Harry Potter and the Half-Assed Prince

Oohhh… Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince SO disappointing!!

It was choppy. Emotional moments got crunched into brief spaces, while wide shots that were clearly intended for prettiness were drawn out too long. They left too much out, and they left too much in. We got Spinner’s End but not Hepzibah Smith, “oppugno!” but not the wretched home life of the Gaunts, Aragog’s funeral but not Snape’s betrayal of Harry’s parents. I wouldn’t mind that they made up additions that weren’t in the books if these added to an already well-thought-out film, but this was not the case. There was an attack on Muggle London that opened the film nicely but was cut short by an abrupt transition to the interview with Slughorn — cutting off both worlds without properly explaining either. There was the attack on the Burrow which was meant to show danger to Harry’s loved ones, but in its literal detour into what looked exactly like a horror film (oh! eerie fields at midnight! bad things a-comin’!), it ran on too long and felt too disconnected from everything else. In the tower scenes at the end, Dumbledore didn’t immobilize Harry, instead telling him “trust me” and thereby making his inaction at Snape’s betrayal a choice — but this all happens so quickly there’s no chance to appreciate what this might mean.

The worst offense, however, is that there was no character development at all: NONE. Only one character changed at all from beginning to end, and alive–>dead does not a character arc make. Harry and Ginny clearly liked each other from the start; Dean Thomas was merely a plot convenience. Snape was looming and creepy before he became a killer and he remained looming and creepy afterward. And Harry was, as always, brave and good and slightly thick, and the death of his mentor seems not to affect that at all. Ugh. Really, shame on the moviemakers for letting this happen. I can forgive the choppy structure, the uneven pacing, the non-canon additions judicious or not, but it’s the total character stagnation that drives me to the harshness of this review. And it’s not the actors’ fault (at least, not all the actors’ faults), it’s the screenplay and the cuts.

I think the producers are too fettered by having to make a family movie. This is a consequence of beginning the series as a pair of cheery, adorable children’s films directed by Chris Columbus; if you watch those films again (as some of us did, I think last year), they’re really quite good. Very high-quality family entertainment. And they were well suited to achieve that, because those books lent themselves to warm-and-fuzzifying: the bad guys were bad but there were places the evil hadn’t yet penetrated; the perils were not as fully realized as they would become in later books. Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban — my favorite of the films — was the perfect transition, but no one since has been able to fulfill its promise. The color palette changed after the third film, but the format hasn’t. By book four the series was no longer exclusively kids’ territory, a fact the filmmakers clearly appreciate but have tried clumsily to smooth over with compromise. The series started as kids’ movies and apparently there they’ve been slated to stay, and so: they can’t be too long, and they can’t be too grim. We’ve all seen Lord of the Rings; we can handle three-hour films, but little kids can’t, and so Half-Blood Prince gets smushed into two and a half hours. There was so much left out or compressed, and I can’t imagine a non-Potter reader could have followed it at all. And it’s not just the sequence of events that gets pinched into a space much too small for it, it’s the emotions as well, the greater crime by far. When Dumbledore dies and you hardly notice, when Snape’s just revealed himself as the Half-Blood Prince and Harry doesn’t blink an eye, when Harry and Ginny kiss and it’s merely inevitable… the movie has failed.*

I will say this for the film, and this as well is a consequence of the “family film” burden, the funny parts are very funny. The girl who plays Lavender is a hilarious addition to the cast, and of course there’s no one to match Rupert Grint for sheer facial-expression genius. Laugh I did. But how much more we might have laughed if Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes were given their full due! Even the humorous parts got cut.

Well, as Erik says, I’m not the filmmakers’ target audience; I’d go see it even if they made Helena Bonham Carter play Hermione and changed Robbie Coltrane to Voldemort. And of course I’ll go see movie number seven, parts one and two… and I know the filmmakers have a gargantuan task in trying to cut these books to fit film… but it’s still so very disappointing to see this film do such sorry justice to the books.

*And I can say this as someone who cries at everything. When Dumbledore dies and I don’t even need to reach for a tissue, something is very very wrong. But that’s Michael Gambon, too.