Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - 3 1/2 stars

First of all, I should tell you how I feel about the Harry Potter franchise, since it's very hard to judge this film on its own merits. I liked the first two Potter films (Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets), but I didn't love them. I saw them once or twice in the theater, then I didn't bother to see them again. When the third movie (Prisoner of Azkaban) came out, I was amazed. It was much better than those first two movies. But I still didn't become a fan.

I saw the next two movies (Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix), and it was after the fifth movie that I decided I liked the characters enough to finally give in and read the books. I wanted to know what was being left out of the movies, and I wanted to be able to say for myself whether the books were any good. Well, as anyone who has read them knows, they are quite good. And after reading the books, I had to go back and watch all the movies again.

Now, I could have stopped after reading the fifth book. Maybe I should have. Since I started out watching the movies, the actors are the ones I picture when I read the books. I considered waiting, but I couldn't help myself. I quickly read the sixth and seventh book.

So now, Half-Blood Prince is the first Harry Potter movie I have actually looked forward to. It's also the first one I have seen after having read the book. For the first time, I am able to complain as much as anyone about how they left out my favorite parts, or how they got other parts wrong. Well, let me first say that this is a great movie. Next to Prisoner of Azkaban, this is the best of the Harry Potter movies. It may even be the best. I need to see this one again, then go back and watch Prisoner of Azkaban to decide.

This movie focuses on the kids falling in love, or at least lust. Ron gets a girlfriend, and Hermione realizes she has feelings for Ron. Harry is also starting to notice Ron's sister Ginny. This makes for some great comedy and great drama. We feel for Hermione when she sees Ron kissing Lavender Brown. We want to see Harry hook up with Ginny. And the scene where Ron is slipped a love potion (intended for Harry) is the funniest in the movie.

This movie also has more of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Snape (Alan Rickman) than usual. This is a very good thing. I can watch Alan Rickman for two and a half hours and be happy. Unfortunately we don't get as much of McGonagall (Maggie Smith) or Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). They pop up and have a line or two, but they don't get much to do.

The entire cave sequence at the end follows the book very closely. I was particularly impressed with the way the scene where Dumbledore has to drink the potion played out. Then when the inferi attack, that was as scary as it should have been.

Now as for the things that I missed (as a fan of the books). Oh, and beware of spoilers. I'll try not to give anything major away.

First, the Dursleys. Except for the fourth movie, every movie has opened with Harry at the Dursley's house. This is important because there is a very good reason (explained in the book) why he has to return to the Dursley's every summer. In fact, in the movie he tells Dumbledore that he has been riding the subways around all summer. That doesn't seem like a good idea if Voldemort is after him. I miss seeing Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw) for story reasons, but more importantly, they are such great actors. Go back and watch Griffiths in Order of the Phoenix and try not to laugh. Also, check out his performance in Venus with Peter O'Toole.

Next thing I missed: Harry getting in trouble with Snape after the sectumsempra scene. In the book, he almost killed Malfoy, so Snape is incredibly pissed off at him and gives him like a month's worth of detention. In the movie, after the fight is over, Snape just looks at Harry, Harry walks out, hides the book, and that's it. No punishment, no discussion.

Also I missed the fight at the end. In the book, the death eaters fight with the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore's Army. I know they wanted to make the death of ***** bigger and more dramatic by focusing on that, but that would have been a great bit of action at the end of the movie.

Another one? Ok, how about the final confrontation between Snape and Harry? In the book, there are a lot of words exchanged. In the movie, it's over much quicker. Snape reveals he is the Half-Blood Prince (oops, big spoiler) and walks away. And the funny thing is, if you haven't read the book, you wouldn't know what the Half-Blood Prince was. Ok, we know who it is, now what is it?

Last I thought the movie ended too quickly after the big death. In the book, there is more shock and reaction from the faculty and students, and there is a big funeral. In the movie, everyone stands around and raises their wands (lame). Then the next scene is the main three talking about what they are going to do next year. It sets up the final two movies nicely in an Empire Strikes Back kind of way, but there should have been a little more of a denouement. Maybe if they threw in that scene where Harry is talking with the staff about whether the school should close or not.

Anyway, all that aside, I loved the movie. I can accept the changes and omissions because the movie and book are completely different forms of entertainment. What works in a book doesn't always work on screen, and the movie can only be so long. But I REALLY wish they would do extended edition DVDs, the way New Line did with Lord of the Rings.

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