A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 516 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – July 29th, 2011

After the fifth movie I was feeling very anxious about carrying on with the Potter films. The same thing happened to me with the books but I pressed on because, well, I enjoyed the world, as I’ve said, and I wanted to know what would happen. The thing is, it’s been ages and ages since I last read anything beyond book four and while I recall the overall plots and character arcs, many of the specifics just haven’t stuck. So I really wasn’t sure what this movie would hold for me. Given how dark and grim the last one was and knowing what happens at the end of the sixth story, I feared that the tone would simply continue and I would be in for another couple of horribly depressing hours. Thank goodness that was not the case.

The trouble with this story is that there’s a crapload of stuff going on, but it feels like a step back. After all, the last book was full of such unspeakable nastiness and ended with a full out battle in the Ministry and a major character’s death. And then there’s Harry, back at school, leading quidditch try-outs and going to classes. The thing is, I stand by my statement that the fourth story is his last hurrah. Because there is nothing really normal about Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts. Sure, he’s going to classes and flying on his broomstick and having relationship woes, but he’s also been asked by Dumbledore to subtly interrogate Professor Slughorn, the new potions master. He’s still having visions from Voldemort. So on the surface, it’s all back to normal. But just underneath the surface it’s not back to normal at all and it never will be.

So there’s a lot of ground to cover here. This story has to give Harry another year at Hogwarts while also keeping the tension from the last story going. That’s a difficult balance. Also difficult is that it feels as though there’s not a really specific and concrete plot in this. Draco is a vague sort of villain, tasked with a job he’s not quite up to and getting into some shady stuff but nothing outright threatening for the majority of the movie. Dumbledore tasks Harry with finding out about Slughorn’s memories of Tom Riddle but that’s not quite the major plot either. And then there are the relationship plots, with Ron and Hermione both finding other people to date to make each other miserable. Many little threads, but they don’t really weave together to form as solid a story as I might like.

One trouble here, for me, is that the decision was made to emphasize the interpersonal relationships between Harry, Hermione and Ron. And I like that decision for many reasons, not the least of which is that it allowed the three characters some fantastic moments of interaction that they really did need in order to show how far they’ve come as people and as friends. But it also means that along with the necessary plot arcs for Slughorn and Draco (and Snape – whom I’ll get to) it makes for a fairly stuffed movie. And therefore something had to give. Alas, that something is the plot arc that the title of the story refers to.

My one big criticism of this movie is that anyone who hasn’t read the books will be utterly flummoxed as to the title. Why title the story for something that’s such a minor plot point? Not even a plot point. A line and a book that figures into maybe twenty minutes, total, spread out. At two and a half hours the movie is certainly already stuffed to the brim with material, so I understand why something had to give. But really, I recall it being so much more of a big deal in the book. I recall more memories and more delving into the past and more of Harry being fascinated by the potions textbook he ends up with, full of notes that make his potions fantastic and formerly owned by someone calling themselves The Half-Blood Prince. But in the movie Harry makes one fantastic potion, which gets him the necessary Macguffin potion for later, then uses one spell from the book which freaks him and his friends out enough that they agree to hide the book where even they can’t find it. Hermione wonders who the Half-Blood Prince is, but can’t find anything in the library and that’s that until Snape drops his much-reduced bombshell later on. It is so lacking in impact and really, it should figure in more. I’m sure of it.

Because Snape’s arc has been so diminished there’s a lot less to go on for his attitude towards Harry. Fewer revelations. Which makes the subplot with Snape teaching Harry occlumency somewhat lessened. I can only wonder about the lack of background for him and how James and Lily and the rest figure in together, because that all felt very important to me when I was reading. And I thought it was important for Harry’s development as a character. But it’s just not here and I’m left wondering if I managed to inflate it in my own mind. I don’t think I did, but I can’t be sure without rereading. What’s really curious to me about all of this is that even with all I just ranted about, this is still a very enjoyable movie to watch. I had fun through the whole thing, even the inevitable end. I knew it was coming and I thought it was well done. I thought the whole thing was well done, really, aside from the aforementioned arc being so truncated.

I’m going to assume that a large part of what makes it fun to watch is that while Harry clearly has a lot on his plate and is under enormous pressure, he does have his friends. He has enemies, certainly, and Hogwarts isn’t the safe haven it once was – not precisely. But he also has allies and resources. And he’s allowed to use some of them in this story. This movie manages to take both the grim reality of the war that is pressing down on Harry and his world and the fact that Harry is still a teenager who’s in school and combine them into a movie that’s fun to watch. It helps that there are some wonderful performances. Jim Broadbent is fantastic as Slughorn – a part that cannot have been an easy one as he is supposed to be both sympathetic and an obstacle at the same time. Both Snape and Draco have some excellent moments and there is a magnificent scene at the end for Harry and Dumbledore that I thought both actors excelled in. All three of the main trio – Harry, Hermione and Ron – have some truly wonderful scenes together. So that makes it a pleasure to watch instead of a chore.

