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Jul 30, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Is the Harry Potter series the anti-Star Trek? The sci-fi franchise of the Shatner variety has been famously called out for having its best films be the even-numbered ones (The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, etc.); Harry Potter seems to be following the odd-numbered sequence, with Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire and now this, Half-Blood Prince showing up to be the lesser of the six films to date.

I didn't want it to be this way. After the emotional, dazzling finale that Order of the Phoenix gave us, combined with the fact that this movie was based on the penultimate book in the series, I was convinced that this would be a thrilling entry, complete with an insightful look back at a young Tom Riddle and the progression of the Order of the Phoenix as they set up for the final battle against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But what do we get? A two-and-a-half hour movie with little action, little furthering of the narrative from the previous film and a heavy emphasis on a pair of burgeoning romances.

The Ron/Hermione one is handled well, if not drilled home a bit too often. However, the "tension" between Harry and Ginny Weasley comprises mostly of the two of them standing at arm's length on five separate occasions, each suddenly speechless at finding themselves in a situation that they keep finding themselves in. It's like watching a mother accidentally bust in on her son masturbating in the bathroom, only she keeps coming back and doing it again five minutes later. And again. And again. It doesn't help that Bonnie Wright isn't much of an actress, though she's still somehow an improvement over Katie Leung (Cho Chang).

But I digress.

If you think I'm being at least mildly hypocritical right now, you may be right. I'm the first in line to bash mindless zombie action flicks that have no interest in their characters at all, much less any semblance of character development. Many might argue that this Potter is all about development, and that the lack of battles and spells and monsters (relatively speaking) is a step in the right direction for the darkening series (Note: as a reviewer of the Harry Potter films, I am contractually obligated to refer to the series' continuing descent into "darkness for young Harry and his pals." I feel better now.). That argument might hold water for me had the story moved in any discernible direction, but it doesn't. It feels instead like an extended epilogue to Order of the Phoenix; the new developments are few and far between, with several elements, such as "Why is Voldemort nowhere to be seen?" and "Why don't these supposed DEATH Eaters just up an kill Harry when he's right in front of them?" left as head-scratchers, amongst others.

I was left feeling an emotion I had not yet felt in an HP film: boredom. Thinking "Move it along, folks, nothing to see here."

It's a shame, really, because this was a beautiful film, from the early flight of the Death Eaters over a London bridge to a gorgeous-yet-pointless shot of Harry and Dumbledore standing on a rock island in the middle of what looks to be a raging sea, with the Cliffs of Insanity a giant rock face in front of them. Also, the long tease of Draco Malfoy as a serious villain/sympathetic character was finally paid off with a storyline that almost made the wait worth it. But even that was tainted somewhat, with Draco actor Tom Felton mainly given reaction shots instead of actual lines; he's a sad, anguished mime.

All this negativity notwithstanding, Half-Blood Prince still earns a recommendation from me. There are lessons to be learned, teens to mature, and cinematic tricks aplenty. Besides, even the worst Potter film (coughChamberofSecretscough) is still a better option than most action/adventure films released, especially those aimed towards kids. Which isn't something I can say for the Star Trek series...

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

16 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

Nick said...

I'm not sure I can read your blog anymore, Fletch...

Fletch said...

Haha - I knew something along those lines was coming, but I didn't think you'd be that hurt as to make such an extreme statement. But if risking your Veep status is something you're okay with...


I know there's probably ooodles and oodles of things I missed that were in the book, but please convince me. What did I miss that made this one so great?

Rachel said...

Book 6 is my favorite, mainly for the amazing Voldy history (which they show about 3.5% of in the film) and all the teenage love stuff. It was just nice to see the Hogwarts kids being kids for a change, even with such an ominous cloud hanging over the magical world.

Can't say I agree with you either. I know I liked the movie more than you did, I'm just not sure how much more. I'm going to see it again tomorrow (this time in IMAX) hoping I can cement my true feelings once and for all. Of course, I've noticed my opinions have changed about all the others over the years, so why should this one be any different?

Nick said...

I'm not serious, Fletch. Well... mostly :P .

Like Rachel, book 6 is my favorite, and it's also the book most people have a love it or hate it relationship with. There are very few people who find themselves just 'meh' with HBP.

