Film Review: Harry Potter and the Fortress of Snoggitude

C: Last night I attended a midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  As it’s one of my favorites among the books, and as I loved the slick feel of the fifth movie (for which David Yates, director of that one and this, surely deserves at least partial credit), I was cautiously optimistic about this film.

The crowd was excited too.  I had on my Weird Sisters t-shirt, but there were much more motivated fans in the theater; I saw a few cloaks, several Hogwarts uniforms, and one boy who appeared to be dressed as that very fey angel in X-Men 3.  I love opening night crowds.

When the movie got out, it was 2:45am.  I had a few leftover tears in my eyes and an overall feeling of contentment.  Once again, the Harry Potter franchise has turned out an abridgment of the novel which does an admirable job of winning your emotional involvement, giving you likable heroes to root for, and creating an atmosphere of magic.  This installment is also particularly funny.  It’s not without it’s problem areas, however…

If you’d rather not know anything about the movie, don’t click below.  I’ll give further warnings before any major plot spoilers, though.

One reason I enjoy the fifth movie so much, though it’s my least favorite of the books, is that through some combination of Daniel Radcliff’s acting, David Yates’ directing, and Michael Goldenberg’s brilliant screenplay, Harry becomes a character with the usual teenage problems plus a special dose of emo rage, without ever being unsympathetic.  This trend continues in Half-Blood Prince.  This is a warm, good-humored Harry who isn’t having the easiest time dealing with teen romantic drama – but is palpably decent, trying to be there for Hermione, win Ginny’s interest without angering Ron, and oh yes, figure out what Voldemort’s up to, all with adorably awkward earnestness.

Romance dominates this film.  Though it begins with an attack on London muggles carried out by dark wizards, clearly intended to evoke the past decade’s many terrorist attacks, once the threat has been established the outside world fades almost completely out of the story.  Rather than fretting over doom-and-gloom articles in the Daily Prophet over their morning pumpkin juice, the kids spend mealtimes exchanging heated glances.  In regards to the subject of E’s post last week, I’ll say that there were a few sexy references I raised my eyebrows at, but no content which I would consider inappropriate for the audience of this film; but I would, for several reasons, call the ideal audience 12-and-up.

The only respite from relationship drama is Luna, who is a delight.  Everyone else is knee-deep in hormonal mania, even Hermione, who as usual for the films is 100% graceful and beautiful.  One occasionally wishes that Emma Watson didn’t whip out the same Emoting Face for every tragedy, but her performance is solid; one almost believes that she really has a crush on Ron, rather than Harry.  And that “almost” isn’t so much the actress’s fault.

Steve Kloves, who’s written all the screenplays except Number 5, has earned my annoyance many times over the years for what I have dubbed his “stupidifying” treatment of Ron.  In Kloves’ films Ron’s intelligent lines from the book are always given to other characters, and his goofy haplessness is always played up for maximum laughs.  Rupert Grint has some stellar comic moments in this film (two words: love potion), but the balancing strength of Ron’s character is underrepresented.  *MAJOR SPOILERS AHOY* In the final scene of the film, when Hermione is gazing lovingly at telling Harry that they will leave school with him to help defeat Voldemort for good, Ron sits grumpily in the corner, barely speaking a word.  Supposedly this is because he’s annoyed at Harry (so Hermione tells us) for getting involved with Ginny but in such an emotional moment (this scene immediately follows that of Harry crying over Dumbledore’s body) one would much rather see the three best friends comforting and supporting each other. *SPOILERS DONE*

There were a few more signature Kloves touches (Seamus makes things explode!  He also loves gambling!  It’s funny because he’s Irish!) but I don’t know whether to consider him or David Yates more responsible for the odd changes made to the plot arc.

*DISCUSSING MAJOR PLOT POINTS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE*

Those who’ve read the book know that it pretty much alternates between teenage hormonal drama and the evolving story of Voldemort, told by Dumbledore to Harry through memory flashbacks.  Not a great deal happens in this volume to advance the plot, but I find the story of Tom Riddle’s life fascinating and of course it’s all crucial to the epic climax, Book 7.  Most of that stuff was not in the movie.  We get a couple flashbacks to convey essential information – how Voldemort survived death and how to kill him – but the film is not interested in Riddle’s psychology, his history, or even what his – er – favorite mementos might be.

Even stranger, the film cuts the final battle.  Gone.  I suppose if *BOOK 7 SPOILER* you know you’ve got a bloody battle in the halls of Hogwarts coming in the next film, you don’t feel the need of one in Movie 6 *END SPOILER*.  However, it leaves an odd action vacuum at the end of the film – odd because each previous installment has lead us to expect some kind of whiz-bang sequence in the last twenty minutes.  Instead we get a scene with gutting emotional weight, but no big fight.

