Friday, July 24, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I'm only two weeks late to seeing it, which is kind of remarkable in its own right. All in all, quite enjoyable. It was my favorite of the Potter movies until the last 10 minutes, in which it went a little off the rails. Some thoughts (if you haven't seen it, there will be SPOILERS):

* Daniel Radcliffe is better when they let him be funny. He still can't do serious. Emma Watson seems to be getting worse with each film. Rupert Grint should actually have a career as an actor if he wants it.

* I'm not sure if it was intenionally done with make-up, but Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon looked suddenly very, very old.

* Jim Broadbent's Slughorn was truly wonderful. It's a very different interpretation from the book--much more sad than blustery. It worked for me.

* For the first time ever, quidditch looked both real and interesting. Compare the quidditch scene in HBP with Sorcerer's Stone on blu-ray. What a difference eight years makes.

* Overall, the f/x was pretty great, which it should be when money is no object. But there were a couple moments when the green screen was so glaringly obvious that it was a little jarring. Such as the final scene with the kids in the Hogwarts tower looking down at what might as well be painted back-drops.

The other moment which was distracting in its poor execution was the set design for the hidden horcrux. The crystal island looked straight out of Return of Superman. After being in a world that felt, for the most part, lived in and real, all of a sudden we're on a soundstage with what is obviously a movie set. I wouldn't complain except that for this franchise, the money really does grow on trees. Every single set should be perfect.

* One of the complaints leveled against the movie is that it adheres too slavishly to the book. That criticism strikes me as off the mark. There's lots of deviation from the book done specifically for the purposes of story-telling. Some of it, like Harry hanging around in the Underground in the beginning, works very well. Having the Weasley Burrow burned to the ground is also a nice bit of shorthand to show us the loss that peripheral characters are sustaining without going character by character.

* My big complaint is actually about a piece of adaptation that I thought didn't quite work: the final battle at Hogwarts.

Once Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogwarts, Malfoy has let Voldemort's crew of Death Eaters into the castle. But all they do is sneak upstairs to confront Dumbledore. There is no pitched battle for Hogwarts. After Snape kills Albus, they high-tail it off the grounds.

This didn't work for me for a few reasons:

(1) We don't get to see the students and staff of Hogwarts suddenly thrown into combat. Everything has changed by the end of HBP not only because Dumbledore is dead, but because the professors and the students have suddenly become soldiers. By keeping them out of the battle, at the end of the movie, they're still just on-lookers, essentially the same position they've been in at the end of all the other movies.

(2) Malfoy's big vanishing cabinet plan doesn't make much sense without a larger assault on Hogwarts. Why bother importing Belatrix, Greyback, et al for the sole purpose of letting Draco kill Dumbledore? The only reason to have them there is for it to be an all-out invasion.

(3) I understand that cleaving a little more closely to the book would have incurred significant costs of both time and money. But couldn't that have been conserved by eliding the intro where we see London under assault from the Death Eaters? Shifting the set piece to the end seems a net plus in terms of story.

* My only other real quibble is with the portrayal of Snape. In the book, his role is quite ambiguous by the end. In the movie, not so much. I think it's reasonably (though not totally) clear that he's ultimately on Dumbledore's side. I missed that extra layer of complexity where no one knew if he was a triple- or quadruple-agent. Also, his final encounter with Harry--the last time they'll see one another until Snape dies, I think--felt a little rushed for such an important moment. In the movie's own terms it didn't even make much sense for Snape to cop to being the Half-Blood Prince. Why not just leave that a mystery?


Kathy said...

The one part I wished they would have stuck with the book was the opening with Narcissa making her deal with Snape. Rowling described that so beautifully, it was an absolute letdown not to see it on the screen. Furthermore, if they would have portrayed Narcissa's deal the way Rowling wrote it, it would have fully kept the ambiguity about Snape's true allegiance. I can't remember if Bellatrix was there in the book for that scene. (I don't think she was, but have no way of verifying as I don't have the book). As it was portrayed in the film it made it seem less like Snape reluctantly maneuvering Narcissa in league with his own goals, whatever those might be, but rather that he was completely afraid of Bellatrix. It shot the ambiguous nature of Snape's motives to hell. Not to mention, well, it was a waste of Helen McCrory, who is a fantastic actress and should have been given more to do.

No props for Tom Felton? I thought he did a rather good job with Draco's evolution from a simplistic evil little monkey with a fetish for his daddy's supposed power to a kid who finally realized what went part and parcel with that power, and was scared of it.

The husband thinks that Rickman should be given a Oscar for portraying Snape's revulsion at Ron's bedside.

Bryan said...

I have a couple of problems with the movie: First, the final battlescene was completely missing, and the funeral. The in the book is absolutely beautiful and gives the characters and us a chance to mourn. It is one of the most moving chapters in all of her books, and it was left out! Big disappointment.