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.