Again, as Rachel said, the book has a lot more divulging into Voldemort's past than the movie did, but it's understandable that the movie had to cut most of it. But the book was also a lot of teen romance. So if you like RomComs and backstory, HBP is for you. If you don't, well... it isn't.

Actually, there's more action in the movie than there is in the book (the action opening is only alluded in the book, and the attack on the Weasley home was created entirely for the movie because of the little action).

But why should you love this movie? Besides its gorgeous cinematography and brilliant acting, the movie was all about character development and the truest theme of the series: love. As Dumbledore heralds throughout the series, love is the strongest and most important magic of them all, and it is these friendships and relationships that ultimately give Harry the strength and power to defeat Voldemort, as he cannot (or will not) accept love into his life. Yes, it's all basically setup for the next installment(s), but it's all important stuff. And it was handled brilliantly.

Not to mention that the level of detail in the film is mind-boggling. I've seen it 3 times now, and I'm still picking stuff up. Granted, half the stuff you won't be able to pick up without knowing the final book, but there are other little details abound.

So in other words, unlike any of the other movies, this is really the first that has not only found the heart, soul, tone, and purpose of the book it represents, but it presents it in such as way that is so utterly magnificent that I'm actually willing to forego any major departures from the book.

Not to mention that I still can't see how anybody could be bored watching it. All 3 times I've seen it thus far, I haven't once looked at my watch, as I feel the amazingly paced 2.5 hours flies by. It's entertaining on a whole new level.

For any further details, you could just read my reviw :P .

Fletch said...

I would have LOVED to see more of Riddle's backstory. I find that infinitely more interesting than Ron having to act like a fool for some moron girl just to cause jealousy in Hermione. I understand there's a need to follow the basic elements of the book, but I'm guessing that the Ron/Hermione dynamic was played out much more extensively (and entertainingly) in the novel(s). How many films must I watch in a row that contain the hint of their inevitable relationship without it ever occuring. But no, we get 30 minutes of screen time for that compared to 5 of Riddle's past. Are you effing kidding me?!?

As with all of the HP flicks, I'll be watching it again and again and buying the DVD. Don't worry, I'm not a hater...just disappointed. After all, I think that the Dumbledore/Voldy/Harry showdown at the end of Phoenix is my favorite sequence from any of the films. Give me chills to watch it still. There was bound to be a letdown after that emotional release.

It sounds like, by and large, readers of the books are destined to enjoy this entry much more than non-readers. That's not the first time I've read that there are things going on here that set up the final movies that, had you not read the books, you'd have no idea to even look for them. Maybe it was in your review (which I already commented on) that I read that, Nick... :D

Rachel said...

Voldemort's history is the absolute best! I'm re-reading book 6 right now, so I can jog my memory of it all. It delves into his family (his mother's side is from the Slytherin lineage) and were clearly inbreeding to try to keep the offspring pure-blood (though JKR never says it point blank). It also goes into how Tom Riddle went back and killed his muggle father and grandparents.

So the orphanage scene and Slughorn's one memory are just the tip (the boring tip) of a deeply fascinating history outlined in the book. I do understand why they had to cut it, but I would've loved to have seen it played out properly.

You are right about Harry and Ginny's romance though. It is very awkward and not well played in the movie.

Fletch said...

It sounds like Voldy's backstory could (and maybe should) have been an entire movie, or at least a large percentage) of its own movie. What a shame.

Semi-related: Perhaps you all can enlighten me - just how much of the "first Order/death of Harry's parents" backstory is revealed in the books? Through six films, I've been waiting to see the "footage" of their death/Harry's survival. And why were they killed? Voldemort's motivations, aside from being EVIL, are never given. What was he after, and why would he even attempt to kill a baby, apparently after he'd killed the parents.

All of that interests me more than seeing Harry and Dumbledore go on a beautiful, but eventually meaningless journey for some Hackthszpe or whatever its called. Yes, it is great to see all that Dumble will sacrifice for Harry AND the greater good...but again, we've seen that in 5 previous films. We already know that Dumble is selfless, powerful and a father figure to Harry.

We (the film audience, anyway) don't know any of that other stuff I mentioned.

Nick said...

