Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

My thoughts on this movie and the franchise in general are many and scattered, so please forgive me if this is a less than coherent review. The Harry Potter series is a little too dear to my heart for me to think rationally about anything connected to it.


I find that I differ from a lot of people in which of the five previous movies I think to be the best- I think it's #5, Order of the Phoenix, while most snobby film folk will go with #3, Prisoner of Azkaban and anyone who is looking for a not-shitty-yet-surprisingly-true-to-the-book adaptation will say #4,Goblet of Fire. Sure, Prisoner is probably the most concise, and Goblet is a whole lot of fun, but the latter I definitely found to drag at points, and the former I thought cut out things it didn't need to cut. Order I thought was the first film to strike that delicate balance between maintaining the magical world created in the books and creating a decent movie, while also injecting a much-needed sense of lurking danger into the franchise. The books are dark- there is death and tragedy left and right, and yet until the 5th movie you didn't SEE or feel that darkness. Prisoner got close, I suppose, but holy crap, has there ever been a movie more brightly lit than the first two films? Harry is facing off with Voldemort! Clearly we must light it like a sitcom!

I'm talking more than lighting, though- the 5th film is the first to really delve into Harry's character, too, and as anyone who has read the books can tell you, it's a hell of a book for character development. So that's where I stand on the movies- if I could order them, until now, it would go (best to worst): 5, 3, 4, 2, 1.

And so because I like #5 the best, I was ecstatic when David Yates, the director behind that film, signed on to do not just #6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but the entire rest of the series, namely #6, plus #7 Part 1 and #7 Part 2 (which is another discussion entirely). Huzzah! Interesting that Yates chose to switch up DPs- he got better results with Slawomir Idziak on #5 than anyone else had in the franchise- but who knows, perhaps Idziak wasn't available. In any case, hurray for a decent director finishing out the series, and one who seems to have a rather accurate perception of the series- dark yet comic, sweet and fun but sinister and tragic all at once.


Half Blood Prince is right up there with Order, I think. I just saw it, and it's 4am, so perhaps my impressions are a bit tweaked, but it was pretty frickin' awesome. The effects are finally (for the most part) starting to integrate seamlessly into the film, which was a huge downfall for some of the earlier movies, especially the first two, and also sadly the second two. The kids, who started out so shaky and painfully dull in their performances, are now solid actors who actually bring a lot to the film- especially Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Rupert Grint (Ron), who have quite the comedic timing together. Emma Watson (Hermione) still leaves a little to be desired, for me, mainly because she always seems to make the same "I'm angry/sad/smart/snobby" face, but she too has come very far and almost completely embodies her character.

Bonnie Wright (Ginny) is a bit of a different case. She started out as the worst of the horrid child actors, and while she has definitely improved over the years, she's still no shining star. Sure, her performance is no longer the visual equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard, but it also always seems that she is deliberately given very few lines so as to avoid having to recast her. But I suppose by now I should have resigned myself to this awful actress playing one of my favorite characters, and should probably shut up about it, at least until #7-1 comes out.

On the subject of acting- Jim Broadbent, who plays Horace Slughorn, was fantastic. He's very different than how I pictured the character when reading the books, but I am 100% ok with it, because his interpretation is much more nuanced and interesting than the cartoonish figure I had in my mind. As Amanda said, you saw both his jovial professor side and his more manipulative, two-faced side. Hell of a casting choice, and with him under their belt I think the only British actor who HASN'T been in a Harry Potter film is Judy Dench (and thank goodness they didn't cast her as Dolores Umbridge, even if she was the obvious choice! Imelda Staunton was a much more unexpected and inspired decision).

I know a lot of people who are upset with the amount of things that were either cut or changed from the book- nearly all of Harry's journeys with Dumbledore into the Pensieve, for example. There are a few things that bothered me too, or that I would have really liked to have seen, but for the most part I recognized that things were cut for the sake of making this a better MOVIE- that is, more than just a verbatim recreation of the books. In general, what was cut was cut to make things more streamlined, and what was changed was changed largely to expedite some things that would happen in the next two films. I am as much a die-hard Harry Potter book fan as anyone, but I know that if the books were stuck to, we'd just have 8 long sludgey movies like the first two were- and I don't know of anyone on the face of the Earth who thought the first two movies were good.

