7.27.2009

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie

Fifty Favorite Books will return tomorrow ... I promise.

My husband took me to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night. It wasn't the most exciting event on the planet for him, so I felt bad (he gave a far more positive review of the Twilight movie.) "I hate making people put up with my whims," I told him. He said that I don't have many whims, for which I affirmed his husband skills. He might be right about that after all, though; I just have a few really strong whims, one of which is watching a movie just so I can hate on it with the other Potter fans (although Travis liked it, so maybe it won't get so much ragging this trip around.)

Planning to go see the movie? Spoilers follow, so beware.

Rather than sit down in the theater armed with my encyclopedic knowledge of the book, ready to Reducto the movie's every scene, I decided to watch it as a movie in its own right. I found this difficult, of course, because in know-it-all-Hermione fashion, my knowledge likes to jump up and down with its hand in the air. But I didn't want to drink the Haterade too quickly. (Katdish used that phrase in a comment on Stuff Christians Like the other day, and I've wanted to use it ever since. "Drink the Haterade." That's hilarious.)

I found a few things to hate on. I went into this movie knowing--and it feels like I've known this forever--that an attack on the Burrow was invented for whatever reason. Not only was that not in the book, it was rather pointless as to the movie, with no leadup before or fallout afterward. Also, never in his entire existence does Dumbledore say something as fallibly human as "This is beyond anything I ever guessed!" Let me explain something, Warner boys: When a character is, as they say, "larger than life", you don't mess with his lines. You just don't. And where was Snape? Wasn't this movie called "Half-Blood Prince"?

Beyond those things and similar others, I did find a lot to like about the movie. First, the artistry was downright splendid. It was beautifully filmed and reminded me that big-budget movies tend to recognize true art even when the rest of culture forgets. The music was likewise lovely; better to do as they did then try to produce Fawkes' phoenix song as such. The phoenix song always gets me in the book, and it was Fawkes that finally brought tears to my eyes in the movie, though Ginny holding Harry, kneeling at Dumbledore's side after the fall from the tower, came awfully close.

Other parts of the movie were really funny, even though I'd seen several of them online beforehand. Some of the acting was very good, notably Jim Broadbent as Slughorn, and ... whether due to being prepared for the worst by my long happy years of being horrified at Michael Gambon's Dumbledore performances, or due to an honest improvement, I didn't hate it this time. I tend to like understated acting, which is presumably why I have never really liked David Thewlis's Lupin, and the main criticism of Gambon's current performance is that it's too deadpan. Better deadpan than collaring and shaking Harry or rolling eyes in apparent helplessness.

As to the details, here's my review.

Yes:

Beautiful, beautiful architectural shots. I'll repeat myself: the cinematography was just lovely.

Ginny seeing Hedwig and searching for Harry just before he arrives at the Burrow made for a lighthearted, really likeable scene and brought her character forward.

The Pensieve: Not like I pictured it, but quality. Young Tom Riddle was thoroughly creepy.

The scene with Slughorn at Aragog's funeral and afterward in Hagrid's cabin: Hilarious, poignant, beautifully done.

Ron's encounter with love potion was absolutely hysterical. I'd seen it before, but still got a kick out of it. "All right, you love her! Have you ever even met her?"

Felix Felicis. Nicely done, although Harry clearly had some left over after the Slughorn event and I thought he'd divide it between his friends as he did in the book.

Ginny everywhere. Cheers! They gave her some lines. Bonnie Wright pulled them off with emotion and grace.

Quidditch. In the first movie, the famous ball-game-on-broomsticks had the graphics of a video game. This time, the Quidditch action was fabulous. I loved Luna's lion hat, too, though it would have been fun to see it roar.

Snape's AK. Knowing "the rest of the story", as it were, I thought Alan Rickman pulled off Snape's emotion fabulously.

Ending the movie with Fawkes' departure into the sky. I'm not sure anyone only watching the movies would have gotten that he was Dumbledore's pet phoenix, but for book-formed Potterheads, the Resurrection bird is a powerful and important symbol. Just thinking about it makes my eyes well up.

