Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movie and Book – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

I am re-reading and re-watching all of the Harry Potter books and movies.  You can find info about this and links to all related posts here.

Plot (no spoilers):  Death Eaters are launching attacks across Britain.  Dumbledore collects Harry and takes him to recruit a new professor.  It turns out this man has some vital information and Dumbledore needs Harry to get it for him.  There is a sixth Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in six years, but this time Snape has finally been given the position.  Romantic feelings bloom between Harry and Ginny Weasley and between Ron and Hermione.  Draco Malfoy has been given a task by Voldemort, possibly as a punishment for his father’s failures.  Draco’s mother begs Snape to protect her son and he agrees to an Unbreakable Vow to complete the task Draco has been assigned, if it is needed.  Snape’s loyalties appear to be clear by the time all is said and done.  Dumbledore shows Harry Voldemort’s origins and this reveals a way he might be defeated.  A very major character dies. 

Thoughts about the book:  This book was a couple hundred pages shorter than the prior one and was a quicker read.  While I was re-reading it I realized how much of it I had forgotten.  It goes into some very revealing details on Voldemort’s origins.  The best scenes in the books are the ones where Dumbledore is sharing with Harry memories he has collected concerning Voldemort.

After making a big deal at the end of the last book of explaining why Harry has to keep going back to live with his horrible relatives (his aunt’s blood relationship protects him), this book opens with Dumbledore taking Harry to live with the Weasleys for almost the entire summer.  So much for that big reveal.

This book does a great job of clearly explaining what Voldemort has done to ensure he cannot die, how he has done it, and strong clues that will help with the searches in the next book.  Rowling did a very good job with this.  She also ties these reveals back to key events in the second book – something she will do again at the end of the final book.

After getting to be successful at dueling spells, and kind of badass when fighting the Death Eaters in the last book, Neville Longbottom is barely mentioned in this one.  That was kind of disappointing.  Luna Lovegood’s part is also reduced in this story.  On the other hand, the barman in Hogsmeade who Harry felt “looked familiar” in the last book is mentioned several more times.  We will finally find out who he is in the next book.

One of the things I felt Rowling has handled the best across the books is the ambiguity with Snape.  Is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Dumbledore trusts him, but so does Voldemort.  He is lying to one of these extremely powerful and perceptive wizards, which means he is very, very good at lying.  I remember reading whole analyses of whether Snape’s true self had finally been revealed by this book or not.  I thought it had, but when I read some of the points opposing my opinion they were, if not convincing, then at least mind opening.

Thoughts about the movie:  This movie is only rated PG, which I found surprising.  The prior two had been rated PG-13 because of the scariness and level of violence.  This film has three or four scenes that are somewhat graphic in their violence, including one that shows a character with blood seeping through his shirt in many places.  The scene with the Inferi in the water was scary, even though I knew what was coming.

This is the second movie not to include Harry’s adoptive family.  Instead, Dumbledore picks up Harry outside a café where he has lined up a date with the waitress.  The movie got in mentions of several things that would be important – Regulus Black, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the return of Tom Riddle’s destroyed diary from the second film.  The movie also kept a Quidditch scene in – the first time since the third movie.

Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) gets a chance to shine.  Early in the film his character gets the best of Harry for once.  The biggest thing that the movie did well is that they kept showing Malfoy walking about Hogwarts, finding the cabinet, learning how it works, and generally just lurking about looking like he’s up to no good.  Most of these scenes were non-verbal and Felton did a great job with them.  He also did a good job with the confrontation at the end.

The three leads, plus Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), got to play love and affection scenes.  The funniest was Rupert Grint’s (Ron Weasley) scene where he is under the effect of a love spell that was meant for Harry.  The re-cast character of Lavender Brown (now played by Jessie Cave) got some funny scenes in her pursuit of Ron. 

We also got to see Luna Lovegood’s lion hat that she wears to Quidditch matches.  It was quite funny.  In fact, this movie probably had more humor in it than any movie other than the third one.

The film was pretty good for the first hour and a half, and then dragged for 20 minutes or so before picking up again.  The end of the movie was a major disappointment (see below).

