HP6: The Movie in Review

Reviewing The Half-Blood Prince It began with a Stone.

Continued with a Basilisk in a chamber, a murderer escaping from an un-escapable prison, a tournament of wizards from around the world, the return of Evil, and the formation of an army to rise up against him.

It's the story of a boy-who-lived and his legendary quest to stand up against he-who-must-not-be-named.

And it's one of the most beautiful and beloved stories of our generation.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the 6th part in J.K. Rowling's 7 book masterpiece, and in many ways it serves as merely the prelude to the final chapter, setting in motion the things that must take place for the forces of good to challenge, and triumph, over the forces of evil. And this past week, Director David Yates (who also helmed Order of the Phoenix) partnered with Screenplay Writer Steve Kloves (who wrote all BUT Order of the Phoenix screenplays) to take on the challenge of adapting the gorgeous story of book 6 into the tricky, fickle art of film.

It's always delicate when watching the movie of a book you love, and in an upcoming blog I will talk about the ever present "book versus movie" dialogue, and why it can be unfair to compare the two. But for now, I'll say that it's impossible to NOT, however, think of one when engaging with the other, so in my review it will come up from time to time. Just know that we'll jump in to this topic in further detail later. (Warning: if you don't know how this, or the whole, story ends, there are plot spoilers to follow.)


One of the more frustrating scenes

When the credits rolled, and I walked towards our car, I couldn't stop thinking, "wow, I LOVED that movie!" Meanwhile, my wife, who is arguably a bigger fan of the Potter series, kept uttering, "wow, I HATED that movie!" As we talked, we realized that we had different criteria by which we judged the movie (which is, obviously, part of the beauty of art). I couldn't get over how incredible the movie looked and felt. The cinematography, the photography, the way the shots were framed, the coloring (oh,the coloring!) were all brilliant. It felt like a 'grown up' film, if that makes sense. The sets were gorgeous (if not a bit distant from previous established Potter sets). The lighting reflected perfectly the mood of the film. Credit goes to David Yates for creating a beautiful movie. And these sorts of things tend to receive more weight in my mind when I judge films.

By contrast, my wife tends to focus on the nuances of the story and the relationships, the characters and finer plot points. And as she processed through the movie, it became clear that some of these aspects of the film could be weighed and found wanting.

What I'm getting at, is that because of how I initially react to films, I started from a place of really liking the movie. Then, as I began to sort through what I liked and didn't like, I soon found out that there was quite a bit I did not like about the movie... several pieces of the story that were mis-handled or not handled at all.

For instance, the potions book belonging to the Half-Blood Prince played a significant role in the story. However, in the film, it felt like they resented having to include it. The blossoming relationship between Harry and Ginny was both poorly portrayed and awkwardly shown. Some of the visual effects felt like an afterthought (the first scene of the bridge being rent, the Inferi at the end). Hogwarts didn't "feel" like Hogwarts (where was the art on the wall?). Much of the actual magic and magical moments in the film felt more "normal" or "non-magical," if that makes sense. And the most offensive  of all was the slaughtering of the end. Every Potter fan was desperately awaiting the final climax, the moment where our 2nd favorite character finds his end. We sat on the edge of our seats expecting Dumbledore to "freeze" Harry so that he could not interfere with what was about to come. Because that's PRECISELY what Harry Potter does: he rushes, without thinking, headlong in to danger to try and save the ones he loves. And by choosing to NOT have him be frozen, we get a false-Harry moment. It's not believable to watch Harry from below the deck passively observing those final moments. And then, once the deed is done and Snape does the unthinkable, WHERE IS THE EPIC BATTLE AT HOGWARTS? No showdown between the Death Eaters and the Order? No funeral service for Albus Dumbledore? No final and beautiful moment between Harry and Ginny? Sorry, this may be the moment where I begin to break my own rules and say the movie just did NOT do the book, no, the STORY, justice.

However, in the end, I still feel like the movie was really good. There were flashes of brilliance: Harry when he took Felix Felicis (the best acting Danielle Radcliffe has done in 6 movies), the Quidditch match, the Weasley Bros joke shop, the jokes between Harry and Ron, the flashbacks with Tom Riddle, the character of Slughorn, and the music... mmm, the music was fantastic!

I'll have to watch it again before I can rank where it sits alongside the first 5 films. And maybe after the final 2 movies come out (yes, if you haven't heard, book 7 will be made in 2 parts, Nov '10 and July '11) we may look back and appreciate the way they handled the Half-Blood Prince a little more. If you haven't read the books, close your internet and begin now. If you can't do that, and you've already seen the first 5 movies, do not miss your chance to catch this film in the theater, you'll probably love it even more than those of us who have read them, because it truly is a beautiful, well made piece of art. But, for the ending alone, I give it only 4 out of 5 stars.

What about you? How did you feel about it? What did you like or dislike?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: 4.5 Stars

The ArtsColby Martin