Thursday, August 6, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - the movie

Since the time I saw the movie at midnight with Sarah till now, I've had the chance to see it two more times. I haven't posted anything here about it because, quite honestly, I just forgot to do it. I've discussed it in other places and I've read other people's thoughts about it. What I have been doing is paging back through the book and making notes of the changes in the movie. But I'm not quite finished and probably won't post the whole thing. It's just been an interesting exercise for me.


For the most part, I really liked this movie - the first time and more each time I saw it. More than in any of the other movies, I found myself silently cheering when I recognized passages that were nearly the same as the book. Some were in the same part of the book, others were in different scenes, but they were there nonetheless.

The things that make me curious are how they are going to include all those important elements of Deathly Hallows in the next two movies, when they have left out so many things in all the first six movies. The house elves, for instance. We saw a lot of Dobby in Chamber of Secrets, and only a little of Kreacher in Order of the Phoenix. In the books we saw Dobby enough to either find him annoying or sometimes cute, but we still saw him. He was familiar and recognizable when we saw him in Deathly Hallows. We didn't need any explanation about who he was, how he was connected to Harry or why Harry would care about him so much, or why we would care so much about him at Shell Cottage. The big surprise with Kreacher in Deathly Hallows is that we DO care about him, when all we had seen before was a disgusting and irritating character who was definitely on the side of evil. Yes, he was in the Order of the Phoenix movie, but only barely, and not at all in Half-Blood Prince. Will people who haven't read the books, or haven't read them recently, remember why Kreacher is important?

But I'm jumping ahead. The opening scene in the movie took me by surprise until I realized they were showing the aftermath of the battle in the Ministry when Fudge finally has to acknowledge the return of Voldemort. Nicely done, even though that wasn't by the book. It worked well. So did the scene with the people in a meeting watching something they don't understand and then the bridge attack and collapse. In the book we are told that a bridge collapsed but it was off-screen, so this worked well in the movie. It also works to show that the Death Eaters have crossed that rule for wizards remaining out of sight of muggles. It's apparent that they aren't playing by the rules any longer, now that everyone in the wizard world knows Voldemort is back.

I really liked the scene at Spinner's End. Yes, it's in the daytime, but that doesn't really matter. Snape, brilliantly played by Alan Rickman, is perfect in every aspect of this scene. He conveys so much of what is in the book but not in the movie by a mere glance, hand gesture or tone of voice. I would like to have seen the listing by Snape of how he has remained faithful to Voldemort while seeming to be remorseful and loyal to Dumbledore. That was a nice set-up in the book that could have made the ending of the movie have more of an impact. The Unbreakable Vow was very well done, but I really wish that the questions had been asked by Narcissa rather than Bellatrix. (Mostly Helena Bonham Carter irritates me in this role, so less of her is better, IMO.) But the reason I found the scene so powerful in the book was that it was the distraught, anxious, loving mother who was pleading for help for her son. In the movie, it's clearly Bella who is trying to trap Snape by asking the questions. It still works, especially the way Snape so clearly hesitates and gives the slightest blanch at the last question. Again, that's Rickman at his best.

Another brilliant performance comes from Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. He isn't at all like the Slughorn I pictured physically. In my mind, Sluggy looked like the little man on the Monopoly game. But Broadbent is marvelous in the role and adds, with just the right facial expressions, that sense that Slughorn isn't evil, just not strong enough to resist Voldemort, even though he clearly wants to. When we first meet him, it's very much like the book and I laughed when Dumbledore came back from the loo with his knitting pattern book.

Harry's arrival at the Burrow is a bit different, but it works well. Instead of finding out later at Hogwarts that some parents didn't want their children to return, it's discussed by the trio at the Burrow. And at some point we see the Death Eaters swoop into Diagon Alley and kidnap Ollivander, though his shop is trashed in the movie rather than neatly cleaned out, which, in the book, leaves people wondering about Ollivander's loyalties. But all that works in the movie. It shows the terror and the boldness of the Death Eaters without a lot of dialogue, making the sense of fear and urgency very obvious.

I loved all the scenes with Luna, but missed Neville. He wasn't in the book that much either, so I guess that's OK. The scenes with the Weasleys were great throughout the movie - just not always enough.

There were little details about the Potions book and the Half-Blood Prince that were in the movie, but not really enough of the mystery was explored as to who the Half-Blood Prince was. I was intrigued to see something about alchemy on one of the pages when Harry is reading the notes written in by the HBP. But I think they cut the ending way too short. Parts of it were OK. The Potions class scenes were a treat, but I really missed the scene in DADA with Snape. That would have been such a nice bookend to the first movie in his Potions class. I hope that is one of the deleted scenes that will be on the DVD.

The Cave scene was good, as far as it went, but the third time through the movie I counted the number of shells (not crystal goblets) that Dumbledore drank and came up with 5 to 7. It was hard to tell, as the last time that Harry dips in shows liquid left and then it is empty the next time we see it when he sees the locket. But it definitely wasn't twelve. And Dumbledore's distress is good, but doesn't include the line about it's his fault that they were hurt. Overall, Michael Gambon was much better in this movie than in the previous ones. His scenes with the young Tom Riddle were outstanding and the ones with Harry were better. I would have liked his hand to look more withered than it did, though.