Ignore this post and skip to the next if you plan on reading the books and don't want this information spoiled (I'll put in all caps when I'm done)... there's a mix of memories and conversation between Dumbledore an Harry about Voldemort/Tom Riddle. The first memory/discussion is of his mother's family, who (as Rachel said) are total inbreeding hillbillies. His mother is infatuated with a muggle (Tom Riddle Sr.), though her father (Marvolo) and brother (Morfin) despise that. A guy from the ministry comes to inform them of a hearing as Morfin attacked Riddle Sr. During this memory, Harry also sees (for the first time) the Peverell Ring (the ring that caused DD's black hand) and Slytherin's necklace.

Harry also learns after this that both Morfin and Marvolo end up going to Azkaban, and Merope (the daughter/Voldemort's mother) is free from abuse. She makes a love potion and causes Tom Riddle Sr. to become infatuated, though after some time she stops and he leaves her alone and pregnant. She ends up dying soon after giving birth to her son at an orphanage and tells them to give him the name Tom Riddle (after the father) and middle name Marvolo (after her father). She'd also sold the Slytherin necklace to Borgin and Burkes for super cheap just to get some money (as she wasn't aware of its pricelessness).

This picks up with the next memory, where Dumbledore visits the orphanage to tell Tom about Hogwarts and magic, as shown in the movie. The memory in the movie is pretty close to the book, except the book goes into more detail about the items Tom stole and had hidden in the burning cupboard. He stole the items from people he had hurt, like a collection. And he also took a couple kids to a seaside cave and tormented them.

From here, Dumbledore makes Harry note that Voldemort collects things that mean something to him as prizes of sorts. The memory following this shows Voldemort going to his mother's, Morfin's, and Marvolo's old house, where Morfin is living in ruins, basically. Voldemort steals the Peverell Ring at this point, as well as Morfin's wand, and goes and kills Tom Riddle Sr. and his parents (as chronicled at the beginning of Goblet of Fire, though not the movie version). He thus frames Morfin for their murders.

The memory after this is the tainted Horcrux memory of Slughorn's, as shown in the movie, and thus Harry begins his attempts to get the real memory from him.

Then Dumbledore and Harry discuss that Voldemort wanted to become a teacher at Hogwarts, but the previous headmaster thought he was too young and refused. So he went to work at Borgin and Burkes. The next memory picks up as Tom visits a woman named Hepzibah Smith to look at some stuff for Borgin and Burkes. She shows him a cup/goblet that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, as well as the Slytherin locket that Borgin and Burkes had bought off his mother. The memory doesn't show what happens next, but Dumbledore assumes he got his hands on them due to Hepzibah's fate not long after. After this, Voldemort disappeares for a decade.

The following memory picks up 10 years later, where Voldemort goes back to Hogwarts to ask for a teaching position (Defense Against the Dark Arts) again, though Dumbledore (now headmaster) refuses. Ever since the refusal, no DADA teacher has ever lasted more than a year.

Finally, Harry gets Slughorn's memory like in the movie. They go more into the Horcruxes and what they could be, too... but this post is already too long.

Nick said...

As for your other comments/questions, Fletch:

The Ron/Hermione dynamic is more subtle in the books than the movies, up until HBP. In HBP, like book like movie, it's really jolted to the forefront due to Ron's relationship with Lavender and Hermione's jealousy. Though their relationship isn't really cemented (at least in the books) until the end of the last book.

Though all that memory stuff seems a lot, the book still has more romance and whatnot than memories/dark stuff, so the movie did portray it well.

As for your question on Harry's parents' deaths... it's "shown" more in full in the last book, but there's really not all that much to it. James is killed, and then Lily sacrifices herself to save Harry (Voldemort gives her the option to leave safely).

As for why they were killed, that's explained in both Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. During a job interview with Trelawney, Dumbledore witnesses her give the prophecy of Voldemort's downfall. Half the prophecy was cut out in the movie, as was some of the explanation, so I can see why it's confusing. In a spoilerish fashion (for the two aforementioned books), I shall explain. The beginning of the prophecy declares that the one to cause Voldemort's downfall would be born at the end of July (I'm paraphrasing) to parents who have thrice defied him. This left two possible choices: Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. Snape overheard the first half of the prophecy and reports it to Voldemort. But Voldemort really needed to hear the full prophecy to understand that if he went after the prophecied one, the child who have a weapon the dark lord knows not (love) and would overtake him, for neither can live while the other survives (as is explained in the fifth movie). Voldemort marks Harry as his equal, but in doing so destroys himself. Snape, on the other hand, after hearing of who Voldemort was going to kill, went to Dumbledore for help (part of the reason Dumbledore trusts him).

