Louise does Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“I do love knitting patterns.”

The Scoop: 12 2009, directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Jim Broadbent.

Tagline: Once again, I must ask too much of you, Harry.

Summary Capsule: The wizards of Britain pause for thought instead of having an adventure. Some mutants like the change, others don’t.

Louise’s Rating: 4 out of 5 character-developing moments

Louise’s Review: I know what to expect from Harry Potter films. There will be, in no particular order:

  • Amazing special effects – computer wizardry indeed!
  • Fabulous cameos and small roles by respected British actors, playing the ‘grown ups’ of the piece
  • An endearing performance by Rupert Grint and an acceptable one from Daniel Radcliffe
  • Something from Emma Watson that makes me want to go *stabbety stab* with the Sword of Gryffindor.
  • An elaborate adventure/mystery plot, only just squeezed into two and a half  hours of screentime

I know this, you know this, the ape-people of the upper Amazon know this, because Harry Potter has just spread like butter across our human consciousness. You go to an HP film, this is what you get.

Half-Blood Prince is an interesting installment in the series, because it just seems such an abrupt change from the previous films, and yet I get a lot out of it and think it’s really worth the viewer’s while. Basically, nothing happens, all set to some surprisingly beautiful music (composed by Nicholas Hooper).

Three puzzles are presented to us.

  1. Who is the half-blood prince?
  2. Following the ‘outing’ of Voldemort as back in black, has Draco Malfoy become a full-fledged Death Eater and what is his plan?
  3. Finally, who is Voldemort, really?

These puzzles are answered.

  1. Snape, but so perfunctorily that clearly no-one on the production team cares. What does this title signify? We don’t know. No-one tells us.
  2. Well duh! Of course he has. He’s sneaking around into creepy shops, he’s trying to fix a Vanishing Cabinet (how do you fix a Vanishing Cabinet?) so that his Death Eater family, led by Mad Auntie Bella, can break into Hogwarts. Send Poirot away, because there is no mystery here.
  3. He most likely is someone with his soul split into several pieces, and the pieces hidden in ordinary objects called horcruxes. He was a nasty kid and a smoothly manipulative teenager, if you’re interested in his past. Is Poirot still hanging around? Take him to the coat-check because there is also little mystery here (if you’ve read the novel or know anything about Harry Potter).

So, the narrative thrust of solving a mystery is out of the window. What then are Harry and co. doing for two hours? Basically, it’s all about character moments, relationships between characters and memories. This film is a bit of a calm before the storm, plot wise, even though Voldemort’s power is growing and he and his followers are now openly attacking muggles and wizards (the film opens with a nasty attack on a bridge in London, and half-way through the Death Eaters fire-bomb the Weasley residence – oh no!). Dumbledore spends a year revealing to Harry the history of Tom Riddle (pre-nose-job, much like Jennifer Grey in Red Dawn) through sharing his collection of memories, a.k.a. sepia flashbacks. Meanwhile, Harry and Ginny’s relationship turns from friendship to something else, while Ron and Hermione do the we’re-totally-seeing-other-people dance. Finally, we get to spend brief moments with lots of our favourite characters.

How well is this done? I think very well! I enjoy this film muchly. I think Ron’s first relationship, Hermione’s attempts to make him jealous, and the uneasy rivalry between Ron and Cormac for Hermione and a place on the quidditch team are  handled hilariously and a salutary reminder that our characters are TEENAGERS at SCHOOL. Harry’s tentative approaches towards Ginny, recognized by Hermione and blocked by Ron, are cringeworthy in a good way. Meanwhile, we get to see a slightly different side to Dumbledore. Having realized his mistake of not including Harry in his plans (that showdown happened at the end of Order of the Phoenix), the headmaster decides to let the pupil in on his attempts to understand Voldemort. Hence, we get to see Dumbledore as spymaster-manipulator, and Harry take on a new role as a trusted lieutenant/agent. He’s even mysteriously recruited in a public place. Not bad, mysteriously recruiting someone you’ve known for five years. The mission, to gain the trust of Professor Horace Slughorn, an enormous Potions master with a weakness for the good life (booze, sweets, power and flattery) and a hidden sense of guilt.

