Well, I just returned from cinema where I watched the latest installment of the Harry Potter series – known as “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood prince” in the original (=non-localized) version. I will first try to say something about the movie itself and then come to two thoughts that crossed my mind after I watched it.
Instead of doing a review-like article – which I usually write – I’d like to try out a more ‘ethnographical’ approach and describe the audiences’ reaction to the movie as I observed it including my own reactions. I try to be as non-spoilerish as possible. First of all, I don’t know the books. That’s probably important to know because the climax of the movie – which really is a low point moodwise – and other information is known to those watching the movie with the book in the back of the head. I didn’t have that but I watched the five movies – in order – during the first halve of this year to prepare for the sixth thereby seeing the fourth and fifth movie for the very first time.
As this picture was featured on several occasions across the media, I knew it would be much darker and dense which is building upon the mood that was created during the last movie. The whole series took a spin to a more serious tone which I like very much as in my opinion the plot scheme became to obviously repetitive and boring with the third movie.
However, there was much laughing during the show, sometimes shortly after very dramativ parts, so the movie manages well to some how linger between this serious tone and humorous relief. Love is a big subject in the movie, as all the main characters are involved in relationship troubles, and it’s the main thing that counters the rather dramatic, even shocking events during the second half of the film enough to still keep the audience from being totally depressed after watching. The movie never really reaches a light or too funny tone or to say it differently, there always is some hint that something dark and evil is coming. All the colours are pretty cold, all the characters are kind of darker, there are no children anymore – although of course there are some because it’s a school but they’re left out – they all have aged and this is also referred to in certain dialogue sentences. The relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is played out very detailed and certainly is the mysterious role of Severes Snape. Jim Broadbent in the role of Professor Slughorn is a great addition to the cast, his character has both a rather funny and a very dramatic side.
During the movie I could not hear much talking – although there were not that many people in the room – nor eating and drinking which I find a sign that a movie really catches an audience well. I myself nipped on my cola only during the break. In the end when you-know-who is killed there was dead silence in the cinema, although I had been told that it would happen, I still found myself surprised, shocked and – by the end – exhausted. I think it’s a great movie, probably better than certain other episodes from the series, but of course it has the privilege to build upon all the things – characters, story, look, relationships – established during the other five movies. You should watch those before seeing this one. This movie already was quite long – as I mentioned there was a 10-minute break, so i spent about 3 hours in cinema – and you may have already heard that the last book will be made into two movies coming in 2010 and 2011.
This brings me to my first thought which is rooted in a more common observation: Serials are big in the media nowadays! (No, I could not come up with something more obvious!) I’m not sur since when, might be the early days of mass media or even earlier but I find this interesting to see. Be it movies, tv shows, books or computer games – they all are more and more relying on the premise ‘to go on’ or ‘to be continued’. There are of course economic reasons for this but it strikes me as being merely the symptom because those products wouldn’t be commercially successful if people wouldn’t want to see them. I wondered – as I was confronted with the perceived insecurity of our modern world as an academic subject during the past year – whether we actually want our virtual media worlds to deliver a kind of anchor, reliability and continuity that we miss in our real world. My place, my time and my life-parameters in the real world can be changing – and they do – but the patterns in my favourite sitcom(s), soap opera(s), movie(s) or game(s) are always the same or they change quite slowly. Also if they change, the change is controlled and never to overwhelming. Especially with “Harry Potter” it’s pretty obvious. The movies grow with their audience, children who have seen the first movie in 2001 are teenagers or young adults by now and the whole franchise is build to grow with them. This seems to be important. Many older franchises from the 70s or 80s (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, just to name a few) were relaunched to connect with old and new audiences raising awareness for the old stuff in young people and continue nurturing the already existing audience. It’s a bit like grandpa telling stories to the young ones at the firesite in the evening but adding new parts to the narration everytime to keep it interesting. There are probably people already analysing this phenomenon, perhaps I should research that a little. Maybe this is a reason why makers of serials become more courageous in truly continuing story arcs over many episodes like the ones found in tv shows like Lost, Heroes and Babylon 5 or movies like Matrix and Lord of the Rings. And maybe it explains why those are so enormously successful.
The second thought came to me because of a certain sentence that was said in the movie – if you’re bored by know please don’t continue – which I can’t recall exactly but it was something like ‘If we don’t make the choices in our lives our fate will be completely lost to chance.’ It probably sounded better than that. However the point is that it reminded me of discussions I had with people whether there is something like fate and our life is determined or whether there’s something like chance and so we have the ability to actually make profound choices and therefore steer our life ourselves. I usually argue that I don’t think chance exists – in form of a law of nature, as most people imagine it – but life’s parameters are just to complex for us to grasp so we can’t know or for the most part explain why things happen the way they do. Just because we don’t know the reasons or the chain of causality it doesn’t mean there is none. Which is basically an argument I borrowed from religion where god exists although we have no proof of that because we can also not prove he’s not there.
I’m not trying to make a point here, I was just wondering about the oddity of the thought that we put so much effort in our choices – so much in fact, that the freedom of choosing is no longer making us happy as Barry Schwartz explains in his book – because we expect them to shape our future and then there is at least the possibility that – maybe – they don’t really matter as much as we believe.