Oh, unless you count the cave.  Let me sum that up for you: they go into the Fortress of Solitude, an army of Gollums tries to eat Harry, and then Gandalf uses the Flame of Anor to save the day. Yay for CGI!

However, not wanting viewers to miss out on a big fight with wands whipping, curses flying and Death Eaters swooping around, the filmmakers invent a scene in the middle of the film in which Bellatrix and Fenrir Greyback go to the Burrow and burn it down.  The loss of the Weasley family home, having been invented for the sake of pacing, is never mentioned again.

Would this unusual structure – fight in the middle, high-impact emotional end – have worked better for me if I didn’t know Dumbledore’s death was coming?  I suspect so.  Most of the friends I saw this film with were either die-hard book fans or bored folk who came along for the ride, but there was one exception: a friend who has not read the books, but loves the movies.  To her, deeply invested in the characters as portrayed on film but with no idea of what to expect from this installment, the ending was different.  While the rest of us were briefly sad and bounced back by the time the credits rolled, she looked after this film as I must have after reading the book the first time: shocked, red-eyed, dazed, grieving.

*FURTHER NOTICE, A.K.A. NO MORE SPOILERS*

All the familiar faces are back again, but don’t expect to see much of them.  Most of the adults get little screen time, but I will say that Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape, who will pause his lines

                                        
                                 
                               

          as long as he damn well pleases, becomes more don’t-even-sneeze-in-my-direction authoritative every year.  Jim Broadbent as Slughorn gets a fair bit of work here, and does good things with the role.  Really, though, this is Dumbledore’s film, and I’m happy to say that Michael Gambon finally sold me on his ability to play the headmaster as he should be played.

The film is stylish to look at; it has humor, sentiment, and some quite tense moments.  Overall, while I wouldn’t call this the best yet, it’s definitely one of the better installments in the series.

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14 comments on “Film Review: Harry Potter and the Fortress of Snoggitude

  1. thepresidentrix says:

    Apparently, we feel exactly the same way about the fifth book. I almost think the point of the whole installment is just to remind you that everybody is a git at fifteen, sainted parents and tormented Emo-kids alike. I give the fifth movie second place in my estimation, so far, just for keeping Harry somewhat likeable. (And I think some of the credit for that goes to Gary Oldman, too, who has some of the best scenes with Harry. In that movie, I love that they added the scene where Harry talks about his anger and how it frightens him to be so angry all the time).

    I’m glad I read ahead, because I think I’ll enjoy seeing #6 more now that I know about the wiggedy-wack changes. Do you suppose they took things out and forced things in because they’re dividing the last book into two movies and have to change the shape of the final dramatic arc? (Like, the way they messed with the Shelob stuff in LOTR and not to my satisfaction?) I wonder what they could be planning…

    • C says:

      You’re right about Gary Oldman in the 5th movie; he may not be close to my mental Sirius, but he delivers a great fatherly/impetuous performance, and I’ve heard Radcakes gush in interviews about how great he was to learn from as an actor. Their scenes together give the story of book 5 the grounding it needs.

      Also, as Cleolinda pointed out in her review of Film 5, Michael Goldenberg deserves huge credit for conveying Sirius’s whole psychological hangup in a single line: “Nice one, James!”

      It’s crystal clear that the plot changes in Film 6 have been made with Film 7 in mind. You can tell which scenes and plot threads they intend to chop (e.g. Bill and Fleur) based on the lead-up being cut here. I don’t know if it’s about the division of 7 into two films, or just the fact that they have to choose what to retain in those films, period.

      I do wonder where they’ll break off Film, er… 7.0? Christmas, d’ya think?

  2. sputnitsa says:

    I had to skip most of your post, because I’m dying to know but also dying more (funny how one can do that) to see the film first before reading your (doubtlessly brilliantly penned) spoilers 🙂

    But I LOVE your line(s?) regarding Rickman’s line

    delivery.

    Brilliant 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 CANNOT wait to see the film. ….. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • C says:

      Glad you enjoyed the review! Please do come back and comment once you’ve seen it – I want to compare notes with people 🙂

  3. Steve says:

    THIS POST IS REPLETE WITH SPOILERS

    I really liked the cave confrontation scene– watching Dumbledore be forced to down that liquid was flat-out disturbing, and the moment where the creature grabbed for Harry was well-done too. I wish they hadn’t suddenly had an army of the creatures, though; I think less would have been more here. Him being pulled to the bottom by the one of them was great, too.