Jim Broadbent is excellent as Slughorn – a case of a talented actor playing a great character. Other great characters we get to see a bit of this episode are Luna (some nice Harry/Luna moments), Professor Flitwick (Warwick Davis makes the top of my Actors I Admire Most list, and I’m glad he gets more to do in Deathly Hallows Part Two), Mr Weasley, Remus Lupin (not Tonks. No love for Tonks.) and Mrs Malfoy.

Finally, on the Dark Side of the Force: Draco Malfoy in his biggest role yet and Severus Snape, small yet crucial. Snape, we learn, has gone back to serving Voldemort while also serving Dumbledore. He’s a double-agent, but on which side? (Duh, we’ve read Book Seven! Oh, just pretend you don’t know!) As part of his service, the ever-conflicted Half-Blood Prince is assisting and protecting Draco. Draco has been given a mission of his own (wow, these big wizards really like to use children to further their aims, don’t they? Someone should speak to the Minister of Magic.) and Tom Felton gets to go beyond ‘spoiled nasty bully’ in his acting to ‘isolated, frightened and miserable’. Not sure how convincing the performance is, but there are certainly enough shots of him looking moody in corners and up towers to get the point across.

Are there problems? Yes, I think so. The lack of a driving force in the story – Draco is no Umbridge in the central villain stakes – means that it seems to meander here and there, picking up jolly dinners and kisses and flashbacks, before BAM! Final battle! Conflict! That hasn’t had any preamble or build-up at all! Oh wait, that’s not a good thing… We’ve been waiting for something to happen for two hours, and it does, and it’s really quick (Bye, headmaster!) and then the film ends. Collapse of the narrative souffle.

But maybe the time was right to think a bit about where we’ve been, the love we’ve found, before we have to step up and seriously fight some evil. It’s all gearing us up for Deathly Hallows, peeps! I liked Half-Blood Prince. Yeah, it’s a bit messy, but it’s seriously classy mess.

Justin’s Rating: Love in a time of witchcraft and wizardry.

Justin’s Review: I’m currently operating under the theory that there are a couple different versions of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. There’s the Good Version, floating out there somewhere, that takes the best qualities of the book and binds them into a terrific film.  And then there’s the version we got, the Daytime Emmy Version, crafted for soap opera fanatics who wanted a tale heavy on the sap and light on the spells.  Seriously, a little romance is well and good for the soul, but HP6 goes overboard with what can only be described as a sitcom-style bumbling of lips, meaningful glances and thinly-guised pining (for the fjords).  This comes, of course, at the cost of removing the weight of what the story wants to be, because you can’t have all of the characters bemoaning how terrible the world is now that the Dark Lord is on the move while at the same time batting eyes at each other and making kissy faces.

Ugh.

My wife, who in the space of a week after seeing the fifth movie, devoured all seven Potter novels (in a week, mind you), joined the ranks of the “That was NOTHING like the book” club that roams the internet countryside.  And I can’t blame her.  While The Half-Blood Prince wasn’t close to my favorite of the series, the movie version squanders what it did have going for it – a growing sense of dread, characters who make decisions that literally shape their lives, and a finale that rends the world of Hogwarts asunder.  Instead: kissy faces!  Oh!  And love potions!  Note passing!  There’s also an entire scene devoted to dessert eating.

More than anything, HP6 is filler and setup, setting the stage for the seventh book without contributing much of a tale of its own.  The mandatory Big Clues are lobbed at us, but the smaller elements go amiss.

Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived To Be A Pain In The Butt For All Who Call Him “Friend”, returns to Hogwarts for another year of laughs and giggles.  There’s a new professor – Slughorn – who Dumbledore brings on staff so that Harry can play a clumsy con game with, but for the most part the year is spent lurching from scene to scene without a greater sense of purpose.  Harry finds an old potions textbook that allows him to excel in the course; Ron gains the attention of a hormonally overcharged harpy; and Hermione exists so that teenagers can realize what a hottie Emma Watson is becoming (oh, sorry, did I call you out on that?).