They added a couple scenes, and I thought one of them was rather interesting, although they didn't revisit it as I felt they should have. Harry is at The Burrow, Ron's home, for Christmas, and a bunch of Death Eaters show up and chase Harry and Ginny into the surrounding wheat (or something) fields. There is an exciting, tense sort of battle sequence, culminating in everyone being safe, but The Burrow being burned. This scene accomplished two things that I thought were good: a) it added some action to the middle of a story that drags a bit in the middle (most of the middle of the book is spent going into the Pensieve, and obsessing about girls and Quidditch), and b) it reaffirms Harry and Ginny's relationship a bit, so that it's less weird when they finally hook up. So hurray, extra scene. That hasn't been done much in these movies, and while I don't want anyone to get carried away with it, here it was done well. Besides, the image of people running through miles of wheat fields in the dead of night was pretty sexy.

Sexy! There's something to bring up about this movie: there were a lot of sexual innuendos, most of which I felt were a bit out of place. Sure, the kids are 16 now and starting to grope each other or whatever, and that's all fine and good, but the sexual references were a bit over the top. Obviously they'll go over the heads of most kids, but it just seemed to be stooping to a level to which Harry Potter should not stoop.

ALSO in relation to "sexy," THIS MOVIE WAS SHOT SO FRICKIN' SEXY. Bruno Delbonnel, be still my heart. I knew you were awesome, but man. Idziak also did an amazing job, and I legitimately can't decide which I prefer, but there were a LOT of frames and camera movements in this one that were just... perfect. There were lovely rich colors and subtle color changes and oh, did i mention the shot of the staircase looking up that uses so many planes of focus I can hardly stand the brilliance? The image was perhaps a little overly DI'd (digital intermediate, a color correction device- I blame Letters From Iwo Jima for starting the "DI IT INTO OBLIVION" trend) in some scenes, especially the flashbacks in the Pensieve, but on the whole it was totally badass. Kudos, Monsieur Delbonnel.

Have I talked about the visual effects yet? They have gotten ever so much better than in the first 4 movies... even #5 had some composites that I questioned. This one I bought nearly everything, even the (previously always awful) Quidditch scenes. The best effects scene was when Harry and Dumbledore are in the cave with the Horcrux, and the Inferi start to climb out of the lake... holy crap! Way creepier than any other reanimated dead bodies I've seen in movies. That whole scene was pretty solid, in fact... I wish they'd made it a little tenser, with Dumbledore drinking the potion and yelling at Harry, but it did its job.

If the movie had one downfall, it was perhaps the same one as all the other Harry Potter films: a lot of time is spent in the beginning on minimally plotty things, and then they sort of have to rush through the ending. The one thing I was truly sad that they cut out was the battle between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix at the end of the book, when Harry gives his 3 friends the remainder of his Lucky potion and they and the teachers fight the invading Death Eaters. A battle like that, with the ramped-up tension it would provide, would have made


Dumbledore's death that much more shocking and heartbreaking. As it was, it was almost like the filmmakers figured "hey, everyone KNOWS Dumbledore dies, they know what's coming, why bother building up to it?" So I was a little bummed about that, but hey, you can't have everything.

In conclusion: YAY HARRY POTTER 6!! Go see it. AND GO SEE ICE AGE 3 while you're on a kid's movie kick.


I'm sure I'll be adding a few things as they come to me, so check back again if you're really intensely keen on my Harry Potter musings.

1 comment:

  1. i did not know dumbledore was going to die. i knew he was going to die eventually, but not necessarily in this one, although it didn't take me long to figure out that, yeah this is probably the one where he's gonna die.

    that being said, i was surprised how it just sort of happened and that was it. the death itself seemed very undramatic. the stuff afterwards with the kids gathered around his body was dramatic (even though i had a hard time taking it seriously since all the wands reminded me of E.T. fingers and i could NOT get the image out of my head) but overall the emotional punch was not there for me. instead of the filmmakers building up a sense of dread around it in that scene, which would indicate a kind of finality and real jeopardy...they just sort of let it play out without setting up audience expectations (for the two of us in the world that don't read the books first) in any sort of way, and i don't think that's good for this monumental death of a major character. i spent the whole scene slightly confused and thinking to myself, "ok he's going to die. no he's not. he is. he will but then it'll be a trick and he'll be ok. he'll just disappear and escape! no. definitely going to die. wait..." instead of being able to immerse myself in what was going on.