Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
My Review: 2
First of all, let me clarify what this post is about. I am a rabid Harry Potter fan eagerly anticipating the release of the seventh and final book as well as the 5th movie adaptation. I am not here to compare Sir Michael Gambon to Sir Richard Harris. I am not here to blast Sir Michael Gambon as an actor. I happen to think that he is an extremely fine actor, world renowned for his theatrical prowess and for his professionalism in big budget productions for the silver screen. There is no debate (in my mind) as to his competence as an actor in general; I think that he is excellent.
No, this review is focused solely on his performance and interpretation of the character Albus Dumbledore in the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books, specifically books 3, 4, and 5. (The late Sir Richard Harris played the role of Dumbledore for movies 1 and 2.)
The role of Albus Dumbledore is a familiar one in the “Hero’s Quest” genre of story telling. Many such stories feature an aged, wise mentor whose role it is to protect, educate, and guide the hero. (For examples please refer to Brom in the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini, Cort in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein, and Curly in the movie City Slickers featuring Jack Palance and Billy Crystal.) Different authors choose different paths for their guides and mentors to follow, including how prominently they figure in the story, how they teach (kindly or with tough love) and whether they live or die in the story. In this instance we are dealing with J.K. Rowling’s much beloved grandfatherly figure: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Dumbledore is wise. Dumbledore is kind. He is funny, charismatic, ever-polite and courteous, and always exudes a radiating sense of power and calm. He is a rock from which to anchor oneself in the stormy seas of Rowling’s magical world. He is not snappish, abrupt or rude. He never shouts at people. He always gives the appearance of calm control. (***Notable exception and possible plot killer – read the asterisk below, but only if you have already read book 6 or you do not care about the plot being exposed.)
All that being said, I must now begin the regrettable process of lambasting an otherwise fine actor. Gambon’s performance in this role drives me crazy. He shouts and frets. He twists his fingers with a look of great consternation on his face. He moves rapidly, and talks over people. He argues, fusses and fumbles for words. To put it another way, he acts in every way opposite of the image of Albus Dumbledore.
Now, in fairness, Gambon has a tough job to do in filling the shoes of Sir Richard Harris. Not only was Harris one of the most remarkable actors of all time (in my humble opinion) he also nailed the role of Dumbledore perfectly. Calm, collected, and always with a merry little twinkle in his eye. (Note the Bertie Botts scene at the end of the first movie.) Again, I don’t want to compare the two, but I do want to acknowledge the admittedly difficult task of reprising a role done so well by such a fine actor.
(Harris as Dumbledore in the “Botts” scene)
It is entirely reasonable that Gambon would want to make the character his own; in fact, I respect him for that ambition. But I feel more strongly than I can express that his performances as Dumbledore to date (movies 3 and 4) are way, way off target. It is immensely frustrating to see a character whom I respect and cherish mishandled.
An equal share of the blame goes to the directors involved, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell. It was partially (even significantly) their responsability to own and understand the character and “direct” the actor in his performance. I think in not steering Gambon towards a calmer, more commanding persona they both did the actor a grave disservice, and did enormous damage to the quality of both movies.
I must say that I am anxious to see the latest movie, Harry Potter 5: The Order of the Phoenix. By all accounts the scripting, acting and effects are outstanding. Aside from the tremendous detraction found in Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore, I enjoyed movie #4 the most since movie #1. I can only hope that the latest director David Yates has taken it upon himself to re-direct Gambon in his interpretation of the role.
I’d love any comments on this – I feel strongly about this particular subject. I may update after seeing the movie – it opens tonight at midnight and I will be there. But based on the performances so far (in movies 3 and 4) I have to give his performance as Albus Dumbledore a resounding 2.
I loved Gambon as the villain in Open Range with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall; he was truly outstanding and totally despicable (in the right way.)
(Gambon is in the middle.)
For reference, here is the IMDB page for Michael Gambon.
*** In book 6 Dumbledore drinks a vile potion concocted by Lord Voldemort. This potion magically induces a firghtened and delirious state which includes shouting and fear. Soon thereafter Dumbledore is killed after pleading with a member of his teaching staff back at the school where he serves as Headmaster. These events are contrary to the points I am making about the chractr of Voldemort, but I submit that they are irrelevant for two reasons: 1. These are exceptional circumstances which lead up to the character’s death. 2. This book (6) has not yet been filmed and should have little or no bearing on the performance of the character of Dumbledore up to this point.
I saw the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I think they did a fine job. They crammed 800 or so pages into 138 minutes of screen time, and I think they did a credible job. Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore suffered from similar woes to those in the past, but had two small saving graces in this movie:
1. Rowling build a degree of conflict between Harry and Dumbledore into the plot of this story, and though I still don’t like the degree of agitation Gambon portrays in his character, there is at least some more tension that is legitimately supposed to exist in this movie.
2. Dumbledore’s role in this movie is much smaller that in past reprisals; thus we need suffer less than we might have. (All right that was a low blow. Sorry.)
For just this movie (as opposed to Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore across all 3) I would rate him a 4. For the whole suite I am sticking to my 2 rating. Movie number 4 justs makes me mad.