Spoilerific Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince review

Just a quick break in our regularly scheduled programming (I know I have one more day of vacation still to blog, I’m slow):

Ok, just to warn you, there will be spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what happens (because you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read the books by now), stop reading now! Really, if you have any interest in the books or the movies and haven’t gotten around to either, I don’t want to spoil it, because there’s nothing worse than spoilers (I wore earplugs on my 2-plane trip up to NJ for a wedding the weekend book 7 came out – I might not have been able to lock myself in my house like I wanted, but I wasn’t going to let the end get spoiled!). Read the books, though! (and then see the movies for fun)

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Ok, for those still with me, for the most part, I really enjoyed the movie. I found myself laughing at some bits and almost crying (though I’ll get to why it didn’t quite cry in a few moments) near the end. The story was fairly clear (even though the scenes jumped around a bit quickly), even to Chris, who doesn’t read the books – he only had a few questions after the movie. Overall, the movie was fun to watch and the acting was better than in previous movies. Some of the new characters were pretty well cast – Professor Slughorn was great and Lavender was pretty good. Also, a few things surprised me as being good that I didn’t expect to like at all. First, Michael Gambon. I’ve hated his portrayal of Dumbedore since he started in movie 3. He was too harsh and too insane. Not grandfatherly or slightly bumbly or caring enough. I was concerned that we’d get to this movie and I wouldn’t care at all about him dying because he wasn’t the Dumbledore I know from the books. I’d already had a crisis of faith in him with the final book’s revelations (and particularly after Snape’s comment about Dumbledore raising Harry “like a pig for slaughter”), but I’ve come to terms with his character and didn’t want Michael Gambon’s failure to read the books to ruin it again (for the record, if you take a movie role based on a book, read the damn book. It’s your job to get the character right.). However, he got it closer to right this time around. He toned it down a bit and seemed more caring. So that turned out ok. Second, Helen McCrory as Narcissa. Don’t get me wrong, the hair is BAD. It’s completely wrong. But I thought she had the personality pretty good. And her scene was short enough that she didn’t have a chance to ruin it by doing something out of character.

Also, when I originally read that the movie makers had decided to put a rather large focus on the teen relationships blooming, I got very nervous. To me, this is a dark book about Tom Riddle (Voldemort) and about several people struggling with their alignment, so I didn’t want to see a bunch of fluff when there should be substance. But, really, I didn’t mind it so much. I thought there was a good balance of happy and not so happy. Plus, with the book mostly being free of action (till the end), I guess I can understand why they’d want to emphasize the funny bits to make up for the relative slowness of all the background information and building up to the last book that book/movie 6 is.

However, when I consider what had to be cut out to make it so balanced, I start to get a bit “grr” again. Now some bits, I understand being cut out. For example, the first scene of the book with the meeting between the Minister of Magic and England’s Prime Minister was interesting, but I can see how showing a few short scenes of turmoil affecting the muggles explains well enough that muggles are now being affected by the Dark Lord’s business. Also, cutting out Dumbledore’s funeral. I was originally really upset to hear it had been cut, but I thought the scene around the body was pretty good and showed emotion, so even though they cut out a few good bits specific to the funeral, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. A bit more annoying, was cutting most of the battle at Hogwarts at the end and the use of the rest of the Felix Felices to keep the gang (Harry’s friends and the members of the Order, who were barely mentioned or seen in the movie apart from the trio) alive. I can understand why it was cut – we’ll basically have a repeat in the final movie – but it made it seem a bit stupid that the Death Eaters had to show up just to watch Draco try to kill Dumbledore and then all run off together. Why did 4 people (several of which hadn’t even been introduced, like Fenrir Greyback) need to show up to do that? Why even have the vanishing cabinet? I guess to flesh out Draco’s role more (who’s performance was better than I expected). But really? I would’ve preferred more time for explaining why Voldemort is the way he is or delving into Snape more, both of which I think are the worst of what was sacrificed.

I’m willing to consider that perhaps the fact that Snape is one of my favorite characters is probably the main reason I’m so upset at how Snape’s role is perpetually lessened (way too many scenes cut) and sometimes cheapened (he’s not comic relief batting people on heads with books. He’s an unpleasant, harsh guy who holds a grudge. That’s not so say he isn’t overall a good guy. Perhaps if they hadn’t made Snape’s memories in movie 5 so jumbled and quick, it would be more clear that he’s a complex guy worth rethinking.). But yet again, Snape’s scenes were cut down to a few, despite him being the title character (never even an explanation of why he’s called the half blood prince). We lost the entire sub-plot of Snape acting as professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, where he actually was trying to teach Harry non-verbal spells. Because of this, later on, during the final face off between Harry and Snape, the line “Blocked again and again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!” is also left out. I always found that line interesting because it seems that even though he doesn’t like Harry and they’re in the midst of a wand fight, he’s still trying to teach him to be a better wizard. Even worse though, they cut the line “DON’T CALL ME COWARD” with the look of intense pain on Snape’s face during the same scene. It was just so poignant in the book because Harry had just said “Kill me like you killed him, you coward”, so the fact that Snape got angry and looked pained made it possible to argue that he felt terrible for having to kill Dumbledore (but it was part of Dumbledore’s plan) and that it did take a great act of courage to do it. We needed to see Snape, who is typically cold and emotionally withdrawn, show that loss of control of his emotions. It was a powerful scene in the book, but the scene in the movie is just lame. He reveals that he’s the half blood prince, tells Bellatrix to leave Harry for the Dark Lord, and off he goes. For anyone just watching the movies, there’s been absolutely no hints that Snape’s not a bad guy. Those people probably just think Dumbledore was stupid to trust him and that Snape thought it was easy to kill Dumbledore. <sigh> The books fleshed the character out so much better. There were plenty of subtle hints that made you question his alignment. I downright felt for him, wanted to see him redeemed and happy.

