If 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.
And 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.