It’s not a horrible movie by any means, and not even at the bottom of the Harry Potter filmography, but there is definitely something missing from director David Yates’ latest outing.  Many somethings, actually.  For a movie that’s about magic, there’s precious little of it except for a few big scenes – heck, most of the pictures in the background don’t even move any more.  Add to that scene transitions that are, frankly, clunky, and secondary characters that I assume appeared only so that they could be thrown into a two-second spot in the trailer for all they did or said.  There’s very little soul, too little emotion, and a Grand Canyon-sized gap where fun used to be.

The most egregious offense, in my eyes, is tied between two issues.  The first is that this is the first Harry Potter movie where it no longer feels as though they’re in a magical world, just the normal world with magic thrown in as a side garnish.  The second has to do with the bigger plot elements that includes gobs of spoilers, so skip the next couple paragraphs if that sort of thing is antithema to you.

The main threat to Hogwarts comes as evil Lord Voldemort has recruited teen Draco Malfoy to assassinate the headmaster.  Yet, from start to finish, this is all bungled.  In the film, Voldemort never actually shows up, but is relegated to a background “boogeyman” status.  It’s never quite specified why Draco is doing this – it’s hinted at that it has something to do with restoring his family’s honor with the Big V, but I’ll bet you most non-book readers in the audience have no idea why that is necessary (even if they saw the previous film).  Draco’s supposed to be under terrible stress and strain because of this task, but he’s never humanized in doing so – the movie keeps showing him stalking around the school and looking all frowny-like, but since he’s given barely any dialogue until the end, there’s no connection made between him and the audience.

Finally, when the big act happens, nothing really clicks.  Harry stands by without doing a single thing (in the book he was magically bound and inable to help; here he just kind of uselessly observes), there’s barely any tension on Snape’s behalf as he intervenes (which is supposed to be a shocking betrayal, but the movie lobs hint after hint that he’s still a good guy), the final showdown between Harry and Snape is nothing more than a brief chase in which Harry gets smacked down a couple times, and then it… ends.  Oh, and we learn that wizards grieve over one of their most beloved leaders dying much the same way that concert goers honor Metallica – by raising a light to the sky and shouting “ENCORE!”  A climactic battle in the school and a touching funeral that took place in the book were inexplicably cut from the film, because – and this is the reason I’ve seen from the filmmakers – that they didn’t want to steal the thunder from the last film.  So they just go ahead and neuter this one, bravo.  It’s all just so blah.

Hogwarts is no longer a school that teaches anything; it’s just a setting for snooping and snogging and Snape-ing.

Courtney’s Rating: I do love the Harry Potter  fandom and most of its members, but they can really aggravate me sometimes!

Courtney’s Review: (A preemptive apology for the length and scatter-brained-ness of this review. There’s so much I wanted to touch on a not nearly enough room for it!)

When HBP was first pushed back from November 2008 to July 2009, I was livid. I’d never been angrier at something so trivial in my life (several months later, this honor was awarded to VH1’s pop culture showdown the Great Debate for “officially deciding” that puppies are cuter than kittens. Hello? Puppies pee all over the place, and there is nothing cute about that. Kittens come potty-trained. And evil is inherently adorable.) So after an extra 8 months, the one thing everyone wanted to know was, was it worth the wait?

Let’s get right to it. I don’t care what you think about the movie vs. the book. Of course the book is better, but the two mediums are so different that they shouldn’t be compared. (Contrary to popular belief, there are some movies that are better than their books, but that’s a rant for a different day.) The movie, based on its own merits, is freakin’ awesome. It rivals Prisoner of Azkaban for being the most well-made film of the franchise (the two least well-made being Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, which, perhaps coincidentally, are the “closest to the books.”) I know there’s a lot of good things to be said for movies that stay true to their source material, but let’s be honest – people do not watch movies the same way they read books. Changes should be more than welcome as long as the message and tone remain the same. Here, I’m more than certain that HBP got it all right.

