Is Harry Potter 6 This Year's Dark Knight? (Hint: Yes)
A lot of publications have bristled at Warner Bros.' opening-day review embargo for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but there's plenty we can talk about in the interim without breaking any rules. Like sexual tension at Hogwarts, for starters, or one of the other stimulating topics you're likely to hear a lot more about in the, oh, seven months to come: Is Potter worthy of consideration in an expanded Oscar race? And even if so, does it actually have a chance? A quick consideration -- WITH SPOILERS -- after the jump.
Anne Thompson poses the Potter Oscar question today, mostly by way of ranking other seasonal awards candidates like Public Enemies, Up and The Hurt Locker. But she's reserves the bulk of her praise for Potter, lauding "the best-made picture I've seen in many a moon [...] as elegantly designed as a Pixar movie." Which is great (not to mention accurate), except that neither Thompson nor the critical majority that will soon join her are voting Academy members.
Which leaves Warners to gauge exactly what it's got with Potter. Thompson relates it to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but I think there's an even closer analogue to a more recent, hugely expensive summer tentpole featuring an exceptional performance (by supporting actor Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, who famously dies in the end) among many good ones, terrifically directed and adapted from beloved source material, and the bleak next-to-last entry in a blockbuster franchise. In other words, Warner Bros. is sitting on another The Dark Knight -- the same critical/cultural phenomenon that helped nudge the Academy to double the number of Best Picture contenders in the first place.
Warners obviously couldn't have seen that rule change coming when it it pushed Potter from November '08 to July '09, citing a hole in its release calendar. But Potter was close enough to finished for Alan Horn and Co. to know they had a great film -- maybe even one they could drop on to nearly the exact same launching pad as Dark Knight, which opened a year ago Thursday. Thus the same midsummer windfall, the same draw-out into early fall, the same chatter over its qualifications as Oscar fare, and (Warners hopes) an enlightened Academy willing to reward merit where merit occurs, regardless of the genre.
So, yeah. And The Hangover's success will even pay for the Harry Potter campaign! Masterfully played, Warner Bros. Hats off.
· Oscar Watch: Summer Crop Could Go All the Way [Thompson on Hollywood]