You know, it’s funny. I went into this with the full intention of not taking the film adaptation too seriously so maybe I could enjoy myself for once. A lot of people who haven’t read the books tell me that the movies are fine, that they aren’t confused or lost, and that they completely understand what’s happening. I can appreciate that. I don’t really want to be a hater. In fact, I spent most of the previews making sure my brother was sufficiently calmed since he didn’t like the sixth book much at all and therefore probably wasn’t going to enjoy a movie made of it. Within the first ten minutes, our positions were swapped and it was him trying to convince me that it really wasn’t that bad. I try to shelf my purist fanrage. I really do! It’s just very, very hard for me (apparently).
(this review briefly mentions minor spoilers for HP1-5;
spoilers for HP6: Half-Blood Prince are contained under spoiler tags)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
STORY & PACING — The main goal of Half-Blood Prince is to serve as a bridge between the previous installment and the final installment. That sounds incredibly obvious, but all the same, I don’t think most people realize it. Order of the Phoenix ends with the Wizarding community finally acknowledging Voldemort’s return, and Deathly Hallows is, of course, the final journey and confrontation. Thus, HBP serves to provide further proof of a dark uprising, but more importantly, it serves to provide Harry with the knowledge and tools necessary to take on his inevitable task: the backbone of HBP is Dumbledore teaching Harry about Voldemort’s origins, his past, his habits, his ambitions, and his weaknesses. Harry’s understanding of what he needs to do is essential. Dumbledore says so himself.
And that is where the HBP movie failed.
It isn’t really even a matter of comparing the book to the movie, though it’s impossible for me to pretend I’m not using the book as reference. The movie refuses again and again to clarify its intent and direction. It jumps around, occasionally acknowledging the darkness-swept community and widespread panic, but mostly focusing on the hormonal subplots, though I can’t say I’m surprised in the least. Hormones sell movie tickets, especially to enthusiastic shippers. The romantic storylines aren’t uninteresting or unnecessary per se, but the storytelling didn’t feel very balanced, and I felt that Dumbledore’s purposes and goals were lost in the insurmountable drama — especially since Dumbledore himself seemed to commentate all too frequently on the romance (or lack thereof, for some)! Yes, hormones and puberty still happen in times of war; the book was very clear on that as well, but there still needs to be a sense of purpose beyond whether or not Harry will be able to win Ginny from Dean and whether Ron will get with Hermione after it became obvious two or three books/movies ago that they liked each other.
It didn’t help either, that the few scenes we do get involving Dumbledore, Voldemort’s past, and Slughorn were strangely ordered and altered for no particular reason. I don’t expect a movie to be a perfect line-by-line adaptation of a book; that’s impossible. I expect things to be cut and changed, but there always needs to be a reason something is changed, and I can’t see many justifications here. In particular, Slughorn’s introduction felt unnecessarily abbreviated and Dumbledore sending Harry to buddy up with Slughorn without first telling him why just doesn’t make sense, nevermind that it’s completely contrary to the book. Skipping over the first couple of memories shared in the Penseive is forgivable, but failing to emphasize Voldemort’s habits and magpie-like tendencies is not. It might feel like a minor detail, but it isn’t, not if you consider that HBP’s entire purpose of teaching Harry about his enemy, but I guess David Yates forgot that part. The coming-of-age thing doesn’t really come across very well either; it’s just puberty.
The most relevant secondary storyline involves Draco Malfoy’s various suspicious activities and the further questioning of Severus Snape’s true allegiance. Though considerably different from the book, most of the scenes concerning them are actually pretty good — the audience is able to get a good grasp of what’s going on and they probably even have a higher chance of guessing what’s happening since the movie divulges many more details than the source material in regards to Malfoy. Unfortunately, as well done as those individual scenes are, they feel short and choppy in the grand scheme of things. Everything meshed poorly with the rest of the movie and scene transitions were almost always awkward and sudden (though the lengthy ones were also awkward). That, along with the movie’s general lack of backbone and direction, made it feel like yet another poorly paced slideshow. Things happen. More things happen. Characters react, kind of. More things happen. All of the movies since and including the third one have been this way, and HBP is no exception.
