The world seems to have gotten used to Harry Potter. There is less fanfare, less hype this time around. Or is it that things are much too serious these days to whip ourselves into a frenzy about movies? Perhaps the death of the king of pop drained some extra reserves of enthusiasm, and made people more self-conscious about their likes and dislikes. Perhaps enthusiasm for entertainers and entertainment has hit a momentary bump in the road.
Or, it may just have been the time of day. I saw the film this afternoon.
The theater was nearly full. It was a very good crowd, especially for mid-afternoon. Lots of kids, their parents, and throughout most of the film, excellent responses, laughs, startled reactions to a well-made film. But something was missing. People left the theater silently, almost with a somber air. You could feel it.
The director, David Yates, seemed to know the crowds would be somber this time around. The colors in this, the sixth adaptation from the J.K. Rowling series, are often awash in gray, muted, and there is little sunshine to illuminate the beauty surrounding Hogwarts school. Subtly, the director builds up the darks, with the help of his cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel. For those who have read the books, there are no surprises regarding the subject matter. But it’s still easy to have your subconscious tweaked by image, mood, darkness and light, the snow, the mist, and the soundscape. Bad things are on the horizon. We’re not in Kansas anymore and we’re swiftly moving away from almost any reminder of childhood innocence.
We do, however, get glimpses of the innocence of adolescence. This chapter in the Harry Potter series is filled with teenage angst and love and heartbreak, and much of it has to do with misreading signs and the sorrow of bad timing. Hermoine loves Ron, but he doesn’t see it and is busy with Lavender. Harry loves Ginny, but Ginny is dating Dean. Yates skillfully weaves this into the larger plot without melodrama. It feels natural, and the actors play their roles as if this were all happening to them, in real time.
Proportion. Context. Background and foreground. The light and the dark joust for our attention, and nothing seems out of place within the magic of that particular world. The movie isn’t about teen love, but that part of life carves out a niche inside the film. Time for innocence? Yes. But, paradoxically, it’s never blind.
There is very little time for any kind of innocence, really, when all is said and done. The world is changing far too rapidly. Voldemort and his Death Eaters have entered our world as well, and Hogwarts is soon under attack again. Draco Malvoy is given a task by the Dark Lord and helps the Death Eaters enter the school for wizards. Prior to that, we learn more about young Tom Riddle, and discover his strategy for immortality and the unwitting role played by Horace Slughorn. Horcruxes. Splitting the soul through murder and Horcruxes.
Dumbledore and Harry search for the third Horcrux in a cave by the sea, while the Death Eaters do their worst elsewhere. The art work leading up to the cave, the stormy seas, the high cliff walls, are wonderfully made and add bad omens to the mix. The movie is filled with beauty, though it’s darker this time, or gray, or muted by the mist and snow. Even quidditch is muted by winter storm.
Rowling took her readers from tween to teen and onto the cusp of adulthood. Like all the best stories for children and young adults, there is nowhere to hide, really, ultimately, from the reality of life and its flow. One more book to make. Two movies slotted for that last book. I think when we look back on this movie series from the vantage point of several years, we’ll give it its due as one of the best renditions of popular fiction ever.