One thing that some Potterheads keep complaining about is that there’s too much focus on the romance aspect. I wonder if these people even read the book, as romance was kind of a big thing there, too. The whirlwind relationship between Ron and Lavender Brown is pretty important to the development of Ron and Hermione’s characters. And the Harry/Ginny kiss scene was very different from the scene in the book, but I thought it was sweet. I do wish more focus went to their relationship, but since so much of its development is internal, I guess it was bound to piss off die-hards no matter what the filmmakers did.

I know I’m one of few, but I liked the added scene at the Burrow. It was a cool way to show that there was a lot of danger outside of Hogwarts, and it showed us a little more of some favorite characters without forcing them in. And I fully support the decision to leave out the battle – save it for the big one in Deathly Hallows! But I was disappointed that they left out the funeral scene (you know what I’m talking about) because it seemed so beautiful in the book. I thought it would really look gorgeous and be mood-appropriate.

The acting in this film was by far the best it’s ever been for HP. Daniel Radcliffe (D-Radd, if you will) is really becoming a strong actor, and Emma Watson didn’t completely annoy me this time, a huge compliment to her. In fact, I daresay she did a more than adequate job here. I loved seeing so much more of Bonnie Wright as Ginny. I think she’s fun and cute and it’s great to see that she actually gets to do more than stand there and recite a couple throwaway lines. I’ve always thought that Rupert Grint was the most talented of the kids, especially after seeing him in Driving Lessons. But as Steve Kloves returned to write the screenplay (he wrote all of the scripts for the series except Order of the Phoenix) Ron’s role was yet again relegated to comic relief and no more. Rupert does a great job with the comedy, but it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get to show off his serious-drama chops.

The adult actors are all incredible, as they usually are. I’m seriously in love with Alan Rickman’s Snape and props to Potter newcomer Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn (and props to the special effects people who turned him into that armchair – how cool was that?) Michael Gambon’s performance has always been a topic of debate. However, I always feel that he gets the job done, and he manages to capture a certain youthful spring in his step that I think is so important to Dumbledore’s character. (SPOILER!) I cried quite a bit when he was drinking the protective potion in the cave. It’s very tragic if you know what he’s seeing in his mind, and I thought he was excellent in that whole scene. (END SPOILER.)

The standout performance was Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Up until now, Malfoy’s always just been this annoying, mean,  Billy Zapka-esque jerk, but here we learn that his outward cockiness is just a facade. He’s really just an insecure teenager and a coward, but he doesn’t want to let his family down. Felton did a truly wonderful job at portraying the conflict within Malfoy, and, more impressively, he did it with as few words as possible.

I’m probably one of about 12 people in the world who will see a movie based on the cinematographer (I sure know Christian Bale doesn’t think much of the profession.) Bruno Delbonnel is absolutely my favorite director of photography, and when I watched the first trailer for HBP, I recognized his work. Every scene in this movie looked like a painting, but the colors and movement were so rich and alive that they also felt very real. If I had it my way, Delbonnel would definitely win an Oscar for cinematography this year. He is an artist.

In my opinion, the strongest (and most surprising) aspect of HBP was the comedy. I knew it was going to be funny, but I didn’t expect to be laughing quite as much as I was, and as genuinely. Jessie Cave’s Lavender and Freddie Stroma’s Cormac McLaggen had a lot to do with that, as well as Daniel Radcliffe (D-Radd – I really want this nickname to catch on) and Rupert Grint.

But most importantly of all, I loved that this movie pumped me up for Deathly Hallows. I think that with this creative team and a studio expecting to rake in millions on opening weekend, we can expect two really fantastic movies, both for fans of the Harry Potter books and for film-lovers.

In summation, I guess I’ll answer the question posed at the beginning of this review: Was it worth the wait? Heck yes.

"And if these movies don't work out, I'm auditioning for a Hammer Bros. in Super Mario!"

