Saturday, 1 August 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Movie Review

I had wanted to title this review with a quotation from the book, something like "Step into the Night" or "That Flighty Temptress, Adventure," but like neither. The first is uninformative and the second is misleading, and hopefully you'll see why I think so as I examine the movie.

This movie is significantly better than the other five. I have written elsewhere (that being Jon's blog) that I liked the third, did not care so much for the first two, and can hardly remember the fourth or the fifth. I think the strength of this movie, besides the improved acting on most of the cast's parts (some may disagree about Harry, but I didn't notice one way or the other about him), has a lot to do with my preference for the third. Most people did not like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and, while I can understand their response, I think the third demonstrated a significant amount of merit on the filmmaker's part because of creative insertions and alterations. The third movie, unlike the others, had something of a direction, agenda, or atmosphere. The director took the haunted house, werewolf, the Dementors, the escaped prisoner, and the other "scary" elements and combined them with Harry's increasing broodingness. Harry's inner darkness was coming out more clearly in the books that were released around the time the third movie was, and I had felt even at the time that the director added some of this angst into the third movie, even though it was a bit early in the series' chronology. It fit the atmosphere well, though, and so we have a pervading sense of growing darkness in the movie.

This sense of darkness fits well in the overall trajetory of the series, of course. The first two books are much more like romps than the rest. The second one is a bit more menacing, as there is the constant threat of someone dying... but in the end the novel does not play for keeps, and all is righted. The third one, however, promises that all is not well. Even though everyone is safe and alive at the end, we know (via prophecy) that it is dusk, that darkness is growing, that (in the context of the movie) "something wicked this way comes." A sense of darkness is appropriate. More importantly, the sense of darkness helps unify the film, makes it more memorable, and gives the director a chance to do something of his own with it. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the book which does play for keeps. It does more than fulfill its promise that Harry's life is in danger and some Death Eater plot is affot. It kills an "extra" character and brings back the Dark Lord himself. In this book, the darkness arrives in person, so the atmospheric promise of growing dusk in the third is fitting. The remaining books are then to be concerned with living in the darkness, fighting against it, and in the seventh, attempting to dispell it at last. Thus the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, is about the first waves of resistence, as the Order fights against Voldemort and Harry's gang resists the regime of Professor Umbridge. This is the first victory of the "good guys," though there are casualties of many sorts--both in lives and alliances.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does have this atmosphere and, unlike the fourth and fifth movies, the film utilizes it. The atmosphere is one of sadness. The first few attempts to push back the darkness seem to be working: the protagonists, by the end of Order, have landed on their feet. The sixth book raises those stakes so that the seventh can be truly gripping. To do this, we have tragedy. That is the pervasive theme of Half-Blood Prince: sadness.

I am not saying that the movie was entirely sad. There were funny and adventurous parts. But there were fewer of these than normal, and I would argue that the comedic parts were usually undercut by sadness. When Ron is hilarious as a Quidditch Keeper and is, for once, the centre of glorious attention, Hermione becomes heartbroken, and we have the wrenching scene of her crying at the stairs. At the end of that scene, the camera pans to let us see the silhouette of Ron and Lavender--and then Malfoy on the balcony, scared, miserable, and sleepless. When Ron is grinning with the love potion, we laugh. But immediately after he is cured, he almost dies. When Hermione is drunk from the Three Broomsticks, Katie Bell is nearly killed in a really creepy sequence. One of the parts I thought was funniest, and was quite important to the plot, takes places at a funeral, and the wake afterwards. Note this: a comedic part took place at a funeral. This is either and indication that everything is funny, or that which is funny is also sad.

Further, Harry Potter books (and even more so movies) tend to involve swash-buckling with wands and other forms of adventure. Generally, adventure is light. In this case, there is less adventure, and none of it is light. We do see the troublesome trio sleuthing after Malfoy, but it is down gray, rainy passages. There is a wizard's duel between Harry and Malfoy--but this was not adventurous. It begins with Malfoy struggling to remain composed, Harry losing control, and Harry using dark magic to lethal effect, save for the rescue of Snape. Speaking of Harry losing control, there is also the scene in the cornfield, which I don't recall from the book, at the end of which the Burrow, the symbol of warmth, simplicity, and family, is destroyed. The Burrow is a second home to Harry, after Hogwarts. To Harry, in fact, the Burrow defines what a home should be. This is burned to the ground.

And this brings us to the double-climax of the movie. First, we have the cave, in which Harry is forced to torture an old man whom he loves. This section does not have much high adventure, as most of us recognize it. This section mainly involves Dumbledore being hurt and weakened. Second, we have the scene atop the observation tower. In this one, Harry is finally proven to be right... but that's hardly good news, as it results in his protector and mentor being killed. I don't think I need to enumerate how this scene is sad.
I'll also point out that the theme of sadness is underscored by what was removed from the movie [spoilers for those who haven't read the book]. The battle in Hogwarts between the Death Eaters and the faculty/Dumbledore's Army was replaced instead with Bellatrix desecrating the Great Hall. We do not see a contest between good and evil; rather, we see evil desecrate that which is good. Also, the semi-tragic but ultimately rewarding romances of a few pairs of characters might seem like a familiar concept to someone who saw the movie but did not read the book. What I want to mention is that happens with at least double the amount of couples in the book than in the movie [spoilers over]. Adventurous and uplifting scenes were cut out of the movie, and, in places, were replaced with sadder versions of those scenes.

This is what I liked about the movie. First, it worked in ways the others didn't: one of those ways is the one I elaborate above. Second, it made me feel, even if that feeling is sorrow. At least it is a sorrow of a sweeping variety.

But even this sadness was remedied a bit in the final scene, which was reminiscent of Sam's speech to Frodo at the end of The Two Towers (as so much of this movie was reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings). There is sadness, but also hope at the end of sorrow. In the book, there are two lines which come to mind. Both are Dumbledore's. The first is, "Let us step into the night to pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." While stepping into the night is an appropriate idea, "adventure" is not as much. The second line, however, fits the bill far more perfectly. It is, "We must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on." While it did not appear in the movie, it seems to me the movie still used this line as a guiding premise. Great sadness does occur, and does undercut many of the lighter parts of the movie, but hope, friendship, and love then undercut that sorrow, regardless of how dark it might be.

Good thing, too, because there's another movie yet.


So there was a lot more that I wanted to talk about in this: the character of Slughorn, Emma Watson, the scenes which I found borrowed from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (and maybe Waking Ned Devine), Emma Watson, the romance stuff between Harry and Ginny, Emma Watson, the role of Luna Lovegood's friendship (which I think is awesome), and Emma Watson. But I tried to keep on topic.

Oh, and if you try to post spoilers to people who haven't read the books, I won't let you. Bwahahahahaha comment moderation!


Jon Wong said...

Excellent. We finally agree on a HP film! At least... we finally agree on a HP film we both thought was amazing.

Movie Blaster said...

The most recent Harry Potter movies aren't that good anymore especially since most of the young characters got older now.... There was a certain cuteness to Harry Potter before that appealed more to kids... I doubt if its still there.

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