Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Importance of Pacing

The Harry Potter film franchise, with the release of its sixth installment The Half-Blood Prince (2009), just solidified itself as the best film series with more than 3 movies in film history. I understand this is a bold claim, but I stand behind it.

I can hear the Bond fans protesting already, but I would counter their arguments by saying that for every Goldfinger (1964) and Casino Royale (2006) there are 5 Bond films that are unspeakably bad. In order to qualify as the best extended film franchise you've got to consistently turn out a quality product. By this standard I also rule out two George Lucas creations, Indiana Jones (now that there's a 4th one) and Star Wars (I think the awful prequels speak for themselves).

From the start, the Potter films have been a shining example of how to do children's adventure/fantasy right. They are well written, the casting choices have been right on the nose, and the special effects always serve the narrative rather than causing a distraction. Perhaps most importantly, the Potter films are not afraid to deviate from the source material when it makes sense to do so, which is also something the Lord of the Rings series got right. Changing small details and cutting out sub-plots might anger hardcore fans, but film is a different medium than the written word. Hermione's campaign to free house elves (a sub-plot which runs through 3 of the novels) simply wouldn't translate well to the screen and would ultimately hurt the story if it were included in the films.

While there are countless factors that go into making a good film it's possible there is none more important than pacing, and this is where The Half-Blood Prince shines. It's a slow burn. The film takes its time to tell the story, focusing on what the characters are feeling with long close-ups, and yet it never feels like it's meandering or wasting our time.

Some critics have complained that Half-Blood lacks the sense of magic and wonder of the prior films, but what they aren't realizing is that the world of Potter has already been established. We already know that the staircases in the castle move and that the portraits can speak to you, so it's not necessary to dwell on those things any more. What Writer Steve Kloves, Director David Yates, and Producer David Heyman have so brilliantly done is simply treat the magical aspects of the story as totally normal, which allows the audience to focus on the story and take it seriously. This is important considering it's a story about wand carrying wizards battling for control of a magical society. If a fantasy film isn't taken seriously by the film makers it certainly won't be taken seriously by the audience, and it's obvious from the tone of the film that this is no joke, even though humor still plays a big part as it has throughout the series.

Clearly, the Potter franchise has become much more than a silly children's fantasy, becoming a full blown pop-culture phenomenon. But the reason for this is not because it's about magic or because of the cool special effects. These things might have sold the story initially, but the audience has stayed with Harry through his adventure because deep down it's a good story complete with interesting characters and a compelling drama that people identify with. The Half-Blood Prince is the best film yet from an already great series, and it masterfully sets up the final two-part installment by pacing itself perfectly to build anticipation.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) 10/10


  1. Although I agree with you that it's an amaizing series, and you know how much I love HP. I was disappointed in the movie. I know that for time purposes there have to be edits but the scene I looked forward to the most didn't make it, and I really think it was pivotal. I did love the expansion of the characters as people but overall I just didn't have the same sense of enrapture that I did with the rest. Pls. understand I'm comparing to other HP movies! Compared to most movies based on books it was a home run.

  2. I haven't seen this movie, yet, but as a die-hard fan of the books, I agree that for the most part, the movies are very well done. My one complaint is that oftentimes, if you haven't read the book, you don't understand what is going on in the movie. This was evident when I had a post-Goblet of Fire conversation with some movie-goers who had not read the book. The assumptions they had made about why things were happening demonstrated that they completely missed why some scenes were so critical. Of course, I think that could've been solved by making two movies out of most of the books!

    I completely agree, though, that everything in the books does not need to be on the screen, but when you're dealing with books as well known as the HP series, I think you need to be very careful when adding scenes. There's so much material to start with, that create more seems silly.

    I can't wait to see the movie. Daniel Radcliffe is the perfect Harry Potter, but this would've been the perfect film for the "real" Dumbledore, Richard Harris.

  3. I wish they would have cast Gambon from the start. Harris was too frail and soft spoken for the role. Dumbledore is a very mysterios charactor and he does have a bit of an edge to him, and Gambon embodies that much better than Harris did.

  4. I would agree that the movie was well done in terms of including all of the important details, but while I've begrudgingly conceeded that previous movies were done well even though they weren't EXACTLY like the book, this movie included stuff that wasn't even in the book and changed drastically the stuff that was!

    I know you argued with Sam that the whole "Battle of Hogwarts" is going to happen in the 7th movie, but the anger and the hate between Snape and Harry was not captured AT ALL in the movie. They even had their own little scene together at the end and Snape was just like ... blah. The Death Eaters just killed Dumbledore and scampered off into the forest without much of a fight at all. I think Bellatrix blasted some poor shmuck out of the doorway, but that was it. The whole point of Hogwarts is that it's supposed to be a safe, impenetrable haven and 5 Death Eaters just mosey on through. That's what disappointed me the most. That was a pivotal moment in the story and the movie completely omitted it.

    Instead of Harry and Ginny wandering around in a damn corn field (what was even the POINT of that?), which didn't happen in the book, all of that time and energy should have been spent in a tussle between the Order and the Death Eaters. Otherwise, why did they even make the 5th movie?

    The other movies were close enough to perfect that I didn't care, but this one was just offensive.

  5. I started watching the movies before I read the books, so my philosophy about judging the movies is pretending the books don't exist. If it works as a movie they've done their job. It might upset some people with certain expectations, but they've proven to me that they know what they're doing and I feel as though I'm in good hands.