Beware! There be spoilers.
The sixth movie installment in the Harry Potter series is, to be honest, a bit of a disappointment.When I think about it, it seems like a Herculean task for it not to be. But I ask myself, should that really be my problem?
Writing the screenplay for the sixth movie in a series can hardly be a picnic. There is so much exposition that you simply do not have time to cover if you wish to keep the running length reasonable. With a series like this — so rich in detail, its conclusions built on so many little facts accumulated over multiple books…
The sixth book is especially tough because, fascinating as it is to followers of the series, its major driving force is an examination of Voldemort’s childhood and youth, and the clues it provides to his destruction. Not exactly the stuff gripping celluloid is made of, although it is fascinating to the reader.
In the interest of narrative economy, this plot strand has been condensed into two key memories — one where Dumbledore meets young Tom Riddle for the first time, and one where Riddle finds out about Horcruxes from Slughorn. If one had to condense the book into its plot essence, this would be about right — they tell you that Voldemort was a bad penny right from the start, and that he split his soul and stored it in some objects as a way of staying alive.
Not unlike those wonderful B&W fantasy movies we used to have where the evil magician put his life in a parrot or something equally vulnerable. I can almost imagine Ron doing a Dead Parrot sketch with Harry while Voldemort lay dead in the corner of a pet store. But I digress…
The rest of the running time is taken principally by the love lives of the principal characters, and the mysterious doings of Draco Malfoy. The result is a curious mixture. Half the time, you aren’t sure if Harry is more worried about what Voldemort will do to him or about what Ron will do to him if he kisses Ginny. But despite its two-faced nature, this is a uniformly sombre movie. It is dark, grey and moody, even when it deals with the hormonally addled life of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny.
While all these people have slowly grown into their roles and are fairly comfortable with them, two people get to do more interesting things this time. First up is Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent with a lot more comic edge than the character seemed to have in the book. The other is Tom Felton — Draco Malfoy faces a test of character in this episode and… succeeds, after a fashion. Although Felton gets very little dialogue, he manages to convey a heck of a lot while just appearing to be skulking around and playing Scotty with a magical cabinet.
Trouble is, the movie never really takes off. Other than for one brief moment when Dumbledore and Harry stand on a rock in the sea while the waves crash all around them, there is never really a sense of exhilaration. Even the Quidditch matches seem obligatory. Maybe the series is just taking a breather before the final rush. I certainly hope so. It would be a pity if we had to poke ourselves with our wands to stay awake when Harry finally faced down Voldemort.