Ragged Claws

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back in Berkeley!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

YO soy el príncipe mestizo, Harry!

I saw Harry Potter y el Misterio del Príncipe recently, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Unlike the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was pretty much incomprehensible if you arrived in the theater more than 30 minutes after finishing the book (and even then, it would have been wise to scribble some notes on your hand and tuck a cheat sheet into your shoe), the sixth movie in the franchise remained intelligible all the way through. In this outing, screenwriter Steve Kloves seems to be more comfortable editing and reworking his sprawling source material, possibly because now that Rowling has finished the series it’s easier to discern the story’s critical features and chart a through-line to the end. The movie is also served well by its special effects, which construct a gorgeously detailed world without falling into flashy gimmickry (except perhaps for the IMAX-friendly flight scene at the beginning). By this point in the series the production team seems like a well-oiled machine, and it should be fun to watch their vision and craftsmanship at work in the final two installments.

The one major issue I had with the movie was the portrayal of Horace Slughorn. Jim Broadbent is a great actor, but his hangdog face and slightly apologetic aspect don’t align with the character. Slughorn is jovial, shrewd, oleaginous and vain, with a keen eye to his own advantage. He’s also a character that broadens the universe in important ways, by showing how characteristically Slytherin traits might serve positive ends. With the exception of Snape, the Slytherins shown up to this point in the series have been a highly unlikeable group, vicious as children and villainous as adults (and even Snape’s true loyalties are left in question until the end of the final book). Slughorn breaks from this mold. He’s venal, but not evil. Moreover, his venality fuels his achievement, and alerts him to the potential for achievement in others. Slughorn’s cultivation of budding talent springs from intense self-interest, but is still valuable to his proteges. Although Harry is wary of Slughorn and Dumbledore amused by him, Rowling suggests that such “collectors” may fill useful social functions, even as she criticizes the callousness and limitations of a purely instrumentalist view of human relations. The introduction of Slughorn thus helps to resolve a major plot hole – why does Slytherin House exist, given that Slytherins seem to do nothing but combat the forces of good – while complicating and deepening the story’s moral perspective. It’s fitting that as Harry and his friends approach graduation and adulthood, the reader also begins to experience their world in more nuanced, mature terms. By contrast, the film mostly ignored these thematic considerations and instead used Slughorn as a device for plot advancement, a convenient source of potions or information whenever necessary. It’s an understandable choice in light of running time limitations, but it deprives the character – and the story – of some potential richness. (Of course, it’s possible that these comments don’t apply to the English-language version of the movie. Actually, given my own frequent clumsiness in Spanish, it’s possible that they don’t even apply to the version I saw...so if that’s the case, never mind!)