Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

If I had to say succinctly what made this such a monumentally frustrating film, it would have to be that they do an excellent job bringing to life things of minor importance, but botch the core of the story.

This review will make no attempts to steer away from spoilers in the sixth and seventh books, so if you haven’t already read them, I’m sorry. It’s not like you haven’t had enough time.

David Yates, the name of your movie is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. So, why didn’t we see more of the Half Blood Prince? If you’re already paying Alan Rickman, the only man in the history of time who could do Snape justice, why on earth, why in the world would you not give him every line he has in the book? Why would you invent these insipid escapades with Bellatrix and Diet-Fenrir, but hack to pieces the two great scenes with Snape at the beginning and end of the novel? Why, David Yates? Why?!

I cannot think of a movie where a titular character is given less screen time. Even Big freaking Fish.

Snape is the tragic hero of the series, and I feel that the books are just as much about him as they are Harry. He is, by a long shot, the richest character. After making a series of horrible mistakes, he is pulled away from evil’s seduction because of the death of the woman he loved, who couldn’t love him because of his choices, but instead married the man he hated most in all the world. So he spends and gives his life for the protection of their son—the son of his greatest enemy and only love. And the tragedy lies not in his death, but that he could never see that Harry was so much greater than his father. That Harry was not the pompous, cruel bully Snape found in James. And had he been able to see past that, he could have been a father to Lilly’s son. What better vengeance against James?

But just as tragically, this latest flick is absolutely devoid of any of that depth. Not once does Snape say anything about James Potter, including and especially the scene when he’s fleeing to the forest. That was what really did me in. Snape loses it there in the book. Rowling describes his face as “demented” and “inhuman” and being “full of rage,” because Harry is unknowingly using not only the spells that Snape invented against him, but the spells that James stole, and then used to torment him. I wanted so badly to see Rickman act that scene out. I have been waiting for it for four years. And I will never see it.

But enough about the titular character.

Another big problem is that they tried oh-so-very-hard to keep it a PG movie when they should have let it run its course into PG-13. Now, understand that I’m not one for gore. I cannot watch it. But a huge problem with the otherwise masterful scene where Harry and Malfoy are dueling, is that when Harry uses the Sectumsempra curse (and he doesn’t know what it does before he casts it), Malfoy just gets what look like two holes in his shirt and he starts to bleed into the surrounding water.

In the book he’s sliced open. Twice. In the face. The problem lies in that the result in the movie is what we were expecting to happen at the end of a shoot-out—somebody winds up bleeding on the floor. The horror and magnitude of the curse are missing.

Also, if it had to be PG, they should have cut Fenrir out of the movie completely. He served no purpose, and I don’t think anyone even knew he was supposed to be a werewolf. Optimally, it would have been PG-13, and he would have attacked Bill (who wasn’t in the movie), and we would have had that great scene in the hospital wing with Bill & Fleur (also not featured) and Tonks & Lupin.

I was amazed at the end of the movie how, although they wrote Ginny into so many extra scenes, we didn’t see one atom of her personality from the book. There is a reason why Harry is in love with her—a reason that is hopelessly absent in the movie.

That leads me to my next point. Harry is decidedly not a player. They constantly manufacture lines and scenes to make him out to be a womanizer, but he was only ever interested in two girls: Cho and Ginny. For reasons as epic as they were catastrophic, it just did not work out for him and Cho.

I still think the movie, as it stands, should be rated PG-13. Although the Inferi looked like rejected Gollum prototypes, they were plenty frightening. I also have to give props where they’re due to the scene where the girl touches the cursed necklace. That was deliciously terrifying, but as an eight-year-old I could not have handled it.

And since I’m admitting that there were things I liked about this movie, I think it was Dumbledore’s best performance, and I’m not just talking about the scenes with the zombies and his death. (They make a terribly stupid call in the latter scene, by the way.) Throughout the whole movie, he does a much better job with the character than he did with any of the previous films.

But J.K. needs to teach Yates the Imperius curse so he can keep Helena Bonham Carter under control. Ugh. I hate her. Bellatrix is supposed to be a cold, murderous aristocrat, not a flighty, giggling maniac.

And I can’t stand Emma Watson. Tell me with a straight face that this is Hermione.

Nicholas Hooper did a better job with the score than he did last time. There was a fantastically solid and haunting harp solo about mid-movie. But, I really wish they still had either Patrick Doyle or John Williams working on the score. We of course have to give reverence to Williams for writing the original themes, but Doyle wrote some breathtaking strings pieces for the fourth movie, and did a dazzling variation on the original theme that Hooper has yet to match.

I never say this, because I have invested a lot of money and time in them, but Hollywood really ruined a great story here. They take the focus off of what made the characters so compelling, and instead devoted SO MUCH TIME to the (romance is too grand a word for it) high school drama. And it’s in the book. It’s there. It’s even part of the driving force behind the plot. But a bit of snogging does not a story make. (I’m looking at you, Twilight.) Here’s a chief example: Not two minutes after they’re mourning over Dumbledore’s still warm body, Hermione is giving Harry the green-light to make out with Ginny. And Hamlet threw a tissy over his mom waiting only two months.


  1. I enjoy the specificity lent a movie review by a previous and, unsurprisingly, superior incarnation of the story in question. I haven't seen the film yet, but I enjoyed your lamentation over the loss of Snape's greatness almost as much as I might have enjoyed an adequate portrayal of his blend of great, unlooked for heroism and epic pettiness onscreen.

    Almost. I have no way of knowing what wonders Rickman might have wrought.

  2. Wyatt,

    I love you and how you write.

    Thank you for making me a better Hollywood Book-to-Film hater.