And now for the movie!
First, let me say this: I loved it. I thought it was a fantastic film that was full of charm and wit and humor. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the film that I went in expecting to see. What strikes me the most odd about this is that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I don’t particularly mind that my expectations were unrealized. It was a good movie, and I am delighted that it was made the way it was.
A decade ago when The Lord of the Rings just started coming on the scene as the next big thing, my nerdrage was riling itself up at the thought of Peter Jackson doing a disservice to my favorite series. I defined a disservice as anything that the film did differently than the novel. So, under that definition, the film was a travesty and deserved nowhere near the amount of praise it got. But a weird thing happened to me as I watched it. I loved it. No, there was no Tom Bombadil, but that was okay. He wasn’t necessary. I found that I actually enjoyed Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party rather than skipping the first 50 pages of the novel when I re-read it because I found that section boring.
Then I took a class in graduate school titled Literary Film Adaptation, and it completed the 180 my tastes in film had already begun. I learned to look at films based on other media as stand-alone works of art rather than being fully tethered to the original property. I began to see what it took to make a successful adaptation, and in doing so, I feel as though I’ve opened my eyes to a new world where, even though I can’t read or watch ignorantly for enjoyment anymore, I can more fully appreciate lots of films on their own merits instead of those of whatever they were based upon.
And that’s actually why I think that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a great movie, despite almost every single expectation that I held for it being unrealized. The movie itself was incredibly well-made; it just wasn’t the movie that I went in to see. HBP is one of those movies that I watched (at the midnight showing Tuesday night), loved while I watched it, felt let down as I drove back home, and then invigorated with how much I liked it as Jennifer and I discussed it.
I went in expecting a movie that was incredibly dark with moments of light-heartedness shining through periodically. Instead, I watched a movie that was pretty consistently light-hearted with a few moments of darkness periodically coming through. Now, the dark moments were incredibly dark, and they affected the entire tone of the movie, but they were so few and far between that darkness wasn’t the driving force of the movie as it was in the novel.
At first, I was saddened by this, but then it dawned on me that I had enjoyed the movie anyway. My expectations weren’t met, but the movie had turned out to be pretty decent anyway. I realized that the film still possessed most of the qualities I expected, but the focus was simply shifted. I am okay with that, actually. The story was told, and that’s the important part. Jennifer brought up a good point regarding this, too. She says that since David Yates is making the final four films, he had to find something light to ease viewers into the misery that occurs in Deathly Hallows, and this is the only film of the latter half of the series where that is possible. In order to keep viewers from being too bogged down, she says, this movie emphasizes the lighter elements found in the novel.
As with any adaptation, elements had to be cut from the adaptation. In Half-Blood Prince, there were two main cuts. The horcruxes and the relationships.
When dealing with the horcruxes, the novel showed Harry and Dumbledore finding them and collecting them when possible. There was history behind each item, and there was a story being told about each one. I did not expect each horcrux to be given its own 15-20 minute section, but I did expect them to play a much more important role in the film because I felt they were integral to the narrative itself. The horcruxes were in the film, but they felt tacked on, and the only one really mentioned was the diary from Chamber of Secrets we already knew about. The ring was just there as background ornamentation, and the idea of Nagini or the other remaining items were never mentioned at all. And nowhere is it even hinted at that Harry Potter himself is the seventh horcrux, which is one of the philosophical questions left dangling at the end of the novel. For such an important part of the Harry Potter mythos, an explanation of why they were so important was lacking. Sure, the film made sure we knew they existed and how Tom Riddle had learned how to make them, but that’s it. We never learn about their actual importance.
I have thoroughly enjoyed Yates’ movies so far, and given that Deathly Hallows is going to be broken into two parts, I have high hopes the importance of the horcruxes was shifted into the next film in order to bring it more cohesion as a stand-alone. So I am withholding my disappointment until the next installment. I can accept it being shifted. But it was the foundation of the narrative for the series’ conclusion, and if it is glossed over, I feel that is unforgiveable. Time will tell.
I went in with the expectation that the relationships in HBP would be prominent and necessary to the storytelling. I really hoped to see all the interaction between characters, and I wasn’t let down. The majority of the movie was character-driven, and there was very little spectacle (though there were some very nice quidditch scenes). While I could have done with a little more exposition regarding Ron and Lavender Brown or Hermione and McLaggen, the hurt that each character felt because of the teenage love triangles was tangible. The disappointing part, however, is that Bill Weasley and Fleur’s relationship is never mentioned. Remus and Tonks’ problems are never spoken of. All of the wonderful characters who felt alive in the novel were either not in the film or they were so minor that they had little to no dialogue. This one was pretty hit or miss because it was either done fantastically or not at all, but overall, I was incredibly pleased with the amount of characterization which drove the film rather than spectacle and eye candy.
Dumbledore’s death was not as sad as I had hoped, though I think it was incredibly well done. From the beginning of the film, it was hinted at, and the actors’ portrayal of Dumbledore and Snape going through something they knew was necessary was painful for me to watch. Seeing Snape do it and watching Alan Rickman’s face show that it was a necessary evil in ridding the world of Voldemort caused a great many sniffles from my fellow theater-goers, just not from me. I don’t know what it was that made the emotional climax of the movie more of a detached experience. I read one post about the film that said Harry was out of character because he made a conscious decision to do nothing when in the novel he was forced to do nothing because Dumbledore petrified him. It’s a subtle difference, but a major one when dealing with character motivations. It’s been so long since I read the novel that such a detail flew right past me in the theater, but I very much thank Christine for pointing it out. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t affected by the film version as much as I was the print.
Am I the only one getting tired of Helena Bonham Carter? I mean, really. She plays Bellatrix perfectly, but that’s the only character she plays. In any movie. She’s good at it, yes, but it is so tiresome to watch her prance and slink and laugh and cackle. It’s not subtle (it’s not supposed to be), but it’s also not nuanced. It’s in-your-face in a way that works perfectly in the novel because we’re getting description and can tone down her theatrics to a level which we find bearable, but it’s impossible for me to separate the actress from the character when seeing something that feels so forced. I quite look forward to Mrs. Weasley informing her “not my daughter, you bitch” and smiting her. She’s fun to read about, but on screen…I just don’t care.
All in all, HBP is not the best Harry Potter movie. It’s up there, but I’ll have to see it a few times to really gauge where it falls in reference to the rest of the series. It’s a fantastic movie in its own right, and I think it’s better than some, but worse than others in the franchise. I still think that Chamber of Secrets is the weakest installment of both the films and the novels. Half-Blood Prince did not have enough of what I wanted and loved in the novel to dethrone Order of the Phoenix as my favorite film. So now, I’m stuck with my favorite film being different from my favorite novel, and I’m very much okay with that. It shows that I am moving past my fanboyish obsession with literal adaptations and that I’m looking at films based on print media in a more objective light. It’s not for everyone, I’m aware, but since that’s my goal, it’s nice to see myself actually practicing what I preach.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a great movie. It’s a great example of how a film can adapt a novel and end up with a completely different feel through focusing on different aspects, yet still come out with the same story being told. If you’re looking for a summer blockbuster, this is the one to see. Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, this is the only one I can wholly recommend to everyone. It’s not quite as good as Star Trek for summer movie fare, but it blows Transformers 2 out of the water.