Another scene I found a bit lacking was the tower scene. Harry wasn’t immobilized by Dumbledore to prevent him from interfering and getting himself hurt. He just stood downstairs and watched. Snape walks by and says “shhh” and Harry just lets him go up. There’s a reason that didn’t happen in the book. It’s stupid. Harry would never just let Dumbledore get killed if there was anything he could do about it. At least they left in Dumbledore’s pleading “Severus…please.” which was a highly debated line in the Snape alignment question.

Yet another minor complaint was the cave scene. It was pretty cool looking and the effects were great, but the emotion wasn’t there. It was a painful scene to read, with Dumbledore suffering and Harry forcing himself to convince Dumbledore to drink more of the potion. The chapter’s ending line was really touching to me – after Harry tells Dumbledore not to worry, that he’d get him back to Hogwarts to get help, Dumbledore replies “I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.”  But no. Not in the movie. It was rushed, both Harry’s actions and Dumbledore’s suffering. It was hard to hear Dumbledore mumbling about it being his fault. I just didn’t feel what I felt when I read the scene in the book.

This makes me scared for the 2 scenes I thought were the most emotional in the final book – Harry’s walk through the forest and Snape’s memories (and partly his death – I was a bit disappointed in the actual method of death and the lack of oomph leading up to it, but the eyes bit was touching.). I’m just worried that a) Dan Radcliffe can’t pull off the emotion and b) they’ll continue to reduce Snape’s role in the movies. I bawled during those scenes in the book, but so far I haven’t cried much in the movies. I cried after Cedric died mostly because of the music and because of Harry’s parents talking to him and I started to cry both when Sirius died and when Dumbledore died, but was quickly distracted. With Sirius, it was just action and stuff going on that distracted me. With Dumbledore it was my anger at how the following Snape scene was handled. I got a bit teary again when Harry went back to the castle and everyone was looking at Dumbledore.

My main complaint however, and I think most valid, was the lack of memories regarding Voldemort’s family. Yes, we got the memories from when Dumbledore first met him and when Voldemort asked Slughorn about horcruxes, but without seeing the memories of Voldemort’s family, his motivation goes out the window. In the movie, it seems as though we’re asked to believe that Voldemort is bad because…well, he just is, ok!? In the books, we see that Voldemort was born into a family without love (his mom used love potions to trick his dad into marrying her and then when she thought he might just love her on his own and stopped using the potions, he left her), wasn’t raised with any love (his mom died after giving birth and he went to an orphanage where he tortured other kids), and he eventually killed his remaining family to make horcruxes. I think all that is rather important. And I thought the memories should’ve made the cut.

What to cut instead, so that we don’t end up with a 10 hour movie (hey, I’d watch it) – how about the manufactured Burrow attack scene? It wasn’t in the book and I didn’t see a reason for it to be in the movie, yet it took up like 10 minutes. How about just a little bit of the teens kissing all over the castle? Or the scene in the beginning with Harry flirting with the muggle waitress, also not in the book?

<sigh> I don’t know. I mean, I did enjoy it and I fully intend to buy it when it comes out on DVD and watch it a bunch more. I think I just need to go to these movies expecting less. They can’t be perfect transcriptions of the books or they’d be hours and hours long (again, I’d go see it, but I’m not everyone. I’m a bit crazy.). I need to just appreciate it for what it is. But really, read the book. It’s better.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Christopher
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 11:47:15

    I liked it, purely from the standpoint that I have not read the books.

    I do agree that some scenes seemed rather pointless — the Weasley house getting attacked, for example, though I appreciate what they’re trying to convey here — but on the whole I put this movie up there with Star Wars V, which in my opinion is the best of the bunch. Things generally go from bad to worse for everyone except the bad guys, who only grow in power. Luke loses his lightsabre hand — Harry loses Dumbledore. Darth Vader isn’t who you thought he was — Snape isn’t who you thought he was, and much worse than you could have ever imagined. Lando sells out the bunch and Han gets frozen in carbonite — Draco opens pandora’s box and lets the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. There are a lot of parallels here, but not because one shamelessly rips off the other. The parallels exist because it’s just a good way to tell a story. And frankly, I LOVE a good tragedy.

    I was not distraught at Snape’s portrayal in the movie. Though I think they could have fleshed him out a bit better because on the whole I find him a much more interesting character than say, Ron’s tart, the fact that we’re forced to read between his lines at virtually all times makes him a very dangerous character. He really is the most flexible plot device available. Even knowing the final spoiler of the book ahead of time, I felt the scene was done well.

    The only difference here from SW5 is that at the end of the movie you’re given a glimmer of hope, with Harry and company resolving to fight on. With Star Wars, you’ve got to wait until Episode VI for any assurance that anything is going to be okay. I suppose that makes HP6 a bit more optimistic than SW5, but hey, if I want Empire Strikes Back, I’ll go watch Empire Strikes Back.

    I understand that much of the movie does not correspond to the book. I’m largely okay with that, because I acknowledge that the two are independent entities. I did not feel that the movie took any unwarranted artistic liberties, and on the whole felt it was a good installment of the series.

    Reply

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