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Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Birdsong

By August 24, 2009November 23rd, 2010No Comments

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince posterWhat is there left to say about Harry Potter films? It seems like only yes­ter­day that I wrote of The Order of the Phoenix: “this Harry Potter is not a hugely enjoy­able exper­i­ence. The young act­ors, des­pite lots of prac­tice by now, haven’t got any bet­ter (poor Rupert Grint as Harry gets found out every time they point the cam­era at him). Daniel Radcliffe as Harry doesn’t seem to be able to carry the weight of the emo­tion or the action and Harry him­self still seems like a bit of a wimp.” And noth­ing much has changed this time around.

In the latest film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry is under pres­sure from head­mas­ter Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)to find out the truth about return­ing potions pro­fess­or Slughorne (Jim Broadbent) who knows the secret of Dark Lord Valdemort’s where­abouts. But Dumbledore’s motiv­a­tions are murky and the loy­alty of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) is called in to ques­tion. There is also a humour­less and tedi­ous diver­sion into the romantic lives of our her­oes that does noth­ing but con­firm the absence of act­ing tal­ent on offer.

As usu­al, it all seems like it’s being made up as it goes along and the lack of nar­rat­ive oomph is my big frus­tra­tion with this instal­ment. It’s more than two and a half hours long, not much hap­pens, and when it does it seems to take forever. The books may well be full of won­der­ful mean­der­ings about spells, Hogwarts his­tory, Harry’s Mum and so on but it drags the film into a dread­ful unpropuls­ive mal­aise that a few effects-heavy set-pieces can’t fix. It’s as if the dir­ect­or (David Yates) said “we don’t need anoth­er game of Quidditch, it just gets in the way”, was over-ruled by the Studio because the fans demand it and then, 20 mil­lion dol­lars later, you’ve lost 20 minutes of your life that you’ll nev­er get back. So, I blame the fans. Every last one of you.

Birdsong posterSo, after quib­bling with one film for being too slow I’m now going to praise one for exactly the same thing. Birdsong in the Film Festival didn’t quite man­age to keep me 100% awake (which may not have been the point) but I did admire it greatly. Directed by Spanish icon­o­clast Albert Serra (who seems to delight in keep­ing score of audi­ence num­bers left in the theatre at the end of each screen­ing), Birdsong is a delib­er­ately slow and still, black and white re-imagining of the Nativity story fea­tur­ing three shep­herds, a pretty angel, Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a sheep wait­ing in the blis­ter­ing sun for – some­thing: the Romans maybe, or God. Or Godot? In fact the three bick­er­ing Kings reminded me of Beckett’s clas­sic play. They could have been Vladimir, Estragon and Bonaventura (most pop­u­lar Catalan baby name accord­ing to Google).

Virtually free of music (apart from the sound of the creaky Paramount seats flip­ping up as people left), Birdsong was a pleas­antly hyp­not­ic exper­i­ence, pleas­ur­able because (unlike the bom­bast­ic Harry Potter) it left plenty of room for one’s own intel­lect and ima­gin­a­tion to fill the spaces.

For those read­ers who were wait­ing for my ver­dict before decid­ing wheth­er to see My Life in Ruins, please accept my apo­lo­gies. A com­bin­a­tion of Festival, work and fam­ily com­mit­ments have meant that this par­tic­u­lar title hasn’t yet been screened. If it’s still play­ing this week­end I will get to it and report back.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 22 July, 2009. Which is a month ago. Still des­pite my best efforts I am a month behind. Sorry.