Saturday, October 20, 2007

It seems that selecting Michael Gambon is making more and more sense as time goes on.


Michael Gambon, the British actor who has portrayed Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore since film 3 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has always drawn criticism from the fan base.

Gambon famously said that he didn't read the books, which I understand is his prerogative as an actor trying to create his own embodiment of the character, but since Dumbledore is such a pivotal character, it might be helpful now and then to see how the author originally intended him to act.

How to act is a critical piece of the ire focused on Gambon over the years. He always seemed too gruff, too business-like, too distant, too hard than the slightly off-center, humorous Dumbledore of Rowling's books. Gambon's most famous gaffes (in my opinion) are:

1) when, near the beginning of the Goblet of Fire film, when Harry is selected as a Triwizard champion. While Harry waits to see what the teachers will do, Gambon's Dumbledore rushes at him, bodily shakes him and shouts at him to see if he put his own name in the Goblet. Very aggressive, very cold, very abrupt.

2) Later, when the teachers are meeting in private to discuss whether they should allow Harry to compete in the dangerous tournament, Gambon chooses for Dumbledore to sit on the floor, head in hands, seemingly defeated by this turn of events. Not at all the Dumbledore of the books that never seems confused or perplexed by the constant turn of events.

Richard Harris, the actor who portrayed the Hogwarts headmaster in the first two films, seemed more approachable, kinder, more in line with what the fans wanted Dumbledore to be. He seemed to play Dumbledore slower, more patiently, as someone who was willing to let things play out, with a confidence that he would maintain control of the situation. Gambon's Dumbledore sometimes seems to be swept up in the tide of events, barely able to stay ahead of disaster.

But, as we were confronted with a Machiavellian backstory to Dumbledore in the final Harry Potter, it made it a bit easier to take this hard-edged Gambon-style Dumbledore. Certainly, the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore is a man that compartmentalizes his emotions to enable him to manipulate Harry and drive him to his final destiny. This new portrayal of the Headmaster shows someone who is indeed playing a very long-paced game with fate, someone perfectly willing to push people around on chessboard to achieve the ultimate goal of Voldemort's defeat.

So, maybe Gambon had it right? But, now the fans are confronted with this new bit of news via J.K. Rowling as she tours three U.S. cities this week and next.

This will surely upset some people, and it will definitely fuel the fire of some of Rowling's critics--especially those on the religious right, who were uncomfortable with all the magic. I'm not at all worried about the occult argument, since anyone can see the deep religious themes that flow through the books, explicitly stated or not. But, sexuality will cause some to speak up. It doesn't bother me at all, frankly, but I'll admit to be surprised by it. Sexuality never really entered into my viewings of the books, outside of the various schoolyard crushes that developed in the course of seven books. It just provides another element to the story, one that critics and fans alike will begin processing now and will speak out on. I am very interested to see how everyone takes it.

(image of Dumbledore taken from "The Harry Potter Lexicon website.")


David said...

Rowling had more to say about Dumbledore's "outing" here.

David said...

Here is another comment about the Dumbledore revelation. This one is especially relevant since, while the exact quote is not from the poster, the poster I link to is Cheryl Klein, who edited the manuscript for several of the Harry Potter editions for Scholastic.

David said...

Here is another argument stating that the Dumbledore news is a good thing.