Harry's not under the invisibility cloak when he and Dumbledore get back to the Tower after the Cave, and Dumbledore doesn't freeze him, but tells him to remain hidden and still. That works well with Harry's earlier promise,thankfully included in the movie, before they leave for the Cave. And as I thought about it later, it is a way to show that Harry, at that point, completely trusts Dumbledore and has faith in him. The silent caution from Snape is well done and I do like it. Most of what happens on the Tower, except that some of the DEs are different, is like the book. But it stops short of Dumbledore telling Draco that he can hide him from Voldemort. And the light when Dumbledore is hit by Avada Kedavra should have been defintely green rather than sort of green - same with the skull in the clouds.

Now, there is that moment when Harry arrives at the still body of Dumbledore with Ginny near him. Very well done. While I missed the funeral, and the mournful phoenix song and Harry pointing out how disloyal Snape was, I did like the wands raised in tribute to Dumbledore. What made it work for me was that when the light is directed upwards, the skull in the cloud dissapates. Light overcomes darkness. Good overcomes evil. Love overcomes hate. That theme is played out in a very visual way without someone having to explain it.

And what I really liked about the ending was that they were on the same Tower discussing Harry's plans and his need to have Ron and Hermione go with him. And then there was Fawkes, flying against the almost golden sky. Definitely not like the book, but it really worked well, as far as I was concerned.

The teen romance scenes were great. I thought it was all cast and played extremely well. Parts were funny and parts were poignant, just as all of us remember those years being. My favorite moments were the ones with Ron and Lavender. Jessie Cave doesn't look like the way I imagined Lavender, but she played the part so well. And the scene in Slughorn's office after Ron eats the love potion-laced candy was great. Just goes to show that Rupert Grint has a great sense of comedica talent and timing.

I loved all the regulars, especially Maggie Smith. She is like Rickman; she does so much with so little screen time. I loved her in the scene where she sends Harry and Ron off to their first potions class when she sees them loitering in the corridor. And the scene with the opal necklace is great with McGonagall and Snape and their reaction to Harry's wild thoughts about Draco. Back to Lupin and Tonks and the Weasley parents - I love all those characters in the book and love the way the actors portray them. It's too bad we don't see more of them, and I hope that with Deathly Hallows split into two movies, we will.

Then there is Tom Felton as Draco who had a much bigger role in the book and in the movie. They show it quite differently than the book. It was nice that they showed what was on his arm, so those of us who were convinced he'd become a werewolf had that mystery solved once and for all. And instead of Harry doing all the speculating about where Malfoy was going and what he was doing, we got to see it. If we'd had to just listen to Harry going on about Malfoy as he did in the book, I think it would have been irritating in the movie.

Just about the only scene I really didn't like was the burning of the Burrow. I loved the Christmas scene with Harry and Ginny and Ron. I loved Lupin and Tonks obviously being together and talking to Harry about Snape. I was even OK with the Death Eater attack and all of them being outside to fight them off. But what was the point of burning down the Burrow, a place that they're going to need in the next book. And then it was never mentioned again in the movie, so it really seemed like something added just for more action. What a waste when they could have made any of the other important scenes more complete.

I'm not sure I liked the kiss between Ginny and Harry. It was sweet, but I liked the suddeness of it in the book, and that it was a very public show that they were now a couple. And I suppose they can have Ginny show or tell Harry where she hid the Potions book, but the whole point of the scene in the book was to show the diadem, which we didn't see or hear of in the movie.

That is one thing the movie didn't do. It reminded us of the book and the ring and the locket as Horcruxes, and did a really good job of the memory with Slughorn, but we didn't get any hints about what the other Horcruxes might be. Something they did however, is to give a very visual hint that Harry is a Horcrux. That tic that he did throughout Order of the Phoenix and in Half-Blood Prince should prove useful in Deathly Hallows. Especially since he did it in this one and then Dumbledore makes some comment about magic leaving traces - or however he said it.

The scene at the end with Snape and Harry was good as far as it went. It just didn't go far enough. We saw Snape react to Bellatrix calling him a coward by saying he would make the Unbreakable Vow, but we don't see him react much to Harry when Harry calls him a coward. I really wanted to see Snape unhinged or at least the very controlled kind of reaction that Rickman gave in OP, but we didn't get it. We also didn't get his (Snape's) outrage over James's use of Snape's spells against Snape before Snape tells Harry that he is the Half-Blood Prince. Maybe they will include something about that in the next movie? I hope so.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, one of my favorite movie moments was the added scene on the bridge when Lupin is talking to Harry. And I have a favorite not-in-the-book moment in this movie as well. It's when Slughorn is telling Harry about the gift of a fish that he received from Lily and how it disappeared when she was killed. It made that whole scene of Harry telling Slughorn to be brave even better. I wonder if it is something that Kloves came up with or if it is something that Rowling had written and not included.

And just one more thing. I love the soundtrack for this movie. I listened to it when it was on-line the week before the movie opened and bought it the day it was released. I've listened a number of times and like all of it. I am sorry that Nicholas Hooper will not be back to score the final two movies, and unlike many, I hope that John Williams is not back to finish up. I like some of what he has done, but his soundtracks all sound so much alike that I'm often not sure which movie it is. I had to look the other day to see that it was E.T. on the radio and not one of the other movies he has done. Maybe with Yates the editing will be better if Williams returns. I like it much better when the music is a subtle part of a scene and doesn't overpower the action or the dialogue, which Williams's scores tend to do.

So, I look forward to seeing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least one more time in the theater and then to buying it when it's released on DVD in the fall. And that will put us even closer to the first part of Deathly Hallows, which I hope will be the best of the Harry Potter movies yet.