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.

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July 29, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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