Harry Potter & The Blah-de-blah-de-blah

July 19, 2007

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After suffering an agonizing break from the cinema to see to far less important matters, it was with great anticipation that I made the long-awaited return. And yet, I’m still now wondering whether or not I really did see the film. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention properly. Maybe the man in the projection box mysteriously died. Whatever happened, I’m struggling to recall even one simple emotion or reaction I experienced watching Potter’s latest caper.

Harry is getting older, and it’s not looking good for the younger fan. At this difficult stage of teenage life, youthful excitement is replaced with misery. Sprightly, slapstick wizardry is swallowed by awkwardness and constant danger. The script is shit.

Most unforgivably, the magic that once made the franchise sparkle has been mercilessly sucked from the screen. Every article you will ever read about the series is certain to include a quote from some cast or crew member in awe of ‘how much darker we’ve taken Potter with this film’. Well it’s about time we addressed this issue once and for all: WHAT EXACTLY IS ‘DARKER’?     

I can switch off this lamp here and my room is darker. During winter, for 23 hours a day Iceland is darker than the UK. The lucky idiots who’s job it is to bring to life the most popular children’s book ever have utterly missed the boat. In trying to keep up with the original fanbase (many of which are now in their second decade) they’ve attempted to mature the themes and characters, give them a deeper edge, make it ‘dark’. Analysing this a little further, there appears a huge stumbling block in the shape of the source novels. Harry Potter is a CHILDREN’S book series at heart, one that became a success among all ages for its universal themes and concepts with broad appeal. If fans of the book now consider themselves too grown-up to be seen watching a Harry Potter film, so be it. It’s far more profitable to hook the much larger group of nippers making their first acquaintances with the boy wizard anyway. But striving for this extra edge, these deeper levels of moody intelligence every year is draining the life out of Harry and co, not to mention their anxious audience. What nobody has pointed out to the powers that be is that a great film is a great film. Toy Story is a fantastic kids film because, simply, it’s a fantastic film. Ron’s laughably mild swearing and a big face-eating snog scene will not impress older viewers- just tell the stories written for you in the books in a nice cinematic way and you’ll capture the imagination of millions like JK Rowling has done.

Ok, it’s not as easy as that. And yes, it’s the longest book and lacks much real action. But I’m a big believer in the clues an audience gives, and something has gone very wrong somewhere for a whole room of Potter fans to be so detached. I could count the laughs on one hand, if that hand had suffered a horrific meat-cutting accident. In the book Ron’s brief moment of quidditch glory might not add much to the story, but it was a golden opportunity to inject some light-hearted merrirment into a depressive 2 hours of film. Surprise, surprise: they cut it out. Though many attempt the mindless comparison, I refuse to say that the book is better than the film- they are utterly different mediums and should be judged on their own merits.   

Imelda Staunton as the grotesque Ministry of Magic stooge Delores Umbridge is the saving grace of an otherwise forgetable episode, her sickly dress-sense and menacing tranquility a constant threat. Daniel Radcliffe in the scar-faced title role still hasn’t looked up the words ‘charisma’ or ‘acting lessons’ despite a much meatier task this time around. And the dialogue may be more pathetic than Celebrity Big Brother, but must Hermione (Emma Wats-er-face) continue to insist on pulling 17 faces to convey one emotion? If that’s what the producers were after they should have cast Jim Carrey. Rupert Grint as ginger-nut Ron- the most capable actor of the big three- is wasted in a heavily chopped role, but delivers when called upon. Amongst other new and old faces, Helena Bonham-Carter stars as Helena Bonham-Carter, apparently.

The heart of the problem still seems to lie with the character of Harry himself. Potter should be a funny, likaeable boy-next-door who young people can relate to and root for, an ordinary kid who just happens to be stuck in a lot of magical bother. Radcliffe’s interpretation is increasingly that of the self-important, upper-class whingebag, the kind of student everyone at school would hate. It’s getting more and more difficult to believe that Harry could keep any number of friends, yet Ron, Hermione and co never tire of his high-maintenance, J-Lo style diva behaviour. At the very least some screen time should be given to the under-achieving anti-heroes of Hogwarts… the smelly, acne-stricken skivers from Ravenclaw sneaking a cheeky toke behind the quidditch pitch. The line between fantasy and reality should have been drawn much more creatively than the lazy adaptations Warner Brothers continue to churn out.        

More positively, David Yates, a hero of British TV drama makes a good go of his big break, and technically and structurally the films are getting much better. Aside from a few inconsistencies (Sirius appears in the fire in a completely different way to how we’ve seen previously) the visual effects are neat, tidy and gorgeous. The glimpses into Harry’s mind are well dealt with and the wand battles have finally progressed into something close to approaching the coolness of lightsabre duels.     

Whatever the response Potter remains a no-brainer for breaking the box-office year after year, but for the first time the page-to-screen process feels tired and formulaic. As with the peaks and troughs of keeping the 007 franchise alive and kicking, something special is needed to rescue the Hogwarts gang for next year’s Half-Blood Prince. All we can say is, if they try and make it any more ‘darker’ and ‘edgier’ we’ll be left watching one big dark edge… and a boring one at that.     

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