Last night, by a strange guest-list quirk, I found myself at the world premiere of ‘Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince’ in Leicester Square, central London.
This meant I was able to walk down the red carpet – a bracing experience for a music journalist, given that it’s roughly a billion times more glamorous and exciting than being access-all-areas at a Mumford & Sons gig.
Needless to say, I did the coolest thing possible in the circumstances, which was to wave a Flip camera round my head like a French exchange student gawping at Madame Tussauds:
Once we made our way inside, the excitement abated somewhat.
The movie industry is more outwardly corporate than the music biz. Hence, in addition to speeches from the director, producer and Daniel Radcliffe, we were also treated to a spiel from the president of the studio, who gave oily thanks to author JK Rowling for “allowing” Warner Bros to turn the Potter books into the “biggest movie franchise of all time” (subtext: cheers for making us all filthy rich).
The film itself? Well, it’s a modern blockbuster, which of course means it’s enormously long (over two-and-a-half hours), self-consciously ‘dark’, and is almost entirely free of any kind of plot – unless you count some waffle about Voldemort hiding bits of his soul in various trinkets.
By the same token, being a modern blockbuster, it’s also crammed with retina-frazzling CGI set-pieces. The opening sequence, in particular, is staggering – a warp-speed Death Eater attack on London in which the Millennium Bridge is ripped apart by fireballs.
There are some fresh faces, too – Jim Broadbent puts in an enormously likeable performance as Professor Slughorn, a kindly father-figure plagued by horrifying memories and pained awareness of the destructive possibilities of magic.
But the key difference is that the characters have grown up, which means they’re bored of making spells and potions, and now just want to get off with each other. Cue plenty of moon-faced longing, inarticulate passion, and lingering almost-kisses.
All of which makes the sixth Harry Potter film alarmingly similar to an episode of ‘Skins’. Both teen franchises share the same two central preoccupations: sexual awakening, and the lure of nihilism.
There’s certainly plenty of the former. A game of Quidditch early on is pure sexual pantomime, cheeky close-ups and camera angles making great play of the phallic suggestiveness inherent in gripping a broomstick between your thighs. The subtext? Ron Weasley banishes self-doubt and learns to be confident with his instrument. As it were.
There’s also a lot of simulated drug-taking, in amongst the copious intake of Butter Beer. At one point Ron Weasley takes a powerful love potion and goes around hugging everyone, pie-eyed, until its effects wear off, at which points he plunges into an abyss of apathy and self-loathing. If that isn’t a metaphor for the Ecstasy experience, I don’t know what is.
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It’s possible to draw closer parallels. Each member of the Potter gang corresponds with a member of the Skins season three cast. Harry is Freddie – bland and inoffensive. Hermione is Effy – distant, inscrutable, and adored from afar. Ron is JJ – sensitive and nerdy. There’s even a ditzy Pandora counterpart in Luna Lovegood.
The only thing missing is a plot twist in which Dumbledore necks his own weight in MDMA, visits a strip club and then gets duffed up by a bunch of scallies. But you can’t have everything.
In conclusion, then: Harry Potter – it’s ‘Skins’, with wizards.