Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've been a fan of the whole Harry Potter franchise. I first learned about the books when I started teaching middle school. The third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, came out right after I started teaching, and a bunch of teachers were excited. It cast them off as loons at first, but then I started hearing more and about it. A few months later, I decided to give the first book a shot.

I found it very easily readable. I made it through in just a couple days, and enjoyed the journey quite a bit. I got the next two and breezed through those as well. I wasn't blown away, but I was interested enough to look forward to the next book. Around the same time, talk about the movies started brewing.

With the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, things changed. The books about doubled in length, but Rowling is a good enough writer that she still made them easy to read. But they started to become darker. As the kids grew up, the overall mood became more mature. No, not a big step. They grew up a year at a time, as did the books. Compare one with the next and you won't see an enormous leap, but compare the first to the last and you will.

I think the first three book are great kids books. The last four are great books. The movies started coming out at the same time that the books turned the road, so I think the makers of the movies were able to guide them in that direction. One mild problem I have with the first three books is that they follow a formula of misdirection. Rowling wants you to think that person A is the bad guy, but then at the end its person B. I've heard from several people that don't like the books that they feel too much like a long Scooby Doo episode, and I think this "unmasking" at the end might be why. But that assessment ignores too much.

For Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I bought the book in Spain. I knew that it would make the flight home much easier. The problem was that I was also in my fifth week in Europe away from home. I was hitting that point where I was pretty tired of traveling, and I was ready to head home. I wanted to read the book more than sightsee at times. I only did one VERY hot day when I had exhausted my sightseeing and my body.

But Half-Blood Prince contains a huge plot point that could really suck if spoiled. I did finish the book on the plane. The next day while browsing around the internet, I saw the spoiler several times. If I hadn't been out of the country I have a feeling it would have sucked.

The movie was excellent. In fact, it was on my top 10 list until this past weekend when it was bumped by the two movies I saw. The Harry Potter movies have certainly appeared on my list before - this will be the first that hasn't made it. But it isn't because of the movie, but due to the ten other movies that I've enjoyed more.

The Harry Potter movie that has ranked highest for me was definitely Prisoner of Azkaban. It was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who had previously directed Y tu mamá también, another movie that I highly recommend.

But that was the movie that felt the most alive to me. I love the camera work. The soundtrack, John Williams last in the series, took on a different tone. I love the time travel double viewing of the last sequence from the two different angles - it's beautifully choreographed. Azkaban perfectly transitioned the kids movie of the first two into something just a bit darker. I think the three leads, Daniel Radcligg, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, become actors in this movie.

Azkaban scored the highest on my list of top 10s. It was number 3 for 2004, the first year I made my list. And I must say that the two films that topped it are now among my favorite ever, Garden State and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm considering making a top 10 of the decade (yes, I know, depending on your definition of "decade") to use to write up a few movies later this month. I won't be surprised if Azkaban makes it onto the list.

Of the Harry Potter movies, Azkaban is the one that I will stop to watch every time its on. It's the one that I want to see again.

So the final book and movie? The big miracle is that Rowling pulled it off in the Deathly Hollows. The book had the most logical and satifying ending. That isn't always the case. I think of King's Dark Tower series. It couldn't have ended any other way - it's the most logical. But yet, by definition, it was unsatisfying (which in its own way, makes it so. If you haven't read it, that makes no sense. It might to those who have.) But Deathly Hollows ends the story perfectly.

Since the filmmakers have split the movie it two, I'm hopeful. I think they did that to be faithful of the book. I wonder how many things they cut out of previous movies might affect it, though. There have been a lot of full plots cut, some of which tied back together for the final book. I hope they don't kill it. But yet, after six good movies, I can't believe at this point that they're going to screw it up.

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