dir: David Yates
Another year, another Potter flick. The difference is, now, after having enjoyed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so much, I thought I actually cared about future Potter flicks.
And then the Half-Blood Prince came along, and reminded me why I never really liked these tales of magical whimsy and whimsical magic in the first place.
That’s a bit harsh. Initially, going into it, I was pretty excited. I also thought, and still think, that this entry looks phenomenal as well. Hogwarts never looked so vast, so foreboding, so much more like a place that is no longer a sanctuary to these budding sorcerers.
Of course the ‘kids’ are getting older. Harry, Ron and Hermione are becoming awfully, um, grown-up physically, at least, if not emotionally mature. The story reflects and spends an inordinate amount of time fixating and developing these developments, as if the fact that they’re all acting like horny teenagers is supposed to be some kind of revelation.
Of course, this being a very successful franchise, they’re not going to turn it into an episode of the frightening school-age British series Skins, which has kids shagging, doing drugs and carrying on like teenagers having been acting since the dawn of cask wine.
Needless to say, no decent person expects to see that kind of stuff happening within the hallowed walls of Hogwarts. But they’re perfectly entitled to expect to see it in the inevitable porno versions that tend to ensue.
The events of the last film are not forgotten, and the world hasn’t returned to a status quo. There is, at least to my mind, a clear parallel with both wartime London imagery circa late 1930s, and also perhaps the more contemporary feel of the threat of terrorism, at least in the representation of London itself, which is attacked by servants of the evil lord No-Nose himself, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). These nasty Deatheaters destroy plenty of shit, mostly to coerce worthy wizards into joining their ranks or kill them, but also because they like destroying shit, presumably.
Harry flirts not only with hot girls who recognise him, but with the possibility of being able to lead a normal teenage existence. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) appears out of nowhere, and huffily reminds Harry of his responsibilities to the world because he’s so fucking special.
There are two plans afoot at the same time. On the side of the good guys, Dumbledore encourages a former teacher to return to the fold in order to allow Harry to extract some much needed information out of him. Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) is a querulous and cowardly old man, but he’s vain as well, and the prospect of teaching or “collecting” the Chosen One, as even the papers are calling Harry, delights and excites the old man.
I feel a bit reluctant to bring this up, but to me there was an unmistakable grooming / gay mentor vibe throughout the film. I’m not saying it at all as a negative, nor as a criticism. In fact, the very idea of Dumbledore having to groom Harry into ‘seducing’ Slughorn (for the purposes of extracting a memory of vital importance, not for the purposes of entertaining politicians with rentboys or anything), is quite amusing to me.
But it’s certainly there. I am not implying for a moment that there’s anything inappropriate between Dumbledore’s affections towards Harry, though he clearly loves him. Most of all, of course, Dumbledore seems to be, in the midst of a plan and set of predictions only he seems to know, mostly protecting Harry for long enough to let him bloom against the forces of No-Noseness.
It’s one of the many male on male relationships which weave throughout the entire story, which brings me back to my two plans reference earlier on. The plan by the Deatheaters, at the instigation of the thoroughly evil Marla from Fight Club (no, wait, it’s Helena Bonham Carter as the delightfully named Bellatrix Lestrange), for no reason that we (by we I mean non readers of the books) can glean, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) takes a very serious looking vow to protect Draco Malfoy until death do them part. The very sullen Draco spends the rest of the film trying to effect a plan that we are meant to assume involves killing our favourite lightning bolt scar-headed wizard.
Draco also spends the whole time looking like he’s been rejected by the love of his life who then convinced a horse to kick him in the nads. Is jealousy the root cause of his disaffected air? What else can explain his constant lurking in dark places, and his desire to stick small things in dusty boxes?
Then of course there’s the male-on-male relationship that is the lynchpin of the story, being the mysterious goings-on between Slughorn and his former student Tom Riddle. And of course that little boy grew up to be, Roy Cohn. No, I meant Voldemort. Something that happened between Slughorn and Tom is a moment of such evil, such darkness, that even Dumbledore, who clearly gets around, is frightened yet thrilled by the possibilities.