CHARACTER & ACTING — The most redeeming factor about the entire film is the fact that most of the character portrayals and interactions are downright hilarious — whether they’re hilarious in a good way or a bad way is up to debate, but either way, it’s still hilarious. Undoubtedly, the overt romantic shenanigans played a large part in it, but if you can’t fight it, then you might as well enjoy it. I guess? Consider that the hormones and drama were my least favorite part of the source material… that’s why I was less prone to caring just how they handled it. If the romance felt rushed, over-the-top, and sloppily done in the books, then it was certainly more rushed, over-the-top, and sloppily done in the movie. But it was still funny.
Ron and Hermione’s drama begins with little preamble in the movie, so despite pre-existing hints and tensions, it still feels rather sudden in the context of the self-contained film. Both Cormac McLaggan and Lavender Brown’s silver screen portrayals are exaggerated from their ink and paper forms, but the result is acceptably humorous, even if they occasionally invite facepalming. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson both do a swell job with their roles as Ron and Hermione though; even if the scenes they’re set up in are a bit ridiculous and also rather exaggerated, the acting is solid enough and the emotions are well expressed. If anything, it was disappointing to see that their roles in the HBP movie were limited to the romantic drama — they never actually do anything important — it would have been interesting to see whether the good acting carried over to more story-intensive or even action scenes.
Unlike Ron/Hermione, there is very little build-up in the previous installments in regards to Harry/Ginny, making the pairing seem very sudden and particularly contrived. This was bad enough in the book, but the movie took the liberty of inserting even more awkward little moments that highlight the more-than-obvious fact that Harry has a thing for Ginny even though they haven’t really spoken to each other in the last three movies/books. Still, there are several movie-only scenes that are especially amusing (“she has nice skin” / “Harry seemed to really enjoy dessert”) and not entirely out-of-character. It was very teen drama-ish. I was surprised at just how many bones were tossed out to the Harry/Hermione shippers though; there were little tidbits here and there, details that weren’t in the book and so on. Sometimes it seemed almost canon! I wonder if H/Hr is Yates’ OTP? I’ve never cared for Bonnie Wright as Ginny, and really, despite her prominence in the romantic subplots here, there seem to be very few scenes where Wright actually does any notable acting; she is generally very plain and unimpressive. In contrast, Dan Radcliffe’s acting is very solid (infinitely improved from his acting in OotP), but his most brilliant and memorable scenes were those involving the Felix Felicis, rather than anything with Ginny. Still, for the serious matters (especially around the end of the movie), Radcliffe’s progression as an actor really shines through.
Rounding out the romance, Tonks/(Spoiler), mercifully, wasn’t very prominent in the movie, but what was there was even more random and awkward. Bill/Fleur was completely absent, which makes me wonder about how their wedding will be handled in the next movie (if at all). Draco/Pansy was also cut entirely, but that’s without much consequence. Luna’s role and the subsequent gossipy silliness is lessened (there is no “Potty lurves Loony!” line much to my brother’s disappointment), but I still love her actress. Luna’s character is wonderfully quirky and her portrayal remains one of my favorite book-to-movie transitions. Other minor roles include Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix, Helen McCrory as Narcissa, and Alan Rickman as Snape. I enjoyed Carter as Bellatrix in the previous film, but her expanded role in this one felt unnecessary and her portrayal of Bellatrix only gets more and more stereotypical. McCrory’s lack of blondeness put me off, but I guess there’s no point in being picky about appearances when Radcliffe’s Harry still doesn’t have green eyes. Her portrayal of Narcissa was still disappointingly calm, though I suppose it could be the script’s fault that she was out of character for her single scene. Rickman as Snape is the same as always (quiet and brooding), though it’s surprising to see just how little a role he plays the entire movie, all things considered.