Really, I do think this is a wonderfully done movie. It was put together well and performed well and the movie as a single piece doesn’t really suffer from the loss of the Half-Blood Prince background. The thing is, while the movie can stand on its own without it, I feel like the world as a whole ends up feeling less complete. It doesn’t make this movie make less sense, but I fear it will change how things are explained in the very end. Which we’ll be going to see on Sunday. So I suppose I’ll find out then if my fears are warranted.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

After the unremitting darkness of Order of the Phoenix I was not much looking forward to this movie. I was beginning to feel Pottered out and I wasn’t ready for a whole lot more depressing drama. I need not have feared though: this movie is an entirely different sort of beast and it’s much more fun to watch. This was a tremendous relief.

There are parts of this book that are a little muddy. There are basically three different plots going on simultaneously and although they all do come together in the end it isn’t perfect or seamless. This is amplified in the movie because there is so much that has to be truncated and glossed over just to make the movie fit into a reasonable time bracket, which means that several important plot points don’t make much sense because the groundwork to explain them isn’t part of the movie.

The movie starts out with Harry being brought to the Weasley home by Dumbledore, but the first plot point deals not with Harry, but with Draco Malfoy, his long time rival. Draco has been chosen by Voldemort for a task that his mother wishes were not his responsibility. She turns to Snape – who is not entirely trusted by the death eaters, but is still a follower of Voldemort – to protect her son. Bellatrix Lestrange does not trust Snape at all, and forces him to swear an unbreakable vow that he will defend Draco, and that if Draco is unable to complete his task Snape will in his place. That’s the darkest and most ominous of the three plots.

Then there’s plot number two – which involves Dumbledore and his attempts to discover something about Voldemort’s past – a memory of Tom Riddle while he was still a student at Hogwarts. Dumbledore convinces the glory-seeking Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as the new potions master and tasks Harry with getting close to Slughorn. Tom Riddle’s secret, which Dumbledore is so desperate to uncover, is somehow involved with Slughorn.

Then there’s the plot from which this movie (and book) gets its name. The mystery of the half-blood prince. Harry comes across a old and battered potions book full of tweaks and adjustments to the advanced potions he’s learning as a sixth year student which make him an absolute master of the craft as long as he follows them. These annotations are, apparently, the work of somebody who called himself “The Half-Blood Prince” but nobody knows who this person could be.

I got the impression as I watched this movie that the producers would have jettisoned the spellbook altogether if it were not for the title of the film. It’s hardly involved in the final product we get to watch, and the big reveal of who actually WAS the half-blood prince feels almost tacked on. It completely lacks the importance it has in the book. Indeed in the books the identity of the half-blood prince is very much tied into the whole Draco plot and helps to provide a different perspective on most of what happens in that thread. There is also a lot in the book that ties the half-blood prince to Harry’s mother Lilly – which is laying groundwork for the end of the series in Deathly Hallows part 2 – so it’s kind of disappointing that it’s missing here.

What surprised me as we watched this movie though was how enjoyable it actually turns out to be. In my review for Goblet of Fire I said that my favorite parts of the movie were the more intimate and personal moments and not the big glitzy action scenes. This movie takes that notion and runs with it. Quite aside from the Draco plot and the half-blood prince plot and the Slughorn plot this movie is about Harry and Ron and Hermione and their friendship – and the hints of romance that have started to work their way in. This results in a great deal of romance and humor and snogging and jealousy which acts both to provide some levity to the movie and to make the characters more human and enjoyable. I found myself having a great deal of fun with this movie because in spite of all the grim things going on throughout it the real core of the movie is about friendship and love and all the things worth fighting for that were mentioned at the end of Order of the Phoenix.

There was also something else about the movie that I didn’t realize until quite near the end: it features an altogether much more enjoyable soundtrack than the previous films. I do like the work of John Williams, and his scores are great for big summer movie blockbusters, but after a while his sound gets a little “samey.” You hear hints of Indiana Jones and Star Wars and Superman in everything he does and it’s a little jarring for me. This movie features a much more organic score by Nicholas Hooper which felt, to me at least, much more appropriate to the action we were seeing on screen. It did what a great score often does: it provided emotional background for the events on the screen without calling attention to itself. I think this contributed to my enjoyment of the movie as a whole.

And I did enjoy this movie. I had a wonderful time with it. It features some dark events, and it shows how the wizarding world is starting to fall into Voldemort’s power, but it also has a lot of genuinely tender humor. Jim Broadbent (who I will never forgive for stealing Ian Mckellen’s Oscar) makes a fantastic Slughorn – so obsessed with holding court for his prize students so that he can claim to have known them once. The movie does an admirable job of not letting the darkness that is a part of it make it a depressing slog like yesterday’s movie. Indeed I’d have to say that my initial impression after seeing this for the first time was that it was my favorite Potter movie since Prisoner of Azkaban. Now I feel ready for the big two-movie cinematic conclusion to the series. We’re watching Deathly Hallows part 1 on the 30th and then plan to go see part 2 in the theaters on the 31st. Harry’s birthday.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment