Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Pavlovian Response at Midnight

Tuesday night: I'm sitting on my laptop, working on my review for Al Adamson's Dracula vs. Frankenstein, when a familiar chirp emanated from my pants -- a new text message. LC, a friend who I hadn't seen in months, wanted to know whether I wanted to see the new Harry Potter film at a midnight screening. Well, actually, she didn't want to know whether I wanted to specifically -- it was a mass message, sent to many people.

Despite the fact that I had work the next day, that Harry Potter movies run about two and a half hours each, that I didn't have any actual interest in seeing the film, I immediately texted back, "Yes, if I can get a ride" (I don't own a car, for reasons that I explain are environmental but are mostly to do with not caring very much). Arrangements were made and within an hour, I was sitting shotgun in LC's car, on my way to extremely reduced sleep.

Why did I do this? Why do I do this every time someone asks the magic question, "Midnight screening?" Sure, there are perks. I get to see the movie before anybody. I get to join in with other movie fans who are also willing to sacrifice their beloved REM for the same bragging rights. I'm guaranteed a full house of fans, which adds very much to the overall cinema-going experience when the movie is very good indeed.

At the same time, you have to arrive at the theater hours in advance to ensure a decent seat (although with the advent of online ticketing, that's the only reason to show early). You have to sit in line with very little in the way of entertainment (an irony, of course, given that you're inside a multiplex, an institution dedicated to the art of entertainment). If you're like me and do a lot of work online in the evenings, your productivity takes a major hit, even if you do bring along your laptop.

And oh, heaven help you if the movie isn't R-rated. We were finally let into the theater an hour before the movie was due to begin and found ourselves beset at all sides by teenyboppers. Yelling, gabbing, jostling, immature teenyboppers. One rather annoying kid of no more than thirteen spent a good portion of the hour antagonizing/flirting with some older girls in my row -- and doing it rather badly. Eventually faux-banished from sitting next to them, he plopped down next to me and decided that he was fascinated with the game of Zuma I had running on my laptop. I resisted the urge to tell him to butt out, but only because I deduced from his other interactions that it would only encourage him.

Eventually the trailers began (the theater descended into a war of "Yays" and "Boos" when the New Moon preview played) and then the movie. I'm sorry to say that, while I enjoyed it, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was not worth the loss of sleep that I am still feeling two days later. I had a feeling that vast swaths of necessary plot were either compacted or ignored. For instance, the central mystery implied in the title is brought up twice in the course of the film and then dismissed at the end without any context as to why it was really that important in the first place. A little research into the book (which I haven't read) confirmed that there was a lot more to the "Half-Blood Prince" moniker than the film revealed. Additionally, a rather menacing dark wizard shows up with only a name, Fenrir Greyback, and an uncouth look about him. Again, the Internet told me that, apparently, he's a werewolf and a nasty one at that.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves decided to follow the awkward teenage development of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends for the most part, which I do not fault them for because their handling of it is rather brilliant. Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) gets an overbearing girlfriend who loves making out and Harry begins to see Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) in a new, sexy light. Both boys experiment with drugs in a PG-rating-friendly way. Ron eats some cookies laced with a love potion (read: pot brownies) and Harry has to drag him to Professor Horace Slughorn (the always delightful Jim Broadbent) to bring him down. Later, Harry has his own altered experience thanks to a Luck Potion. I have to say, Radcliffe is brilliant in this sequence, with a real sense of comedic delivery. He's has always had the unenviable task of playing the David Copperfield of the Potter series -- the wide-eyed everyman who must be stoic and decent in the face of mounting adversity. It's not an easy part, because you're always going to come off as slightly more dull than the wacky characters around you, so it's a pleasure to see Radcliffe get a chance to be the funny one.

Still, this is the penultimate chapter in a seven-part epic (well, if you discount the fact that they're splitting Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts) and, from conversations with friends after the movie, Yates and Kloves have put themselves into a difficult position by not introducing certain key elements in this film that will pay off in Deathly Hallows. One wonders if they'll simply work around the omissions or if they'll do as Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and shift parts of the story around.

If there's a major problem with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as a film (and not, say, as an adaptation), it's the same one that plagued the last two movies as well. The writing clearly means for Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron to end up together, but the chemistry on-screen between Watson and Radcliffe makes that very difficult to accept. The two simply spark. There's something warm, inviting -- something homey about their interactions, like Harry and Hermione just belong together, plotting how to save the world and each other. It's utterly distracting because it flies in the face of everything the script would have us believe. As a director, Yates should have recognized this problem and reduced the screentime that Watson and Radcliffe share in the editing booth, but I can understand why he wouldn't. Those moments between the two are some of the most touching and heartfelt in the movie and sometimes killing your darlings is too painful.