GFS at the Movies: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Half-Blood Prince burrowIf it accomplishes nothing else as a film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince provides plenty of grist for the mill of debate over the pitfalls of translating literature to the big screen.  Because I think how you feel about this movie will hinge in large part upon your expectations of its fidelity to the source material.  So let’s get this right out of the way, in case you’re one of the dozen or so people who haven’t seen the movie or read J.K. Rowling’s book – this film is more of an interpretation of the sixth Harry Potter novel than a straight adaptation.

I took a rather forgiving approach to the omissions, additions, and changes made by screenwriter Steve Kloves but even I must admit to some puzzlement over some of his decisions.  For the sake of brevity I’ll mention just a few – having Dumbledore meet Harry at a Muggle train station rather than at the Dursley household, and leaving Harry free to help Dumbledore as he faced death but seemingly unwilling to do so.  I could go on, but there enough alterations (some pointless, some understandable) present throughout the entire movie that keeping track of them became impossible.

OK, just one more thing – all the students and teachers at Hogwarts raising their wands after Dumbledore died?  Lame.  Looked like the wizarding equivalent of bringing out lighters or cell phones at a concert.

Anyway, I was thoroughly entertained by Half-Blood Prince.  Plot points aside, this is a skillfully directed and beautifully filmed movie, perhaps the best of the series.  The metallic hues and slightly washed-out look did much to convey the sense of foreboding required, but enough humor came through so as to accurately recreate the mood of the novel.  In some ways the movie actually bested the book, as in the scene in the cliffside cave where Harry and Dumbledore set off to capture one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes.  Seeing Harry dragged down into the water by the inferi was genuinely spooky.

The Voldemort flashbacks, while few in number, were also highlights.  I loved the interaction between Dumbledore and the young Tom Riddle.  Hero Fiennes-Tiffin was definitely up to the task of playing Riddle, and infused him with just the right amount of malevolence.  So in terms of mood, Kloves and director David Yates got it right.

Half-Blood Prince - Harry and DumbledoreAnd another plus – the acting on the part of the younger cast members was pretty good.  Daniel Radcliffe is still rather wooden, but for me the most pleasant surprise was the nuance Tom Felton lent to Draco Malfoy, who up till now in the films was a rather one-dimensional character.  As for the older actors, I think I’ve finally accepted Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and of course what’s not to love about Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape?  Jim Broadbent was a great addition as Horace Slughorn, although perhaps not the coup that Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge) was.

It did occur to me, though, that Helena Bonham Carter gets an awful lot of screentime.  She’s great as Bellatrix Lestrange and all, but enough already.  Too many characters had to be cut from the movie to justify giving her as much exposure as she had.  We get it – she’s all wild and evil.  Great.  Let’s move on.

So even with all of that, and with my admission that I enjoyed the movie, we’re back to the issue of the story.  I understand the dilemma of the filmmakers – the Harry Potter books stopped being simple, plot wise, after about the second or third entry.  And I’m sure five different screenwriters would’ve given Potter fans five different Half-Blood Prince films; and thus just different things to complain about.

But still, I can’t help but wonder just how much involvement or oversight J.K. Rowling has in these movies anymore, or if she even cares at this point.  I’m still very much looking forward to the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, however.  The fact that it’s being split into two movies is encouraging, and hopefully means we’ll see less “creativity” with a story that is so well-known and so beloved.

6 Comments

  • mizerychik

    The wand scene was stupid and lame.

    “Though cutting Snape words to Harry, which are key to understanding the last book, was confusing to me, since the scene wasn’t cut.”

    In my opinion, that was by far the absolute worst and most needless omission. They couldn’t give that scene the two extra minutes it deserved was incredibly annoying.

    I also didn’t really understand the extra scene at the burrow. It wasn’t bad or poorly acted, and it wasn’t pointless, but I don’t really understand why it was deemed more necessary than say, Snape freaking the fuck out about being called a coward which is a giant part of both HBP and DH. I think Snape’s characterization is far gentler than it is in the book, and it takes away from the movie slightly. He’s the one who takes Harry off the train and cuts him down the entire way to the castle. Having Luna there diminishes the buildup of hatred that explodes from both Harry and Snape at the end, and that’s really a shame.

