Half-Blood Prince is Harry’s last step into adulthood…complete with growing pains.

Posted on 17 July 2009 by Quaid

Is it possible for a movie to be really well done, really rousing, wildly entertaining, and still leave you a little cold?  If so, that’s the case with the latest Potter installment, Half-Blood Prince.

 HPPoster2It’s rare that a movie leaves me so confused about my own reaction.  It’s not that I’m a strict “loved it” or “hated it” guy, but usually I have very clear and specific arguments as to whether a movie was good, bad, or somewhere in between.  That’s not the case here, though, so forgive me if my arguments seem a bit muddy–my love of all things Potter has, no doubt, clouded my vision, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Okay, now that the disclaimer-ific preamble is out of the way, let’s get down to it, shall we?  I’ll keep this as broad, vague, and spoiler free as I can.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is perhaps the most well-made of all six current Harry Potter films.  The acting is superb, the casting fantastic, and the direction truly magical.  In this film, we get the most complex and compelling character work we’ve seen thus far in the series, much of it coming from Tom Felton’s surprisingly poignant performance as Draco Malfoy, now a man on a tortured quest, and Michael Gambon’s vulnerable Professor Dumbledore.

Somehow, though, the movie manages to balance it’s serious subject matter with some truly delightful comedic sequences.  I don’t know that I’ve laughed this much at any of the previous Harry Potter films…which, of course, makes the impending dark tragedies all the more tragic.

No, I can say without a doubt that every technical, story, and character element in this film (minus a couple of awkward cuts and the occasional awkward line delivery) is spot-on and well done.  Were you to watch this film as a series of scenes, out of order, it would all feel 100% spot-on.  The problem, then, comes from something much less easily defined–somewhere in the glue that pulls it all together.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s take a moment to steep ourselves in the world of J.K Rowling, shall we?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceWe meet Harry Potter, the boy who lived, only a few weeks after the events of Phoenix.  Harry is still getting over the (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN PHOENIX!) death of his uncle, Sirius, but that doesn’t stop him from hitting on a particularly attractive coffee shop waitress.

Alas, this plot line is not to be explored.  Instead, Dumbledore shows up and whisks Harry off to meet Professor Slughorn, an individual who, we learn, possesses a memory of utmost importance to Harry’s impending battle with the Dark Lord.  

After convincing Slughorn to take up his old mantle as Potions teacher at Hogwarts, Harry returns to his beloved school.  As always, though, something is amiss.  This time it has to do with Draco Malfoy, Harry’s nemesis since year one, who is planning some unspecified, sinister plot.

Can Harry obtain Slughorn’s precious memory and uncover Malfoy’s evil plot before it’s too late?  Eh, might be best not to answer that one…

HP6_ICON_SMALLAlong the way we are treated to ample amounts of budding romance.  This is one area of the film with which I was pleasantly surprised.  When director David Yates originally said that he wanted to have “a bit of a laugh” with this one, I was worried that the kids’ love lives would be pulled front-and-center with a lot of out-of-place yuck-yuck jokes.  

But the jokes are surprisingly funny, and the romances are more emotionally involving and satisfying than I thought possible.  Great job, Dave.  If anything, these relationships help to paint the film’s final scenes in a tragic light…because not only do we care about what happens to these characters, we also care what happens between them.  

For those of you familiar with the final pages of the novel (as well as the leaked plot points that had many of us Potter fans worrying a few months back), have no fear.  Things are changed, yes, but everything makes perfect sense.  The pacing is pitch perfect, and events are given the proper emotional weight.  

HP2There it is: my glowing, wildly positive review for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  So why, then, do I find myself the slightest bit disappointed?

As I said earlier, there is something missing.  While the movie never really dragged, it did have a tendency to feel a little episodic with one scene crashing into another unrelated scene.  But this has always been a problem with Potter–or with attempting a faithful adaptation of any long book with rabid fans.  

I think the problem is that somehow the movie never really lets you catch a breath.  Shots are cut short, and deeply affecting moments (like one of Draco Malfoy sobbing alons) are cut just a few frames too short.  It’s like the filmmakers are so eager to get the story moving that they undercut some of the films most important emotional moments.  

The problem, as I said earlier, is in the glue.  I feel like there is a great Potter film in the movie I just watched–if only it were cut slightly differently and given some room to breathe.  It’s a nebulous and personal thing, when a scene should end or whether to use a cut or dissolve, but it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to drawing you into a film.  

