Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I am not sure I could ever properly review this film and do it justice at the same time and I'm awfully tempted to just link to all the other glowing reviews and leave it at that. However, if I am anything, it's good and opinionated and I will have my voice be heard, especially considering how dear to me these books and films have become. I am pretty biased due to that very fact and also by the many tons of immensely positive reviews I read even before seeing the film yesterday at 7pm EST (one of the special few that got to see it even before the midnight show crazies creeped out of their Hogwart-shaped holes to stand in 3 hour long lines for the perfectly placed seat. I'm not judging, that would have been me also). Yet I believe most of the reviewers are biased towards this film in some way, so I suppose it's a moot point.

With five Harry Potter movies already under our Gryffindor-colored belts, it' s hard to believe that we can still step into a theater, eyes-wide and bodies trembling with barely controlled excitement, and are able to watch another film with new and open expectation. But that's exactly what I did and even my crappy deduction skills told me that I wasn't the only one buzzing and smiling like an idiot with renewed Potter passion. Now one might wonder, if one was not a fan, why the "renewed" feeling after watching so many of these films already? Well, because each Potter movie is an island in and of itself and if any of them proved that fact, the Half-Blood Prince did. It's easy to see the difference between the first two kiddie films and the rest of the series, but even with Yates again behind the wheel, Half-Blood Prince still felt like a completely different film than Order of the Phoenix. Before seeing the movie, I read that Yates had really stepped up with this film, showing unusual confidence in the product he was making and even to the barely-trained eye, that confidence could be seen in every scene. While you are watching, you may not know exactly what it is that you are seeing, what it is that you are feeling, but I can tell you right now it is the boldness and assurance of a great director, screenwriter and cinematographer (Bruno Delbonnel, he who made beautiful Amelie and Across the Universe). Yates was so bold in fact, so assured that the rich story J.K. Rowling presented us with could produce a great movie by itself, that the special effects were minimal and barely noticeable this time around (a very large and satisfying change from the gross spectacle that was Goblet of Fire).

There have been some complaints about the blatant focus on the relationships in this film, instead of a more complete focus on the conflict against Voldemort. It was certainly something that I noticed while watching, but at the same time, I believe it important to show the audience what they are about to lose, to show how things are now, so that in the next two films, we can remember with bittersweet knowledge the things that our characters have lost; the security of Hogwarts, the kind and strong guidance of a mentor and friend, the stable comfort of close friends always by your side. Among other things, this film was a gateway film, one that transitions the audience (and the characters) from the safety and comfort of what we (they) know into a new and different world for the next couple films. In one of the first scenes, in the Great Hall, I was overcome with a feeling of "goodbye", as if the filmmakers were delicately weening us off the sanctuary that Hogwarts had become to us. "Get ready", the scene said to me, "get ready for a BIG, BAD change". It was a setup and I absolutely love how they clearly showed the transformation, with the oblivious students making-out in dark hallways, as the camera pans over to Draco, alone and scared in those same hallways - but for a far more dark purpose. Hogwarts (by means of Draco, mainly) reflected the dark changes going on in the rest of the world and by the end, Hogwarts greatest loss would portray the launch of that world, with Harry and his friends, into total darkness.

Ok, a bit heavy I admit. *shrug* What's a fan to do?

So, obviously I too believe this was the best Potter yet, but there is no way for them to escape without some critique, so with the help of my friend and fellow Potter fanatic, Rhiannon, let's discuss some of the readers problems with the adaptation, ramblin' style and just the way I like it:

1. WHY did they burn the burrow down? In fact WHY was that scene in there at all...the running through the wheat? Just a chance to see more Helena Bonham Carter screeching?

- This I do not know. In all honestly, I haven't read Half-Blood Prince since it was first released, so I don't really remember all the details. I'm sure the purpose could be linked to needing a couple more "action" sequences, as they really did stick to the relationships in the film more so than direct, in-your-face violence. For whatever reason, I thought the scene was amazing; tense and beautiful and Ginny running after Harry, bullet-fast into the fire without a second thought, broke my heart. For me, it totally worked.

2. Lupin and Tonks struggling relationship? And where were Bill and Fleur? Is his vampire bite not important? Will there be a wedding next movie in the burned down burrow??

- As with all the other films, they can't fit in everything. Bill and Charlie have been very absent in all the previous films, so it makes sense to keep them in the background for this one in order to make room for other, more important characters. If I had to guess, I would say we may never get a wedding scene in the last films, but who knows? As for the burned Burrow, I'm sure they will fix that right up. It is a magical world, after all; little wand swish here, little wand swish there and all's back to being Leaning Tower of Burrow-y. As for Lupin and Tonks, I had nearly forgotten about their relationship and seeing how it ends, I would have been happy to forget all about it, honestly. Still, I enjoyed seeing them together, even as I knew it might have been a bit confusing for a non-reader. But again, it gave my heart a little ache, knowing the sadness in store for them. But, you can never have enough Lupin screen-time. He's totally awesome.

3. WHERE WAS THE HOGWARTS BATTLE? That was my favorite part of the book. I was very sad to see it left out.

- I wholeheartedly agree. Where WAS that battle? What, are we supposed to believe that the Death Eaters would go through all that trouble, place their trust in the hands of a young, cowardly boy, just to make sure Dumbledore was killed, shatter some glass in the Great Hall and then head out the door? I don't think so. Not to mention, where were all the teachers while this was happening? This would have caused (and did, in the books) a nice uproar and I'm telling you right now, not one student or teacher would stand to have them kill their Headmaster, degrade their school and just walk out without a fight. No way, mister. Plus, it really was a great scene in the book. I would have liked to have seen it too.

4. I needed a Dumbledore funeral. The white marble tomb, the whole works. I don't think the end was as somber and respectful as it could have been!

- Heard that, Rhiannon. The end was rather abrupt and all I can hope for is that maybe Yates decided to hold off on the funeral until the next movie, but I'm not holding my breath. It would have been a beautiful, heartbreaking scene and I was half-way glad I didn't HAVE to see it. I was already weeping quietly, no reason to call more attention to myself with an outright bawling fit. Still, as Rhiannon claims, respect must be paid and more than a couple witchlights in the dark. Dumbledore's death tore that world apart - it barely had an effect in the movie.

5. There were two things i really wanted to hear: "Dumbledore's man through and through" and "I'm not worried, Harry, I'm with you." The movie didn't convey how special their relationship was.

- Again, I agree. It's always going to be a disappointment when you watch a favorite book adapted to film and I think it's a good idea to walk in the theater having accepted that. I doubt there would have been anyway to find the time to accurately develop the Harry/Dumbledore relationship. It seems the filmmakers decided to focus more on the relationships that would be important to Harry in the final films than to go more in-depth with a doomed character.

So, there are the low-points, as written by review's co-host, Rhiannon. Excellent points, all.

To end on a high note, we can't forget to touch upon the superb acting in this film. Tom Felton (Draco) especially performed magnificently, breaking my poor heart every time he was onscreen. He, and all the others, really proved themselves as great actors in this film. They have really gotten to know their characters, inside and out, and have grown with them. Shout-out to Alan Rickman, who couldn't be more Snape-like if God had made him that way and shout-out to Jim Broadbent, who's portrayal of Slughorn has ignited the Internet with non-stop exclamations of total brilliance. You did us proud.

So, what did you think? Love it? Or are you, even as we speak, creating the first "Hate It" facebook fan page?

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