More important secondary roles include Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, Jim Broadbent as Slughorn, and Tom Felton as Draco. Admittedly, I’ve never warmed up to Gambon’s Dumbledore, and even though it’s been a while since I’ve seen the first two movies, I stick by the notion that Richard Harris was much, much better. Part of it is appearances, yes: Harris was just a physically more accurate portrayal of Dumbledore down to his immensely long and very white beard and frail, thin appearance. But Gambon’s Dumbledore has just always seemed… too serious for me. That isn’t to say that Dumbledore is never serious — of course he is, especially in these later installments — but he is always described as being very serene, very calm, and frequently smiling, in spite of everything. Gambon doesn’t really capture any of those qualities, so I’m never quite convinced. Broadbent as Slughorn worked well enough though. Physically, he could be balder and fatter, but demeanor-wise, I’d say it was a pretty good job.
And then there’s Felton, whom I’ve always felt was a mediocre actor that could only emphasize the most stereotypical qualities of his role. HBP has helped his case tremendously by showing that he can indeed act without shouting ridiculous taunts every other minute, probably because Draco doesn’t actually say much in this movie. Still, all of the scenes with Draco in the Room of Requirement are poignant and suspenseful (even if he pulls the curtain off the cabinet one too many times), and his frustration prior to his fight with Harry comes across as very sincere and emotionally complex with a dramatic mix of anger and fear. His final scene at the end of the movie is also relatively convincing, even if the script cut out a lot of the discussion.
ART & ANIMATION — Usually, this is where I exchange the negative for the positive because things of questionable quality storywise often make up for it on the technical side. However, I didn’t find HBP to be all that impressive visually — probably because there just really weren’t that many scenes throughout the movie that called for impressiveness. Quidditch and the score of everyday spells were standard, etc. I actually really disliked the portrayal of Death Eaters since, in addition to being visually boring, I found it to be confusing with previous portrayals of Dementors, which were conveniently glossed over here. (A more purist note: Fenrir Greyback is also a Death Eater, but he is only a werewolf and not a wizard; thus, it doesn’t really make sense that he should be able to fly around randomly.) There was a distinct lack of things that made some of the previous movies nice to look at — no basilisk, no hippogriff, no dragons, no big fight at the Ministry.
Dumbledore’s storm of fire near the end was great for the scene and the moment, but it really wasn’t that notable or amazing, especially compared to the aforementioned. The Dark Mark was also kind of neat, but nothing spectacular. I’m surprised that HBP is the most expensive movie yet — I have no idea what they spent it on because it really wasn’t much to look at.
MUSIC — To be honest, I didn’t notice much in the way of music in this film. I’m a huge fan of John Williams’s excellently composed theme, but derivative tunes don’t really impress me as much and I was too busy whispering agitatedly and being an altogether annoying movie-goer to really pay much attention to Nicholas Hooper’s original compositions for HBP. I found his work for OotP pretty average though, so I think it’s safe enough to assume the quality is the same here.
OVERALL — It was better than I thought it would be, if only because much of the character and romance nonsense ended up being genuinely amusing. The actors all seemed to have a much better handle on their roles than usual, and many of the movie-only scenes were actually pretty entertaining. If Half-Blood Prince was supposed to be a romantic comedy, then I guess it was all right. Unfortunately, the movie was also tasked with being part of a much larger story, but as a bridge between Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows, HBP was a poor attempt. Some specific scenes are good and accurate to a point, but they are strung together haphazardly, and ultimately, not enough is explained or revealed about what Harry needs to do, which doesn’t particular bode well for the seventh book’s two-parter movie. Yes, I’m irritated that there are a lot of things from the source — debateably important things — that did not make it into the film, but that would annoy me a lot less if I thought the film still somehow drove the main point home. It didn’t. It didn’t present them in the way the book did, and it didn’t cleverly create unique situations where the same points could be covered. It just ignored them or forgot about them and focused on the teenage romance instead, magnifying the book’s lesser points to the point where they take over completely.