Maybe:

The scene with the waitress at the beginning of the movie. It worked okay, but I liked Dumbledore's scolding the Dursleys in the book much better, and it doesn't seem necessary to portray Harry as a "normal teenager" interested in "going out" when in the books he's honestly distracted. It detracted a little from the onset of Harry's interest in Ginny, I thought.

It makes sense, I suppose, to play Bellatrix up and Narcissa down in the movie version of the "Spinner's End" scene, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

They at least tried to make Natalia Tena look like the book description of Tonks. And I liked it that she called Lupin "sweetheart", though I of course missed the depiction of their difficult move into romance.

Harry's comfort of Hermione after Ron kisses Lavender is a little too open, a little too unlike the masculine reticence of the Harry we know, but it made for an enjoyable scene and a good explanation of both Harry's and Hermione's romantic turmoil.

I had expected Hermione's flock of birds to attack Ron's face and arms, like they did in the book, but their kamikaze run into the door was tolerably effective.

Harry and Ginny's kiss was sweet, but not really the victorious experience from the book. A mildly seductive initiation by Ginny just doesn't compare to Harry's making the move "without thinking, without planning it, without worrying that fifty people were watching" when she runs into his arms after the Quidditch win.

Harry and Draco's battle in the bathroom. Tom Felton's fantastic acting helped. What I didn't like was that we didn't hear Draco attempt to use an Unforgivable, which made Harry's use of Sectumsempra a little less forgivable. Snape never questioned it, either, which was odd.

The Inferi were never explained, and I expected them to be more like the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings, but they served their purpose. I managed to watch them without nightmares, so the scariness factor could have been worse.

Snape's explanation to Harry that he was the Half-Blood Prince was moving, but I did miss the almost-demented "Don't call me coward!"

No:

Tonks' "The first night of the cycle is always the hardest" makes it sound like Lupin's about to change into a werewolf then and there. Followed immediately by Bellatrix and Greyback's attack, it makes no sense. Greyback is a werewolf too (which is never explained) and this just doesn't compute.

David Yates gives a good explanation of his reasons for adding the Burrow attack, noting that JKR herself affirmed it, but I still think there might have been a better way to accomplish the sense of jeopardy. It just felt too out of place with the story.

How did Harry know to use a bezoar to save Ron from the poison? What's a bezoar? We know this from the books, but it came out of nowhere in the movie.

The only pointer to Harry and Ginny's breakup is that she's not in the final scene where Harry, Ron and Hermione discuss the fake Horcrux and watch Fawkes fly away. Not only that, there's no confirmation that Ginny and Dean actually broke it off before Ginny and Harry's big kiss. Actually, there's never even any explanation that Harry and Ginny are officially dating; they just kiss briefly in the Room of Requirement.

Speaking of the Room of Requirement, if Ginny hides the book and Harry has his eyes closed, how will he remember the tiara-on-a-bust when he needs to in Deathly Hallows?

Did Hagrid get Fang out of the burning hut? I suppose, if you'd never read the book, you might not have thought of them as being trapped in the building Bellatrix sets afire.

Gambon's "Severus, please ..." didn't sound like pleading to me. I thought it came across that he was asking Snape to do what he did, which was important but perhaps a little too obvious.

When McGonagall raised her wand and sent a light up into the Dark Mark in the sky, starting to dissolve it, I thought that was sweet. When everyone else raised their wands, I thought they meant to do the same, and since the Mark did fade, perhaps it was intended that way--but it did come across as rock-concerty. Amy Sturgis said that someone in the theater with her actually whispered "Free Bird!" at that point.

* * *

What have I missed? I've just jotted down things as I recall them, so certainly there will be something.

1 comment:

  1. The most recent Harry Potter movies aren't that good anymore especially since most of the young characters got older now.... There was a certain cuteness to Harry Potter before that appealed more to kids... I doubt if its still there.

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