For those keeping track, the important relationships represented thus far are: Dumbles/Harry, Severus/Draco, Harry/Slughorn, Slughorn/Tom Riddle and back to Harry/Dumbles. Sure, there’s some token bullshit between Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), and even Harry and Ginny (Bonnie Wright) sexing it up, but we know where the story’s pulsing gay heart truly lies.
So much innuendo, so many parallels to draw, and yet so little time.
All these elements make it sound like a lot is going on, but in reality the flick is quite subdued, and mostly it’s as moody as the teenagers whose make-believe lives it portrays. It’s a lot of teenagers talking about stuff, and lots of mooning, and even a bizarre and eventually not very funny lunatic stalker of Ron’s called Lavender, who acts like she should be in one of those Twilight / New Moon sparkly Mormon vampire movies.
It’s certainly a depressing tale, the more it wears on. It meanders and meanders and meanders, mostly because we don’t know, and can’t rightly guess something that’s going to happen at the end of the story, but one of the main characters does know, but keeps it seemingly under wraps for no reason I can work out thus far. I’m sure everything’s going to be revealed in painstaking detail in the last two films, but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment here.
Harry, as well, keeps being admonished or made to promise either not to do anything at all, regardless of circumstance, or to do exactly what he’s told. Along with several other elements, it’s one of the main reasons why this flick feels, to me at least, like such a step backwards from The Order of the Phoenix. In the latter flick, apart from feeling for the first time that the world was at stake, the great pleasure for me was the manner in which the children are forced, by dint of circumstance, bureaucracy and due to the absence of a key character, to learn to fight for themselves. To mature, to step up, and to begin to accept that their fates, and in fact the fates of all, were in their hands alone, and that they weren’t going to necessarily be saved by conveniently wheeled in deus ex machinas popping arbitrarily into the script.
Oh, look, a magical bird popping in out of nowhere holding a magical sword for no reason, yet it’s just the thing I need at this very moment. How convenient!
I’m sure much of it comes down to so much of the book being cut out of the final script, but many scenes were, for me, arising out of nowhere. Much of the time it felt like the connective tissue, a consistent through-line that would explain to me why someone was where they were or what they were doing within the story, was kind of absent.
And the greatest frustration comes from an ending where Harry, who promises not to act despite the dire circumstances arising, chooses not to do so, for no earthly or unearthly reason that I can fathom, even had it been a foolish, token effort. At least do something, for fuck’s sake.
What’s worse: when someone you love dies despite your best efforts to save them, or that they die because you did nothing to save them? Put more aptly, what’s more satisfying from a storytelling point of view?
Yet still they had the temerity to try to paint that ending as a positive, happy ending? Are you kidding me? Did we watch the same flick, people?
Maybe I’m being too hard on the flick, due to high expectations that weren’t there for this franchise until I saw Order of the Phoenix. There was a pretty great sequence involving a magical potion of distilled luckiness, which has a hilarious placebo effect on a certain character, and the return of Quidditch in the snow didn’t look half bad. I didn’t mind too much the Ron/Hermione – Harry/Ginny stuff, because, and I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this, we’ve grown to love these characters over time, and forgive them, the way you forgive teenagers that you’ve known for a long time most things short of stealing your car, using your credit card online for porn, or sleeping with your partners. So what if Emma Watson is only about a year or two from splaying herself all over the tabloids in drunken debacles? So what if Ron still acts and speaks like a boorish football hooligan? They’re good kids.
Look, I still like the story, and I’m keen on seeing how it all ends. I expect lots of trouble, toil, bubbling cauldrons and callow teens fighting their hormones and the dark forces aligned against them. It’s an epic story geared at those either living through or remembering the trials and tribulations of growing up, when the slightest obstacles and briefest romances took on the scale of catastrophic disasters and heart-rending apocalypses. I still like seeing the story play out, and the cleverness of some of the set pieces is pretty grand to behold. Even if it doesn’t all cohere that well, it’s still enjoyable enough as an epic telling of the school days of a bunch of mostly interesting kids.
And that’s more than Hollywood, with its perpetual cycle of Matthew McConaughey / Kate Hudson / Fast & Furious / Transformers vehicles usually manages to give us.
7 times you’d think these teenagers would just be killing each other outright out of jealousy out of 10
“This is beyond anything I’ve ever imagined.” – I bet you say that to all the boys, Dumbles, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.