Intermission:

  • How do you fix a Vanishing Cabinet?
  • Why do the Weasley family all have different accents?
  • Are the Death Eaters the Smoke Monster from Lost?
  • All the people clearly get off the bridge before it collapses, but the newspaper reports fatalities. Puzzling.
  • Dumbledore uses the line “I expect you’re wondering why I brought you here” twice.
  • Lots of mirrors! There’s a nice visual motif involving mirrors and mirror images.
  • There’s also a lot of nice foreshadowing. For example, Malfoy mentions something about jumping off of the Astronomy Tower early in the film, and you know what happens later.
  • How much do you want to go to the Weasley Wizard Wheezes shop? It’s like Wonka’s factory, but without all the Oompa Loompas trying to kill you. It’s a pity nothing happens there.
  • Arnold the pink Pygmy Puff looks like he’d eat your face off while you were sleeping…
  • How high did you jump when the Inferi started attacking?
  • So at the end of the movie, Harry and Hermione have this really nice conversation, and Ron just sits there the whole time? He says nothing and Hermione gets to speak for him? Kloves, you are truly shameless.

Groovy Dialogue:

Harry: Did you know, sir? Then?
Dumbledore: Did I know that I just met the most dangerous dark wizard of all time? No.

Tom Riddle age 11: I can make things move without touching them. I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me. I can speak to snakes too. They find me… whisper things.

Ron: I’m in love with her!
Harry: Alright, fine, you’re in love with her! Have you ever actually met her?
Ron: No… Can you introduce me?

Professor McGonagall: Why is it that, whenever anything happens, it’s always you three?
Ron: I’ve been wondering that for six years, Professor.

Ron: How much are these?
Fred and George: 5 galleons.
Ron: How much for me?
Fred and George: 5 galleons.
Ron: I’m your brother!
Fred and George: 10 galleons.

Dumbledore: I expect you’re wondering why I brought you here, Harry.
Harry: Actually, sir, after all these years I just go with it.

Dumbledore: Horace, could I have this?
Slughorn: What? Oh, of course.
Dumbledore: Thank you, I do love knitting patterns.

Harry: Fight back you coward!

Snape: Put that down, Bella, we mustn’t touch things that aren’t ours!

If you enjoyed this, try:

  • Inkheart
  • X-Men 2 (X2)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1, part 2, the inevitable parts 1&2 release)
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5 Comments

  1. I’m so mixed up about this movie. I refused to read the books when they started coming out, I refused when the movies started coming out. I was able to hold off until I saw this movie. The other movies made since, I was able to follow the story, feel like I got to know the major characters, and thoroughly enjoy myself. After Half Blood Prince though, I was lost. Why was Malfoy suddenly really bad? He was always just some pretentious rich kid who thought his kind were better. The movies never went so far as to explain that he would be willing to act on his predispositions. We knew his father was a douche bag, but how does he end up is Azkaban when no one else from the Ministry debacle did? I know and understand how and why movies have to leave parts of a story out when they reimagine books into movies, that was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to read the books until all the movies were made. I wanted to thoroughly enjoy the whole series and then be mystified by the books. This movie caused so many headaches trying to figure out what was going on, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was almost as if the people making the movies assumed that everyone read the books, and whatever little detail, no matter its importance, could be left out because people’s memories would just insert the detail where it belonged. Maddening! After reading the book HBP this movie made a lot more since to me. I could piece together that Voldemort forced Malfoy to do this to punish Lucious for his failings, not just because Voldemort walked into Malfoy’s house one day to give him a Watchtower, and decided Draco looked up to the task. I could understand the Spiderman-esque decision Harry had to make after weeks of dating Ginny, as opposed to longing glances and a stolen kiss then, never mind, I have things to do. You know, more important things to do. With the book now in my memory, I can get around to liking this movie, being able to visualize all the angst. I just wish they were able to make seven (or eight) non crappy ones so that I could have waited and read the books when it was all said and done.

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  3. Pingback: Courtney does Pitch Perfect « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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