Books, Culture, Film, Gaming, TV & Radio

Why do some finales leave us dissatisfied?

Reading on Broadway, Oct 6, 2007, by Michele Markel Connors (3008x1692)Endings are tricky affairs, particularly for fiction and screenwriters.

They don’t always need to be comfortable or straightforward. In fact, they shouldn’t be. No matter what the medium, you expect the author to fulfil a sort of unwritten agreement that, at the end of it all, you will have gained something from taking the time to engage with their story. That could be as simple as learning something new (as the classic parables of old do) or it could be more personal (learning deep truths about the nature of life or society through the eyes of a character you identify with).

Endings and why some of them leave us dissatisfied have been on my mind recently, since finishing the finales to several video games and fiction series. Both mediums have presented me with examples of endings that livid up to my expectations and others that fell short.


Harry Potter and the Half-Hearted Motion Picture

During an exceptionally long trip to London’s south bank, I went to the IMAX to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the latest book-to-film adaption of J.K. Rowling’s multi-million selling wizard franchise.

For your information, I don’t consider myself a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all of the books, and consider them to be enthralling reads, but I don’t follow the media-storm concerning the books, films, games or Rowling herself. Honestly, the sheer HarryPotter-can-do-no-wrong hype that has surrounded this franchise since the launch of the fourth book sickens me on a level that can only be described as sub-putrid. There are many books I’ve read that have captivated me even more than Harry Potter, yet I don’t see those authors getting the same acclaim Rowling does. The world of modern literature is just pot luck, if you ask me. Heck, maybe if I started a viral marketing campaign and got some positive word of mouth going I could become a ‘New York Times bestselling author’ – yep, just like it says underneath the author of every single video game-based novel I own.

Getting back to the subject at hand, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was presented in 3D for the first twelve minutes of my IMAX viewing. The visuals were impressive, but even on a screen as large as the IMAX some details just didn’t look like they had depth. The sixth Harry Potter book also happens to be the one that impressed me the most when I read it in 2005. Continuing director David Yates weak attempt to bring Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to cinema screens, I wasn’t expecting him to do any better here. Setting the dark tone of the film was the opening scene, which tracked a trio of Death Eaters (the evil followers of Voldemort) as they destroyed targets in the magical and Muggle (or non-magical) world, including the Millennium Bridge for some strange reason. Nice distraction in 3D, though.

Six films in the child actors that were once inexperienced kids are now young adults, and their performances are more convincing this time. Even though it clocks in at over two hours, this film feels sparse in places, and the inconsistencies between directors/films have left character arcs and story threads untouched. I don’t wish to nitpick at the differences between the film and its source material, especially as I know they are two completely separate entities. However, I do value an original and well conceived translation of one medium to another.

There are things introduced in the earlier films that don’t get developed in this chapter of the film adaptations. For example, Snape is finally made the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher in this instalment (a position which he has been pining for since it began), yet there are absolutely no scenes of him teaching, or so much as a reaction shot from Harry on the news. Similarly, a heated argument between Harry and Ron over their personal relationships and, most importantly, Quidditch that appears in the book is cut entirely. What’s more the subject from which the film takes its name, the Half-Blood Prince, bears none of the red herrings that make it such a compelling mystery in the book. While these threads not entirely central to the plot they are still anticlimactic for the series’ character arcs.

Enough of what isn’t in the film. The film does expect a great deal from its audience. It expects them to know the world, the characters and the rules which it define it – which being one of the highest grossing film series of this decade is partially acceptable, I suppose. Whether you’re familiar or not, you’ll be jumping from location to location and racing through seasons and plot points at a pace that doesn’t have any room for those with a short attention span. Take Ron’s entanglement with the obsessive Lavender Brown. The character has actually existed since the first book, however since she only become a major part of the plot in this chapter, her relationship with Ron can come off as out of the blue – even forcibly ridiculous at times.

There is also sense that many of the secondary characters are only there to fill out the plot with recognisable characters. Hardly any of them are given as much screen time as they had in the earlier instalments, which wasn’t much to begin with. Lupin and Tonks show up for barely five minutes and even then their presence amounts to very little. There are also some moments that feel like the filmmakers are trying a bit too hard to make it evil and brooding (Harry proclaims himself “a bit of a tosser” at the beginning, which immediately seems out of place). And when the cast aren’t acting all menacing in low lit chambers, they’re kissing and mixing love potions for one and other – leaving barely any time for education, Quidditch, or even the Half-Blood Prince.

Despite the seriousness of the main plot being shakily intercut by teenage romance and rivalry, the part of these films which I still enjoy the most is the almost soap opera-like relationship between Harry, Ron and Hermione. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have developed a strong chemistry. And the commanding tone of Emma Watson’s womanly Received Pronunciation voice still has me paying attention. Although, I (like one of my student radio station’s former DJs admitted, live on air) use to have a terrible crush on her [Blush]. There’s a plentiful bit of wizarding entertainment on show here. Just don’t expect it to go down as smoothly as a honey-laced love potion from your secret admirer.