Friday, February 03, 2006

the two Dumbledores

Sometime in early January, I saw "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the filmic version of the fourth book in JK Rowling's excellent series. The movie slashed a lot of fat from the plot (and it seems that the filmmakers, perhaps wary of the scorn in which Jar-Bar Binks is held, have not wanted to return to the issue of house elves), but the plot remained more or less coherent. In all, an entertaining experience.

Michael Gambon appears for the second time in the role of Albus Dumbledore, the greatest living wizard in Rowling's imaginary world. Gambon replaces the late Richard Harris. I wanted to write a bit about the differences between the two Dumbledores as portrayed by Harris and Gambon.

Harris's selection was a good and obvious choice, back when the filmmakers were trying to adhere as closely as possible to the books. Rowling gives us a Dumbledore who is tall, lean, grave, wise, and dignified, but who has a twinkle in his eye and carries hints of great power. Harris, though not as lean as the Dumbledore I imagine, nevertheless filled the role almost perfectly for the first two films.

Gambon's Dumbledore, on the other hand, is stocky, loud, huffy, and emotive-- especially in "Goblet of Fire," less so in "Prisoner of Azkaban." There's a scene in "Goblet of Fire" where Dumbledore confesses to Harry that he's got the solution to the mystery somewhere in his head, but he can't quite put the pieces together. "It's maddening!" he growls, in a manner completely foreign to the Dumbledore in the books.

I found myself liking this Dumbledore. Gambon makes the man more human, makes his flaws more visible. Harris's Dumbledore was always utterly composed, utterly in control, just as Rowling has imagined him. Gambon's version of the wizard allows us to see that even the greatest sorceror is a mere mortal. You can relate to this man.

And I couldn't help viewing these two Dumbledores through the lens of Star Trek: the old geek battle over Which Trek captain was better: Kirk or Picard? Picard is urbane, composed, and scholarly, but he doesn't seem like much of an adventurer, and it's doubtful he'd copulate with a green alien. Kirk, by contrast, might like quoting great writers (indicating he's something of a scholar, too), but he also plunges headlong into whatever challenges await. Green alien woman! On that bed and on your back!

Gambon's Dumbledore is Kirk-like in his expressiveness and larger-than-life demeanor. Harris's Dumbledore is more subtle and muted-- Picardesque. Comparing the two wizards (or the two captains, for that matter) might be like comparing apples and oranges, but I like Gambon's Dumbledore: he adds something to the character you can't find in the books. And after all, who really wants to see a movie that is little more than a slavish rendering of the book it's based on?

I'll be curious to see how Gambon handles his role in the fifth film.


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