Big Names and Familiar Faces:  This movie continues the series trend of having well known U.K. actors/actresses playing roles both across many movies, and in smaller cameos within only one or two movies.  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince returns Dame Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley), Michael Gambon (Headmaster Albus Dumbledore), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew – non-speaking only), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort – uncredited, but appears in a flash of images when Harry touches his ring), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley), Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange).  Joining them this time are Jim Broadbent (Professor Horace Slughorn) and Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy).

Even though a teenage Tom Riddle is seen again, the actor who played this part in the second film was now too old to convincingly reprise the role, so it was recast.  In addition, the boy who played the eleven year old Tom Riddle was the nephew of Ralph Fiennes, who plays Voldemort.  He was cast because he resembled his uncle.

Thoughts on the book vs. the movie:  The movie dropped the house elf scenes, many of the memory scenes of Voldemort’s origins, almost all classroom scenes, the return of Fleur Delacour and her engagement to Bill Weasley, Tonks being assigned to protect Hogwarts, her depression, and the reason for it.  This led to them having Luna Lovegood find Harry on the train, and the removal of the big battle between the Death Eaters and the Aurors at the end of the book. 

The movie kept almost all of the romantic scenes in the Ron/Lavender/Hermione triangle and the Harry/Ginny/Dean triangle.  It kept Harry finding the potions book, but not the search to figure out who the Half-Blood Prince was.  It kept the two accidental attacks on students, but lessened the long term impact on both of them.

For some reason – probably to pump up the action – the movie added in a pointless attack on the Weasley house at Christmas time.  It also allowed the filmmakers to throw in appearances by Tonks and Remus Lupin, when all other scenes involving them had been changed.  As shown in the movie the two are already a couple.  The evil character of Fenrir Greyback is shown more in the movie than he is mentioned in the book, but they leave out the fact that he is the one who attacked Remus Lupin and turned him into a werewolf.

Because the movie had to explain about the Vanishing cabinets they had several scenes where Malfoy is finding them and trying to use them.  This was a good addition.  For no logical reason, the filmmakers moved Harry and Ginny having their first kiss to be in front of this cabinet when Harry is hiding the potions book.

Unfortunately, the worst subtractions were all at the end of the movie.  The huge battle at Hogwarts was completely removed.  This was a major disappointment after seeing how thrilling things were in the prior movie with the fight at the Ministry of Magic.  And the crowning “what the hell were they thinking” moment comes after the death of the major character.  The book has a chapter where there is a big tribute to the life of this person.  In the movie the only thing we get to see is the school lifting their wands up in the air with the tips lit – like they are at a classic rock concert or something.  It was horrible.  That character deserved FAR better than that.  The movie could have easily trimmed twenty minutes and not missed the scenes.  That would have been more than enough time to include a real tribute scene.

Old rating vs. new rating:  I originally rated this movie 2 stars.  After re-watching it I will move this up to 3 stars because the first 90 minutes were pretty good, but I still feel that the ending was disappointing. 

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I had a real problem with this movie. I read the books to my daughter years ago, and by the time this film came out, it had been quite a while since I had read the book. Dedicated fans knew Lavender Brown instantly; I had forgotten her, and we're not given her name until near the end of the film (at least as far as I recall). To my mind, that's indicative of sloppy filmmaking.

  2. I understand where you are coming from. The first time I saw the movie I had the same problem. She was just a random girl to me, but then I guess the filmmakers figured it didn't really matter who she was. Having just read the books before seeing this movie, about all I could tell you about Lavender Brown is she loved Professor Trelawney's (Emma Thompson) Divination class. None of this made it into the prior movies, though. Her being Ron's girlfriend for a short while is the biggest part she has played in the overall story.

  3. True. But it's nice to have a name attached to a face who is important for however short a time. I found it frustrating that it was simply assumed I'd know who Lavender Brown was, or that I'd remember her name. I obviously didn't. It felt like the sort of thing that didn't go through enough of a revision, like an oversight that no one caught. For something this high profile, that's a corner that shouldn't be cut.

    The Potterphiles won't notice that--they know who Lavender is.

    It felt in many ways like there was simply exposition missing, like "eh, they'll remember it from the books." That's the most prominent example I can think of off the top of my head.