Tuesday, 15 December 2009

DVD Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Arsed Film

Six films in and it's time to face the grisly, unpalatable truth. I really don't care much for Harry Potter or his movies. Yes, a couple of the early ones were fun - lots of ogres, giant spiders, snakes, whizzy bits of magic and a real sense of awe and wonder. But the kids - Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the others - are growing up fast and the films are growing up with them - or at least they're trying to. But growing up often leads to a loss of innocence and so it is with Harry's cinematic exploits, nevermore apparent than in this overlong, drab and largely action-free sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is Harry Potter for the Twilight/High School Musical generation, more concerned with teenage crushes, snogging, fancying one another and saying 'bloody' more than is really necessary in a film series aimed predominently at kids.

Now I'll readily admit that I've always been a bit ambivalent about the whole Potter phenomenon. I'm happy to see kids reading books rather than sit drooling in front of The X Factor but I remain utterly baffled as to what adults get out of these stories apart from the vicarious pleasure of seeing their kids enjoying something a bit more intelligent than your average soap opera or TV talent show. But I share comedian Stewart Lee's amusement and frustration (if not his abject cynicism) at the sight of grown adults sitting on buses and trains enraptured Rowling's latest doorstop - "Have you read the latest one...Harry Potter and the Tree of Nothing?" as Lee pointedly put it). And I'm not writing out of pure ignorance of the text; I tried to read the first two books, I ploughed through a few chapters of the last one. I just find Rowling's writing flat and uninvolving with no sense of adventure or scale, just words on a page going nowhere and saying nothing very interesting in any really interesting way. The Potter books just seem to me like adequately-written books for children (Phillip Pullman they're not), populated by people with childish names like Slughorn, Dumbledore and Snape, roll-around-your-tongue playground character names. Precious little meat in the Potter series for discerning adults, surely.

The films have tended to work better - but still as kid's films - by boiling down the stories into their set pieces with just the characters and incident which drive the series forward and all the flab excised. Until now, that is. 'The Half-Blood Prince' is clearly a scene-scetter for the final epic showdown between Harry and the Dark Lord Voldemort in the next two films (the final novel split into two movies....sounds ominous) but it has no story of its own to tell, no conflict to depict and precious little of interest to hold the attention. Despite one of the Blu Ray special features getting all worked up about the film's location filming, the majority of the movie is set - again - in the shadowy halls and cloisters of Hogwarts (another silly name) with just one brief and refreshing scene set in London and a few others set in a world so removed from the real one as to be pretty much totally unindentifiable. This is part of the problem I have with the series; it's so unconnected with humanity, with real people, it doesn't really seem to matter what happens in Harry's parallel world becauswe it never seems to impact on us mere 'muggles' (another silly name) who remain blissfully unaware of all these dark supernatural doings. So once again the audience has to endure -and so little happens here it really is an endurance test - a bunch of kids in silly wizarding robes wandering around Gloucester Cathedral (doubling as Hogwarts) and making gooey-eyes at each other as they discover their burgeoning sexuality. After the intitial aforementioned Death Eater attack on the Millennium Bridge a good hour passes before anything remotely exciting happens as the film tells us that Harry fancies Ron's sister, Hermione fancies Ron, Ron fancies some other girl (they can't stop snogging!) and Ron's sister gets groped by the school jock. Who cares? Meanwhile an old Hogwarts teacher called Horace Slughorn (another silly...oh, you get the idea), who taught Voldemort before he became evil, returns to the school and Dumbledore encourages Harry to befriend him to find out whatever secrets he passed on to junior V. Meanwhile slimy Draco Malfoy works in secret with Severus Snape (Alan Rickman given a bit more to do than usual) for reasons which seemed too dreary to commit to memory save the fact that they led to the Shock Death of a major character (whose identity you'll know if you've persevered to the end of the sixth book).

In between all the kissing and cuddling (and God there's a lot of it) there's the odd bit of magic but it's all so low-key and underplayed as to be barely noticable. Even the one obligatory Quidditch scene seems crowbarred into the story just to brighten things up a bit. There's really nothing especially magical about the film and I remain confused as to quite why Voldemort is supposed to be such a threat when Harry's kicked his ass in every film so far. If V is so powerful why can't he just wipe Hogwart's and all its loved-up teens off the face of the Earth and save us all the torture of the last two films in the series?

Ultimately it really all boils down into how much you've bought into the Potter myth. Fans may thrill at seeing Harry growing up and kissing and Ron frothing at the mouth and Hermione reduced to tears when Ron gets off with someone else. Me? Well, I couldn't honestly give a damn and That Death left me as cold-hearted and unmoved as a very cold-hearted not-moved person. Technically David Yates has crafted a big, atmospheric film packed with performances which are better than the material (Broadbent is great as Slughorn but the likes of Mark Williams, Julie Walters, David Bradley and Tim Spall are wasted in cough and spit cameos) but it's cold, soulless and pretty much bereft of a coherent, interesting narrative line. I found it a real drag to get through and I suspect that if I'd ventured into the cinema to see it I'd have either fallen asleep or left halfway through. I've found the previous movies reasonably enjoyable but this one just misses the mark almost entirely and is about as unessential as a franchise movie as one could really ever imagine. Terribly disappointing.