Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Screenplay

Don’t get me wrong. This is an engrossing movie -- there’s an “Oh shit this is going to be bad” sense of dread and expectation that builds right from the beginning, like the tightness in the air just before a storm breaks. But when it does break (no spoilers), you get one victim (okay, yeah, a big one), a lot of architectural damage (Look! I’m evil! I’m kicking dinner plates!), and a moment of unity in the face of tragedy which would be a lot more moving if the tragedy felt more devastating. (Spoiler alert: boy, do I miss Richard Harris.) I mean, if I was Mordred and I got someone to sneak me into Camelot, I would not just go after King Arthur -- I’d make sure Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Tristram and, oh, Gareth (because I always wanted to be Gareth) took a long dirt nap. But then, the Hogwarts equivalent of Mordred doesn’t even have face time in this film; it’s just Agravain and Morgana and a Melligrance or two, which (along with a dead giant spider and some pretty glaring Gandalf and Gollum echoes) makes this series entry feel more like The Two Towers than The Harry Ultimatum. The mystery in the title feels like a throwaway, the jump from season to season is even more jarring than usual (it's always bad when on-screen characters mention the season as part of casual dialogue), and, I'm sorry, but all frakking hell broke loose at the end of the last movie. It's like Pearl Harbor happened, and then everybody goes back to Sunday dinner, instead of mobilizing the troops. Which, I know, get mobilized in the finale, but still.

To the film's (and the actors') credit, you don't feel like the movie is marking time while you're watching it. And it does have a lot of fun stuff. The young love subplots are just light enough, and serious enough, to complement the tension. The kid playing Agravain Malfoy looks and acts like a young Jonathan Pryce, Daniel Radcliffe does a delightful drunk bit when he’s high on liquid luck, and even though I saw the movie on Saturday morning, Alan Rickman is still pausing between a couple of words. And one cannot overstate the cumulative effect of following and continuing to see the three main actors (and a lot of minor actors) literally grow up before one's eyes. As a critic mentioned in a review, it's like watching 17-Up with wands and broomsticks. Plus, there’s the final two movies to look forward to, which will actually come out in the next two years. During which, hopefully, Harry gets to actually act like The Chosen One, instead of reminding everybody he is now and then, in case we forget.

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