July 15, 2009

Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood-Prince

For my historic 50th post, I am going to give you my long, opinionated and SPOILERISH review of HBP. (Spoilers will be designated, so you may skip them if you wish.)

Background: I am one of those people who goes to film adaptations of books looking for a visual representation of the author's original intent, not a director's "improved" version of the written story. Because of this, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was quite possibly the most depressing film experience of my life. I only saw it once in theater (which is saying something, if you know me!) and have since only sat through it straight through on DVD once. I had absolutely nothing good to say about David Yates ever since, and could not for the life of me understand why he was kept on for the final movies.

So, it was with subterranean expectations I went to the midnight showing of HBP. I have to say, it turned out, on the whole, better than I expected.

I'm not going to summarize the story for you, since chances are you have read the book and know the story anyway. However, if you want a summary, go here.

The trio has come a long way, both the characters and the actors, since the beginning of the series. They really have grown up and come off as young adults rather than kids. Yates also seems to have figured out the difference between characters and caricatures, my main gripe with OotP. OotP felt filled with cartoonish versions of the characters from the book, often with ridiculously exaggerated idiosyncrasies. That was nowhere in HBP. Everyone was very true to form, and it was like seeing old friends again, as it should be.

Draco's story line is impressively preserved, both from a plot angle and a character development angle. This was Tom Felton's breakout from being just a two-dimensional foil to Harry to being a fully-realized character all his own. He handles it well.

The new characters were well-cast, also. I've been wondering the last few days if the series would have been so successful had we not had Chris Columbus creating the world in the first two movies, considering what wildly different directions it has taken since then (specifically with Yates). Lavender Brown is a treat, and Slughorn was excellently cast. No complaints there at all.

Voldemort's backstory is handled well, though obviously they couldn't include every memory. The problem is, Yates didn't give us an avenue to learn what we learn through those memories another way, such as Voldemort's fascination with the founders or his penchant for special places. Perhaps they will include that in the final movies. Doubtful, but one can always hope.

There's a good balance between the dark, serious story and the more lighthearted comedic moments, which keeps the pace of the movie consistent. The film is about 2.5 hours long, but it doesn't feel like it - even in the middle of the night!

Now for the spoilerish stuff. If you want to skip it, scroll down to the next image.

***Stuff that's in the movie, but not in the book***

With OotP, I have no doubt that David Yates never even cracked the book. He relied solely on the writer's team to use the most sensational material, and then filled in the blanks with whatever came to him that day. It's only a little better in HBP.
  • The Attack on the Burrow. This is by far the most unbelievable addition to the story. During the Christmas break, Death Eaters lure Harry and Ginny into the field, followed by Mr. Weasley and other Order members. Once they are out of the way, they torch the Burrow, and we are given the impression that it burns to the ground. There is nothing in the 6th book (or even the 7th) that shows the Weasley's home being attacked and destroyed by Death Eaters. What purpose did it serve? Was there any follow-up, telling us the Weasley's either moved or recovered their home? Was there any reason given for the attack? No, it was just an excuse for a neat CG scene that felt completely pasted-on and out of place. This is my biggest gripe with the film, and it's a biggie.
  • Harry/Ginny ship. Yes, it's in the book, but not like in the movie. There's too much that mirrors the Harry/Cho relationship, such as the secret kiss and total lack of relationship development afterwards, except for a few aside mentions at the end. I was never a fan of that ship myself, and Yates' treatment of it did nothing to change my mind.
  • The diner scene at the beginning. Again, not really sure what point it served other than to be yet another "Harry notices girls!!!!!" moment.
  • Lupin/Tonks ship. I don't have a huge problem with the fact that this is included, since we didn't have the Bill/Fleur ship to mirror it. Lupin/Tonks is probably my favorite ship out of all of them, so it was nice to have a taste of it.
  • Dumbledore's funeral is not in the film, but a very sweet moment when he dies is. When the students and teachers raise their lighted wands in respect, and the light produced drives away the Dark Mark the Death Eaters set over the castle. It's a very touching moment, and other than the fact that it creates a hole for a later plot point involving wands, I really liked it better than a formal funeral scene.
***Stuff that's in the book but not in the movie***

Oh, where to begin....I know it's a big book, and you "can't put everything in there," and I don't expect that. But there are some things which beg the question, why not?
  • The Dursleys. Nowhere to be found. Now, Yates handled the Dursleys very poorly in OotP. When I say caricatures, you need look no further than there. In what universe would Aunt Petunia be sitting in the middle of the den spread-eagled in a mini-skirt? Since when did Dudley have an effeminate speech impediment? And having Uncle Vernon stationed in front of the fridge with a spoon hanging out of his mouth - easy shot, almost amatuerish. So I wondered what he would do to them in HBP to make up for it. But they were nowhere! This was when they finally get told off - by Dumbledore, no less - for being so horrible to Harry over the years, and even for being such poor parents to Dudley. It was the moment of justice, and we were robbed.
  • House elves, in any incarnation. Now, considering Dobby has been absent from Movie 3 on, I didn't have high hopes that he would return, even as crucial to the story as he eventually becomes. But I thought Kreacher might get at least another cameo. After all, the story goes, Yates wanted to cut Kreacher out completely in OotP, and JKR put her foot down and said, "He's important, you need to at least mention him," so Kreacher got a passing glance in OotP, while not the major plot progression role he deserved. But both of them, though highly visible in the book, were absent from the film.
  • The epic battle at the end. Come on, who DIDN'T want to see that?! And instead, Yates gave us that really weird (and somewhat boring) attack on the Burrow scene. I really hope that was due to budget issues and not because Yates was yet again arrogant enough to assume "this part doesn't really matter, we can just shave it off." That would make me feel a little better.
  • Bill/Fleur ship. I know, it's not a huge, huge thing, and yes, Fleur is kind of annoying in the book. But it's a relationship that at first glance seems very superficial and then is revealed to be very deep and beautiful, and I missed that.
  • Snape's confliction/conviction. Did Alan Rickman seem bored to anyone else this movie? There was some lack of energy on his part that I still don't quite understand.
We went with two couples: my parents, who have not read the books, and friends, who have. Everyone really enjoyed the movie, even with all the room for improvement. And I have to say, I wouldn't be terribly upset if Yates finished the series - but I'd be less upset if he didn't!

On the whole, I have to say it was a good experience. The pace is good, the characters are fun and real. However, if you are a fan of the books, be prepared for a slight anti-climax.

Final word = 7/10. Not bad, really.

If you saw it last night, or if you see it this weekend, comment and let me know what you thought. I'd love to hear your review, as well.


  1. love your review! im leaving in a hour to see it with non book readers. so we will see :)


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