I have a great deal of emotions concerning the newest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. They are not conflicting emotions, and yet they are not unified either: I simply, like many of the characters in this movie, have a big jumble of emotions.
(I now realize that this won’t, technically, be a review of the movie. Instead I’m going for the “Hunter-S.-Thompson-stream-of-consciousness-style” jumble of thoughts. Without the drugs.)
The fact that this movie is number 6 in a fantastic series (of books and movies) means that practically no one comes to this movie cold: to wit, it’s best if you are well-immersed in the movies, because you will see many nods to the previous flicks here. Fenrir Greyback’s “WANTED” poster looks exactly like Sirius Black’s did in Azkaban. Seamus, once again, has an accident that blows up — comically — in his face. Ron still likes to eat…a lot.
New details are brought in almost seamlessly: Mr. Weasley collects broken “muggle” things — especially electronics — in the workshop where he has a conversation with Harry. The new characters, such as Professor Slughorn and Lavender Brown, fit beautifully into the already spectacular cast.
But everything is changing at Hogwarts. From the very beginning we are confronted by the changes. Dumbledore arrives to take Harry on an errand, but his hand has been badly damaged by dark magic. Hormones are raging everywhere; this aspect of middle school/high school has been addressed as early as the 3rd — and possibly strongest — installment, …Prisoner of Azkaban. But now the stakes are higher: hormones aren’t just things to be embarrassed about, but things that can hurt people. Witness, for example, the pain of both Hermione and Lavender as they see love ripped out of their hands: it’s devastating. Similarly, the stakes are much higher for the fate of the world. The Millennium Bridge is ripped apart by death eaters, the Weasley’s house is destroyed (both elements that didn’t appear in the novel, but are surrogates for the countless smaller stories of heightening danger told in the book), and, finally, lives are lost. Most importantly, that of Hogwart’s headmaster, Dumbledore.
And here is where I have the biggest problem, with both the movie and the book: Dumbledore’s death, and the relationship that Harry and Dumbledore have (or don’t have), is not explored or defined in either the book or the movie. And since Rowling chose to leave much of the exploration of the Harry/Dumbledore relationship until the final book, the screenwriter makes a few missteps at the end of the movie (in an otherwise beautiful, humorous and tight script). The high point of the movie should have been a powerful, emotional climax, with both revelations and action taking place concurrently. Instead, we are trapped into a distilled version of events, that eliminates all tension from the final 10 minutes of the movie. Harry explores the Dumbledore that he didn’t know throughout the seventh and final book, and I fear they have taken much of the impact of that out of the final two films by changing the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore at Dumbledore’s death: Dumbledore does not hide and freeze Harry under the invisibility cloak as in the books, so Harry then feels guilty for not coming to Dumbledore’s aid. Guilt does not come into play in the books: it’s more a sense of betrayal by Dumbledore for allowing this death to happen to him, while immobilizing Harry from being able to do anything about it.
Things I didn’t like:
- Harry and Ginny kissing in the Room of Requirement. Why? In the book, Harry grows/matures into loving Ginny, and then finally acts on that love. In the movie, Ginny acts and Harry is simply left with his hormones. Also, why skip the breakup scene between Harry and Ginny at the end of the book? It sets up the tension at the Weasley residence at the beginning of the next movie better. (Or are they going to elminiate the Bill/Fleur wedding entirely? It’s a possibility…)
- The lack of Neville Longbottom. He totally disappeared from this movie. Oh well.
- I still don’t think they got Quidditch right. My understanding was that it was more like soccer, but in the air. It sure didn’t look like that to me here.
- I expected more fighting, more aurors, and more mayhem at the end. I already said this, but I’ll say it again: the end of book 6 is like a tsunami has broken on Hogwarts. We got none of that sense from this movie.
- As much as I like Jim Broadbent (he made Moulin Rouge one of my favorite movies of all time), I believe the filmmakers attempted to make him a more likeable character than in the book. Broadbent’s acting, again, was superb, but the character lacked the complexity that Rowling gave him.
Things I liked:
- An image system that presented itself in the first thirty seconds of the movie: hands. Watch how many hands tell stories throughout the movie: Dumbledore’s hand protecting Harry, Dumbledore’s withered hand signifying the toll of evil, Snape’s and Narcissa’s hands used to bind the unbreakable vow, Harry and Hermione holding hands in friendship when they are both distraught over love issues, etc. etc.
- The discussion of girls between Ron and Harry. Hilarious.
- Cinematography. Bruno Delbonnel, from Amélie and A Very Long Engagement and Across the Universe, paints with light. It’s called chiaroscuro, and it turns the whole movie screen into a painter’s canvas. I had a similar experience watching The Passion of the Christ, where Caleb Deschanel (who also did the equally beautiful Spiderwick Chronicles) turned each scene — each camera setup — into a painting. I also noted that color kept receding as the movie wore on, until the final scenes were almost devoid of any saturated color other than black (or was it my imagination?).
- Were those brooms on Cormac and Ron phallic or what? Cormac has this massive broom between his legs…hilarious.
- The younger Riddles. Well-played, creepy, and absolutely terrifying.
- My son loved the visuals for the pensieve this time.
- I thought Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) did a wonderful job, with one of the best roles written for this movie.
- The three leads. It cannot be understated how powerful a casting decision was made by Chris Columbus to bring in Dan Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. They have surpassed all expectations throughout this series. As much as I hated Columbus’ direction of the first two movies, I will always respect him for putting those three in the driver’s seat of this series.
Overall, I still think I’m going to like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the best of the series so far, simply because the story and motivations are clearer (my judgement might be a bit biased: I just finished watching, again, the phenomenal Children of Men by Alfonso Cuaron (who directed Azkaban). This movie suffered from the same things as the book: the lack of a narrative story structure with a clear climax, and a good deal of the narrative that is told through flashbacks. Regardless, it’s always hard to adapt such a long and complex book, and I do believe that they got many of the major themes from the book correctly translated to screen. My favorite books are still 1 and 7: the first, for introducing us to such a complex, magical world; and the seventh, for breaking every mold that was set up in the previous six, and still utilizing every storyline that was begun in the previous novels to race towards a crazy-cool finale. That said, I still need to see this movie again, and figure out specific places that the storytelling was ultimately successful or ultimately pulled me out of the story. Really excellent…good summer fare.
I’ll watch it again in a few weeks. Until then, stay cool, everyone.