A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Extended Trailer

That's how one critic described the latest Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I went to see the film with my kids yesterday afternoon, and it's not an inexact description. When you try and cram an 800+ page book into a 2 1/4 hour movie, it is likely an impossibility to make it feel anything but superficial and rushed. By way of comparison, Peter Jackson took nearly 10 hours to film the three Lord of the Rings adaptations, and still didn't cover everything. The three LotR books together are only about 300 pages longer than Order of the Phoenix.

Still, the movie wasn't bad-- it was, in fact, okay. Fairly entertaining, with a pretty good treatment of the really major points of the book-- as opposed to the fairly major, but not quite critical bits that are ignored or barely touched upon by the film. I probably would even have given the film a good rating if not for two factors: 1) The movie focus too much on Harry himself to the detriment of all other characters and, more significantly, 2) Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore is simply dreadful.

Spoiler alert-- if you haven't seen the movie or read the books, what follows may reveal bits that will lessen your enjoyment when you do see/read them. Probably not, but you never know.

The first complaint may also be unavoidable-- Harry is, after all, at the center of everything that happens since the books are written almost exclusively from his viewpoint. But this movie, more than any of the others, seems to focus so tightly on Harry that everything else seems superfluous. There is no mention of the Hermoine/Ron relationship outside of a few passing remarks and a scene or two where Ron gets defensive/jealous. The 5th year OWLs are barely touched upon, and when they do get coverage they are altered from the book for no discernable purpose. The troubles of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are brushed over, and Kreacher plays no real role in the movie at all, other than to allow the CGI people to have some fun.

But, the source material was so vast, there were bound to be many, many, many, many things that got left out, and all of the really important bits (though not necessarily the most interesting or entertaining) center around Harry. So, though disappointed by the Harry-centricness of the movie, I understand it and can live with it.

What I don't get is why Michael Gambon is still portraying Albus Dumbledore. Gambon may be a fine actor, I have no real basis for judgment outside of the Potter films, but he is a lousy Dumbledore. In the books, Dumbledore is a calm, clever fellow who never loses his cool and has an easy, reassuring and humorous manner in dealing with people. He is nearly unflappable, and he has a certain sense of strength about him-- a presence, if you will.

Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two movies before his death in October of 2002, was PERFECT in the role. He radiated a quiet aura of reassurance, compassion, confidence and power. As the greatest wizard of several generations should. Harris also beautifully captured Dumbledore's quirky, almost childlike, sense of humor and wonder without ever losing the sense that he could reduce you to dust in a heartbeat if he wanted to.

Gambon has none of those qualities. Instead, he seems agitated, cranky, suspicious and uncertain most of the time. He is, quite frankly, the anti-Dumbledore. Trying to step into Harris' HUGE shoes would have been daunting for any actor I have no doubt, but you don't do the exact opposite of what Harris did just to be different. Not with an iconic role like Dumbledore. In the books, Dumbledore is described as the "only one he [Voldemort] ever feared" and with Harris you could see why. With Gambon, I think-- why would Voldemort be afraid of this guy? He can't even stand up to Delores Umbridge.

That scene, when Dumbledore "confronts" Umbridge outside Hogwarts, was the thing that sealed it for me. Gambon's Dumbledore sounds forlorn and pathetic, like Umbridge really does have the upper hand on him. He snaps at the surrounding students and looks small and defeated as he stalks off screen. All completely and totally WRONG in relation to the book or how Dumbledore acts in every other situation. It's like Gambon has never even read the books and neither has the director.

All of which is very odd, because other than Gambon the casting for the Potter films has been absolutely outstanding. All of the main and supporting roles are dead on ball accurate (it's an industry term) except for Gambon. How did they manage to get everything else so right and this crucial bit so terribly, terribly wrong? And why don't they fix it?

It is very disappointing to me that the people in charge of the Potter films have stuck with Gambon for the last three films in the series because he is really, really bad in that role. Which is a terrible sign for the next film-- and probably for the final one as well-- as Dumbledore plays a very large part in the 6th installment of the series.

Perhaps they will see their mistake and make a change before #6, but it seems pretty unlikely given that they've stuck with Gambon for three installments now.

One final quibble-- the treatment of the fight in the Department of Mysteries was disappointing. We only see two rooms-- the prophecy room and the arch room-- and the actual running (literally) dogfight between Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters suffers greatly because of this. I was so looking forward to the room with the fish tank full of brains, too.

Overall, I give HPatOotP an "Eh, not bad, see it if you are a fan, don't bother if you're not" rating.


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