Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Rated: PG


Website: Harry Potter official site


Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter


My Review: For the most part, I have found the Harry Potter movies to be disappointing, unconvincing, and a relatively poor representation of the brilliant books they’re based on. And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception. There. I said it. Let the public flogging commence.


My main issue with the movies are that they play like oversimplified Cliffs Notes versions of the books. There’s no way every detail J.K. Rowling packed into her tomes can make it into a movie, and still keep the movie under three hours, I get that. But the movies focus so heavily on the major action scenes (seriously, how many more Quidditch matches need to be filmed?) that they gloss over too many of the various backstories that lay the groundwork for the story arc of the entire series. They also pick and choose which emotional and relationship-based scenes to play, so the movies wind up missing out on a lot of the heart and soul that can be found in every one of the Harry Potter books.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince lays the groundwork for the final showdown between the good wizards and Voldemort’s army of evil followers, who are wreaking havoc not only in the wizarding world, but in muggle-based London, too. Draco Malfoy becomes a more major player as he is assigned to carry out a specific mission for Voldemort within the walls of Hogwarts, a mission that Snape must carry out if Draco fails, according to the unbreakable bond he makes with Draco’s mother. Dumbledore brings an old Hogwarts professor out of retirement and asks Harry to help him collect a vital memory from said professor; a memory about Voldemort during his schooldays which will help them know how to go about destroying him once and for all. And in between all the various scheming there are hormonal issues a-plenty for the students, such as Hermione being jealous of Ron and his psychotically clingy new girlfriend and Harry having a crush on Ron’s kid sister, Ginny.


As usual, the key scenes are played: Harry collects the memory he needs, Dumbledore and Harry figure out how Voldemort can be brought down, and you-know-who is killed by you-know-who. And everything is set up for the final installment, which will (thankfully) be split into two movies. But the movie feels disconnected and packs only a fraction of the emotional punch the book does. Too many of the developing relationships are either completely skipped or are so thinly portrayed that you’re left wondering why you should care.


Lupin shows up in one scene with a woman by his side, who you may remember as being another Order of the Phoenix member from the previous movie, but only a reader of the books will remember that she’s Tonks, and she and Lupin are now in a relationship. There’s absolutely no mention of the Weasley’s older son being engaged to Fleur, the French Tri-Wizard Cup competitor, so it’ll be interesting to see if Harry and company attend their wedding in the next movie. There’s also no mention of Percy Weasley and how his behavior has affected his family. When Ron attracts the attention of a girl at school, it seems as if she’s just some random new student, when she’s actually Lavender Brown, a fellow Gryffindor who should have been around since their first year. And the whole Harry and Ginny scenario is completely laughable. While in the books you could see their feelings for each other changing and growing, in the movie Ginny has hardly ever been a major player, so Harry’s sudden desire for her is out of the blue. And rather than being vivacious and personable, as she is in the books, movie Ginny is dull and wallflower-ish, which again adds to the absurdity of Harry’s interest in her. Ron and Hermione’s slow-building “will-they, won’t-they” relationship is the only one that’s even remotely convincing, and that’s just because it’s been going on now for six movies.


The most egregious oversight is right there in the movie’s title: the Half-Blood Prince. Harry gets a used Potions textbook filled with the brilliant notes of a former student with the declaration that the book is owned by the “Half-Blood Prince” scrawled inside the cover. But rather than trying to figure out who that is and what that means—like he does in the book—Harry just continues to use the notes to excel in his Potions class, and at the end of the movie, the Half-Blood Prince’s identity is revealed, with no fanfare or explanation, almost as if the director realized the topic had yet to be addressed, so he threw in an extra line to take care of that pesky issue. “Oh, by the by, I’m the Half-Blood Prince. See ya in the next movie, Potter!”


Bottom Line: Once again, a Harry Potter movie fails to live up to my expectations and doesn’t pack enough of an emotional punch for me to truly care about what happens to the characters (the Harry Potter onscreen will never live up to the Harry Potter that played in my head while reading the books). Luckily, someone was smart enough to split the upcoming final story into two movies rather than pack everything into two and half hours. I just wish someone had been smart enough to do that with all of the movies after the third one.




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