    I think this movie shows up the weakness of the series plot structure, though; the fact that the climax happens at the end feels extremely arbitrary. Why do they not go searching for the Horcrux until the very end? And why does it happen to be the same night the Malfoy finally makes his Narnia wardrobe work? Neither of these events have much to do with the protagonists’ actions of the previous two hours.

    I’m totally with you on Steve Knowles. He’s fine, but Michael Goldenberg kicked it out of the park, and I’m sad he won’t be back.

    I’m amazed that anyone could not know what happened at the end of this movie, though I suppose that just shows I spend too much time on the Internet, since there wasn’t anywhere you could go in 2005 where someone wouldn’t cruelly write “Snape killed Dumbledore.”

    This film also made me aware that I’m not really emotionally invested in the Harry Potterverse at all; I like it and all, but I didn’t really feel a thing when Gandalf bought it.

    • C says:

      Yeah, it’s always silly with the Harry Potter books that the climactic showdown has to coincide with the end of the school-year, so there’s all this stalling and wasting time in between. One particularly has to wonder, after Voldy returns, what he’s lolling around for when he supposedly wants to be waging a massive war. I was really psyched, actually, when they left Hogwarts at the end of Book 6, because I had hopes that 7 wouldn’t bother following the school-year structure – might take up six months, or three years! But… no. Showdown in June as scheduled.

      Michael Goldenberg kicked it out of the park, and I’m sad he won’t be back.

      Me too. I’m not sure why they felt such loyalty to Steve K as to go back to him after MG showed him up. Nepotism, perhaps?

      Aww, poor Gandalf. I did feel sad. I’m not as obsessed with these books I once was, but if I reread them I suspect I might get right into the spirit again.

  4. snarkhunter says:

    I thought the movie was brilliant–I just saw it this afternoon, and was, overall, pleased.

    The Burrow thing was just *weird*–there was nothing to be gained by burning the house down, and I really disliked the kind of helplessness they put upon the Weasleys there.

    I also have problems with the ending–no matter how random it is to have the climactic scenes always come at the end, the utter *lack* of a climax here was not great.

    I do disagree with you on OotP, btw. It’s my favorite of the books. 🙂 But this might be my favorite of the movies.

    • C says:

      Yeah, forced as the structure is, it’s necessary. These aren’t the kinds of books/movies where it would be effective to abandon the good old three-act structure.

      The Burrow scene maybe could have been good but it wasn’t handled right. Too inexplicable as to why the Death Eaters were there but not hurting anyone, too little agency for the Weasleys, too little (aka no) fallout from such a dramatic event.

      I’m seeing the movie again with my sister and Chrissy at some point… I’m curious how the “climax” will seem the 2nd time around.

      We must agree to disagree about OOTP! (Too much capslock and not enough discreet editing for me.)

  5. sputnitsa says:

    I’ll come by to post again 🙂 in a bit–but I wanted to let you know I’m linking to this post of yours on my own blog post about the movie 🙂

    ~ R

  6. […] however, the movie was fabulous.  Snape, as another blogger mentioned earlier, holds his pauses as long as he damn well pleases, and is sheer beauty to watch. […]

  7. Emily says:

    HBP was probably my favorite of the movies so far, mostly because it felt like Harry Potter to me again, and not like the “we barely skimmed the book and pulled out a few plot points, then wrote our own version of the story” thing they did with the past two (maybe even three, PoA didn’t do too well with giving information from the book either) movies.

    There were some (okay, a lot of) nitpicky things that annoyed me, but the movie managed to do what the books never did — make me feel sorry for Snape and even like him a little — and even though I knew it was coming I cried at the end. The scene in the cave was probably the most accurate from-the-book scene I’ve seen in any of the movies, in terms of getting what was in my head onto the screen. Overall I’m happy with it.

  8. Heather says:

    I enjoyed the movie– I agree on the Fortress of Solitude–that’s exactly what I whispered to my nine year old son as we watched. (I do think it was a little scary for its PG rating– even for those kids who had read the book).

    I was disappointed with the end, I didn’t think that Harry would stand there and do nothing if he wasn’t stunned. And for the whole movie, I was waiting for the final battle, which never came.

    I liked the addition of Luna’s parts, she’s my favorite character, and I liked the added spookiness of the Burrow scene.

    I do think that they missed the boat by cutting out the Voldemort memories.

    All in all, a good movie. Hopefully they can keep it up for the last two. I’d be really sad if they jumped the shark at this point.

    Tell M I say hi. (I’m a college friend)

  9. […] I said it “may be” the first.  The 10-year-old has watched all the movies, including Fortress of Snogitude…  I mean Half Blood Prince, and is insanely excited for this, so we’ll […]

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