with Lavender, Hermione attacks him with a spell even though she berates Harry later in the film for attacking Malfoy.

Naturally, some of this characterisation is based on Rowling’s novel but the film did not have to go down the road of slavishly turning the girls into false stereotypes.

The raising of wands at the death of Dumbledore was, frankly, ridiculous. Aside from the fact that students would not have known what spell to cast and firsties would have messed up, it likened the death of Dumbledore, a hero in many eyes, to an 80s power ballad. Perhaps the wizarding world is not aware of the similarities but the director should be.

As usual the special effects are impressive and a sense of foreboding is created in the dark imagery, contrasted with the light-hearted puppy love of the protagonists. But overall, the film felt like a placeholder.

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