Enough of a difference that when the lights came up I couldn’t think of a single performance, plot point, or shot that was anything but great, but I still had to turn to my friends and say, “Yeah, it was good.”

Good, not great.  And that, whether fair or not, is a little disappointing for a Potter fan like me. 

I’ll admit that each and every one of my problems with the film is intensely personal.  If someone saw the same film and argued that it was the best in the franchise, I’d be hard fought to argue against them.  Me, though, I still maintain that Order of the Phoenix is the best Potter has to offer…so far.

This might change on multiple viewings (I plan to see the movie tonight at midnight with the fanatical crowd), and the film might gain some weight with the release of the seventh and eighth films.  This one might very well be better looked at as a gateway that leads us into the dramatically different final installments.

One thing’s for sure, though: Hogwarts will never be the same.  In the last fifteen minutes of the movie, one gets the overwhelming feeling that too much has changed for our characters, and there’s no going back.  To be honest, that’s what the sixth movie (and book) is all about at its core.

On that front, mission accomplished.                           

5 Comments For This Post

  1. Rachel Says:

    I’m so excited to see this on thursday!! Still jealous you got to go early :)

  2. matt Says:

    Well, after reading all of that, kind of makes me want to go back and watch the movies i haven’t seen… which would be all of them minus the first and fourth… I’d hate to keep asking whats happening when i go see it, and i’m sure she would too…:)

  3. Mark Says:

    [Semi-SPOILERS, including DEATHLY HALLOWS ones. You've been warned.]

    This turned into an essay. I feel very strongly about it.

    The light-hearted moments were very well done. Slughorn was, yes, easy, but still very good. Draco was superb. Quidditch was redundant but still fun. They did a great job with the lake horcrux scene, though they could have drawn out Harry forcing Dumbledore to drink more. Dumbledore’s fire was fantastic, and that makes it the second scene (first being Ministry of Magic) where you are really shown that Dumbledore, aside from being wise and noble, also happens to be a bad ass. So lots of things going for it. In my opinion they should have elevated the Draco storyline more, and they absolutely needed to spend more time on the Half-Blood Prince. Most of the scenes for the first 2/3’s of the movie were well done, but the overall vision regarding what the film was really about did not exist.

    Ultimately, though, the movie fails because David Yates made a terrible decision with the ending. I disliked many of the individual moments around the ending, and frankly, aside from the lake scene, I thought Yates undercut and undermined many of the driving elements behind the savage emotion of the closing hundred pages of the book.

    But ultimately there was one decision, consciously made or not, that undoes all the good in the movie. The fundamental emotional drive of the close of the book was altered, and not for the better. The movie should have closed on a note of despair. Not utter despair, because you can never really believe that Dumbledore was utterly fooled. But the hope should be something that has a basis in the nature of characters but no solid support in the last hundred pages of the book. You think Dumbledore couldn’t be wrong, but you find it hard to reconcile with the evidence.

    Instead, David Yates gives his audience huge winking clues about the conclusion of the whole series. That these are spoilers doesn’t matter so much because most of his audience probably knows the end anyway. But they do matter for the minds and hearts of the characters in the film. Yates utterly and completely undercuts the sense that something has gone horribly wrong here. Dumbledore all but shouts, “It’s all part of the plan! Under control! Nothing to worry about!” Yates basically shouts the true meaning of “Severus please” when that shouldn’t be at all immediately apparent, certainly never to Harry. Yates removes the very grounds upon which Harry wonders how Dumbledore could have been so very wrong on something he seemed so completely certain of. The basis of Harry’s utter hatred of Snape, the moment that makes “The Prince’s Tale” so jarring for Harry, if not necessarily for the rest of us, no longer exists. So instead of the utter horror of murder, you get a big fat stupid wink.

  4. Quaid Says:

    Mark, you make some good points about the ending…specifically (SPOILER) why is was important for the Death Eaters to come into the castle if Snape and Draco were going to be the only ones doing anything. Thanks for the comment.

  5. matt Says:

    Though there were a few distractions in the theatre (big sigh) it was a great movie and movie experience… I liked this one a bunch. makes me want to watch the rest of the movies, and HUGE HUGE HUGE maybe read the books.

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