But the reason Voldemort went after them was because of Harry and the prophecy (which is, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, which he might have known had he heard the whole thing).

Also... you haven't commented on my review. I just checked. There's no comment from you :P .

Nick said...

Oh, and the previous "Order" stuff is both in Prisoner of Azkaban (alluded, anyway) and Order of the Phoenix. As I detailed in that post of mine not long ago, Alfonso Cauron cut out the most important part of the movie--the dynamic between James, Sirius, Lupin, and Peter (and Snape). It doesn't mention the Order by name, but their involvement is in the background, and the explanation of how Sirius was framed and Peter/Wormtail betrayed is all explained in the book (for further details, just check that "top 10" post of mine, which I believe you've commented on already anyway.

In "Order of the Phoenix," Mad-Eye Moody is the one to go over the details of the photo and previous Order members with Harry. The most important thing to take out of it, though, was Neville's parents being tortured into insanity.

Otherwise, there really isn't a whole lot of info for the original Order of the Phoenix in the books. At least half of them are dead, and they're usually just referred to in a round-about way when they talk about everything they faced "last time."

Rachel said...

And the whole search for the Horcrux (locket) may seem like a waste of time, but the Horcruxes are the key to defeating Voldy in the end. So it was all setting up book/movie 7 when Harry goes searching for the rest of them.

Fletch said...

"So it was all setting up book/movie 7"

Exactly my point. It's all setup and no payoff.

Nick, thank you for the explanations. It's likely a dynamic of Rowling's expansion of the series with each book, but it's obvious that they had to leave much out. Just seems as though they left some pretty pertinent stuff out.

Could have sworn I commented on your HBP review; must be confusing it with your mega-issues-with-the-films post. I'll be back...

Nick said...

Even JK Rowling said that HBP is more like part one of Deathly Hallows, and I tend to agree (both book and film).

As I said in my uber-post, they have left some incredibly pertinent stuff out of all the movies, but I think HBP is the only movie where it actually makes sense. Your average movie goer or HP-movie watcher (such as yourself) isn't going to remember the vital Horcrux information if it's all explained in this movie with another year's wait for the next when it's actually important. So moving that explanation to the next film, I feel, was the better choice. On a whole, while incredibly interesting, Voldemort's past isn't all that necessary. We just need the Horcrux info from it, which... for the most part... we got.

But you're right. The littlest details in one book can be hugely important in books down the line. The way JKR expands on her world and plot throughout the series is an insane work of genius. Not to mention this was the first movie where they knew how the series ended before making it, and it's really obvious in what they included and cut out. In fact, I'd really like to see how all of the movies would be if they all knew how it ended beforehand.

web said...

harry potter and the Half blood prince is rock movies of the box office.

whitney said...

You just pointed out exactly why I don't like the Harry Potter kids (even though I didn't really know it yet): reaction shots. It's not their fault. It's just that every single reveal in every single scene is given an extended reaction shot by each of the main kid characters. With Hermione I don't mind; she's plucky. With Ron and Harry and Malfoy, it makes me queasy. I haven't seen this one yet, but were they to cut down on the reaction shots in the last film I think they could easily have shaved off 15 minutes of unnecessary screen time.

P.S. the word verification I'm getting is "comicare." Don't you think that might be the perfect name for a less corporate, more intimate ComiCon?

Reel Whore said...

I finally have my HP review scratched out. It will be up shortly.

Here's my two cents. I'm with Fletch. H-BP was a bit dull, but it was chock full of romance and talk of danger. I'm mad the film about the half-blood prince doesn't bother doing anything w/ the Half-Blood Prince! WTF! The one time Hermione mentions her research into him, Harry's like "that's nice, let's get a butter beer."

It was a lovely film. But I was disappointed they've moved away from the fantasy of the shifting staircases and creatures. What's worse is where is the Scoobies mystery-solving the trio is so good at?