Summer movies. What joy, and of course, the unfailing defeater of heat and humidity. As for 2009, we welcomed the return of two old favorites; Star Trek–and thankfully; featuring fresh, young faces with the exception of the ever-celebrated Leonard Nimoy as “old Spock,” and a not-quite-so-old, yet unequivocally loved by millions–Harry Potter.
I was fortunate to see Star Trek on the Imax screen, and I say “fortunate,” because it was an absolute thrill of a film. Now, personally, I’m a moderate Trekkie. I don’t buy the uniform shirts and wear them like my older brother (at least he doesn’t listen to “Learn to speak Klingon” tapes)… although this flick just might get me to reconsider that possibility… Nevertheless, I can truly say that whether you’re a fan of the old show, or a virgin cadet experiencing the final frontier for the first time, I think you just might be a little weird if you don’t like this movie. It’s action packed in a smart way that is extremely well-paced, and offers everything a good summer movie should: suspense, romance, rebel-heroes, a super-bad villain that we love to hate, nail-biting cliff-hangers and comic relief. And of course, the special effects are completely awesome. Additionally, the characters are keenly crafted, and again; in a way that is fun and fresh, yet without neglecting to tip the hat to all the traits we love about the original crew. And might I add that this was also done quite cleverly by illustrating, for example, such points as what a rogue Kirk was when it came to the ladies, and how Bones was just as ridden with anxiety as a young man as he was as a seasoned doctor. These are the kind of details that make scripts fun for the actors, and provide the necessary chuckles for the audience; making veteran Trekkies feel either really cool, or really geeky for getting all the inside jokes… or a bit of both. I almost feel guilty for doing so, but I give this film my highest rating of four stars (Great film. Would for sure, go see it again in the theater. Will buy the DVD so that I can watch it again, whenever I want to). For its genre, it pulls all the stops and offers everything it should; from good acting to high-speed space-chase drama, Star Trek (2009) is spot-on. It’s exactly what a summer action movie is supposed to be: loads of fun.
Now, for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Ohhh, dear Harry. What have we done? I really wish I could be even somewhat as enthusiastic about this one as I am about Star Trek… Sorry. I can’t. And truth be told, I’m more of a Harry Potter dork than I am a Trekkie, but I say this with caveats. For instance, you will not catch me dead in a Hogwarts getup, so help me God (though I do have a friend who I must say, looks pretty cute when he sports his Gryffindor sweater and tie). I have read all the books, however; so my Harry Potter lexicon is pretty decent. That said, I have a firm grasp on the differences between movies and books, and what one is able to accomplish as well as sacrifice when adapting a book to the screen, and with that said–I unfortunately found more failures than successes in this particular adaptation. Actually, I think the film failed on so many levels, that it was embarrassing to watch. It is as though many key folks have become altogether lazy. The telling of the story, itself, is disjointed and frankly hobbles along like a dying donkey. Where the plot is concerned, things are out of focus. Points that are less important are highlighted, and key elements are not. We have Ron and Hermione’s ridiculous non-relationship (which we see too much of) versus the gist–which is that the evil Voldemort is using every extension possible to carry out his plan–which is to ethnically cleanse the world of all but “pure-blood wizards (which we see but a smidge of).” I question who is to blame, here. Is it the writer? The director? Or maybe studio executives? Because J.K. Rowling apparently felt her readers were capable of digesting such a concept, but it seems someone at Warner Brothers must disagree, or thinks that the heavier side of Rowling’s tale doesn’t sell well on screen. We get in the film that there is a big, bad Dark Lord with lots of scary and creepy minions, but in the end, this film never really explains why. Why is Voldemort gaining power? Why aren’t more of the wizards on the good side? And what about The Order of the Phoenix? Wasn’t that the previous chapter in the series? There is little recap, and even less in terms of introduction of characters. Unless you know the books inside and out (and pardon me, but I, for one, don’t have time to go back and read them. Harry Potter homework? Give me a break), you may find yourself at a loss as to what the heck is really going on, and even if you are an HP expert, you may still find it challenging. And if you haven’t seen the other films or read the books, forget it. It will make no sense. Part of a series or no, a film should be able to stand on its own, and this one doesn’t, plain and simple.
Did I say that the kids–that is to say, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in general–pretty dull? They are. Their characters–and this is the sixth installment–are thin, at best. This is not the seventies, nor is it Disney’s Escape To Witch Mountain (which come to think of it, is probably the better film). People are getting murdered, and it’s not supposed to be silly or funny. To be fair, the kids probably did not have much to work with where lines are concerned. If I had a nickel for the amount of times Harry said “Sir?” to Dumbledore, as if he has a hearing problem, I would have my money back for the film. This is an area in the adaptation where liberties could and should be taken. Older cast members such as Alan Rickman (Snape), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) are outstanding, as usual–they know how to turn sows’ ears into silk purses. Tom Felton does decent work as Draco Malfoy, though his ugly sneer seems a tad hammy and overdone at times. Both boys playing Tom Riddle; the young Voldemort–Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays Riddle at age 11, and Frank Dillane plays him at 16–together, these boys steal the show, and easily are the scariest thing about the film. They are each subtly evil in a way that is bone-chilling, and they do it with looks, gestures and mannerisms. Sorry, but putting Dan Radcliffe’s Harry in the ring with any of these Voldemorts (and that includes Ralph Fiennes) seems laughable. Speaking of which, he (Radcliffe) needs to learn how to cry. It was frustrating to watch him pretend to grieve when (SPOILER ALERT) Dumbledore died. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to cry, but for the wrong reasons. And Rupert Grint pretending to be happy about blocking goals in quidditch was like watching a skit on Saturday Night Live. He should see a football (soccer) game or two, to get an idea of how goalies really react when they make a save… ecstatically. Heck, soccer players are better actors when it comes to faking injury. And perhaps director, David Yates could consult a bit with Peter Jackson.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince gets two and half stars (I would rent it–had I not already paid to see it in the theater, and I would only rent it because it was part of a series of which I have seen the previous films). I believe I’m being generous, but the stars go to the good actors, and I suppose, the sets and special effects.
And so needless to say, Star Trek wins; hands down.
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