    I will be really pissed if part one of DH doesn’t address Harry’s acceptance that he has to sever ties with Ginny, the funeral, or any of the miscellaneous stuff that was left out of the end of HBP. They’re all necessary to Harry’s evolution into an adult and the Deathly Hallows themselves.

    Even though this seems very negative, I really did enjoy the movie. HPB is by far my favorite book, and David Yates did a good job with a very long and involved story. Sure, we know what Malfoy is doing right from the beginning, but at least someone who didn’t read the book could go in and follow along without needing Cliff’s Notes (ahem, I’m talking about you, OOTP). I think the acting was mostly cranked up a notch by everyone involved, particularly by Tom Felton. The cinematography was menacing and gorgeous, and it really set the mood for the end of the series.

    It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I’m pleased :)

  • mizerychik

    The wand scene was stupid and lame.

    “Though cutting Snape words to Harry, which are key to understanding the last book, was confusing to me, since the scene wasn’t cut.”

    In my opinion, that was by far the absolute worst and most needless omission. They couldn’t give that scene the two extra minutes it deserved was incredibly annoying.

    I also didn’t really understand the extra scene at the burrow. It wasn’t bad or poorly acted, and it wasn’t pointless, but I don’t really understand why it was deemed more necessary than say, Snape freaking the fuck out about being called a coward which is a giant part of both HBP and DH. I think Snape’s characterization is far gentler than it is in the book, and it takes away from the movie slightly. He’s the one who takes Harry off the train and cuts him down the entire way to the castle. Having Luna there diminishes the buildup of hatred that explodes from both Harry and Snape at the end, and that’s really a shame.

    I will be really pissed if part one of DH doesn’t address Harry’s acceptance that he has to sever ties with Ginny, the funeral, or any of the miscellaneous stuff that was left out of the end of HBP. They’re all necessary to Harry’s evolution into an adult and the Deathly Hallows themselves.

    Even though this seems very negative, I really did enjoy the movie. HPB is by far my favorite book, and David Yates did a good job with a very long and involved story. Sure, we know what Malfoy is doing right from the beginning, but at least someone who didn’t read the book could go in and follow along without needing Cliff’s Notes (ahem, I’m talking about you, OOTP). I think the acting was mostly cranked up a notch by everyone involved, particularly by Tom Felton. The cinematography was menacing and gorgeous, and it really set the mood for the end of the series.

    It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I’m pleased :)

  • I finally saw this over the weekend, and it was better than the previous 2 movies, but it took considerable self-control not to yell “Play Freebird” at the wand-raising scene.

    I think the Snape Kills Dumbledore scene was changed to make the sense of betrayal more obvious for those who didn’t read the book, since a lot of Harry/Snape interaction was cut. Though cutting Snape words to Harry, which are key to understanding the last book, was confusing to me, since the scene wasn’t cut.

    I felt the lack of flashbacks to Tom Riddle’s family was a loss for the movie, but I understand those were an obvious cut to keep it under 3 hours.

    Oh, and what was the deal with Bellatrix destroying the Weasley’s home? With so much cutting, why add a scene (and requires a bunch of changes to the beginning of the last book)?

    As long as Ewoks don’t save the universe in the last one, I’ll be happy.

  • I finally saw this over the weekend, and it was better than the previous 2 movies, but it took considerable self-control not to yell “Play Freebird” at the wand-raising scene.

    I think the Snape Kills Dumbledore scene was changed to make the sense of betrayal more obvious for those who didn’t read the book, since a lot of Harry/Snape interaction was cut. Though cutting Snape words to Harry, which are key to understanding the last book, was confusing to me, since the scene wasn’t cut.

    I felt the lack of flashbacks to Tom Riddle’s family was a loss for the movie, but I understand those were an obvious cut to keep it under 3 hours.

    Oh, and what was the deal with Bellatrix destroying the Weasley’s home? With so much cutting, why add a scene (and requires a bunch of changes to the beginning of the last book)?

    As long as Ewoks don’t save the universe in the last one, I’ll be happy.

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