Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter 6: A Movie Review

Being the impatient hedonist that I am, I simply couldn't wait to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. My son agreed to brave the hoards and the lines with me, and we caught a 9:30 showing last night in a packed movie theatre.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But the experience left me with this nagging sensation that something about it didn't work for me. After sleeping on it, I think I've figured it out.

To avoid spoiling, my review is after the jump. And there will be SPOILERS, so stand warned!

First, the very good about the movie: Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. These three actors could not have been more perfectly cast than if J.K. Rowling had been staring at them the entire time she wrote the books. They've all grown so much, both physically and talent-wise. I honestly can't imagine these movies with anyone else playing Ron, Hermione and Harry.

Rupert Grint, especially, stole the show. He provided most of the belly laughs from everyone in the entire theatre. In fact, the best thing about the entire movie was the genuinely amusing moments it contained. By far this is the funniest Harry Potter movie.

Jim Broadbent did an excellent job as Professor Horace Slughorn. He played the part a bit more addled than my interpretation of the character from the book, but it worked all the same.

I have to give major props to Tom Felton. His Draco Malfoy was perhaps the most nuanced and tormented character in the movie. In fact, I'd wager it is fair to say that you almost felt more sympathy for Draco than you did for Harry. His was a boy who was tormented, who had been given a task he neither wanted to do nor felt capable of doing yet understood that not doing meant certain death for both himself and his parents. On a completely superficial level, the wardrobe they gave Draco was fantastic. He looked amazing, even in all of his white-blond evilness.

And once again, Alan Rickman proves why he is one of my favorite actors of all time. Thus far, he's played Snape mostly for laughs. This time, however, he gives the character the perfect amount of ambiguousness. Those in the know - the ones who've read the last book - will see Rickman's portrayal for what it is, the ambivalent feelings warring inside a man who has not quite been able to embrace the dark side completely due to reasons known only to himself and Dumbledore. Those who have no idea Snape's true motives will probably see him as a Bad Guy who pulled one over on Dumbledore, just as Rowling intended for him to appear at this point in the story.

Now, for my particular issue, the thing that is keeping me from raving about this movie as I thought I would.

As you would expect, the movie version of HP 6 is not a 100% faithful recreation of the book it is based on. Just as the previous five movies have diverged from their respective books, some (HP 1 and 2) less so than others (HP 4 and 5). It only makes sense that audiences will never consent to movies that last for 12 hours and thus something has to go, especially any something that might be extraneous to the main plot and/or slow the action down to a crawl or result in long blocks of exposition. This is just the way it is with book-to-movie conversions.

And thus far, I haven't been much bothered by the lost-in-translation aspect of the HP movies. I've been able to enjoy them very much as their own entities. The books are the books. The movies are the movies. They can't and don't substitute one for the other.

Sure, I've questioned how future plot points would be resolved when key elements are cut out in earlier films. For example, I'm baffled how cutting out house elves Kreecher and Dobbie won't come back to haunt screenwriter Steve Kloves come some crucial moments in HP 7. But I have faith that they'll figure out a way to make things work out in the end. And for the most part, I've understood why they've cut the things that they've chosen to cut. I never thought the whole S.P.E.W. storyline was very interesting and surely didn't miss it in the movies.

But for the first time, I felt the cuts and changes TPTB took with the movie version of HP6. And it wasn't even so much what was left out, it was how they handled what was left in.

And here comes the spoilers...

Some of my very favorite scenes in all of the HP series happened in Book 6. Specifically, Harry's relationship with Ginny - I loved the moment when Ron and Harry come across Ginny and Dean making out in a hallway, and Harry finally realizes that he has other-than-brotherly feelings for her. These feelings sneak up on him unawares, but at that moment, they erupt as a fully formed jealousy monster that pretty much smacks him right between the eyes. As a follow up, my other favorite scene is when Harry forgets all about what Ron might think about Harry hooking up with Ginny and kisses her in front of the entire Gryffindor House. It's one of those passionate moments that makes me smile every single time I read it.

So I was really looking forward to these particular scenes in the movie. Except, guess what? Neither scene made it. In fact, Harry's entire "relationship" with Ginny progressed in a completely different way throughout the movie. The Big Passionate Moment fizzled out as a teeny tiny afterthought of a sweet kiss. Harry's kiss with Cho Chang lasted longer and had more build up. I couldn't be more disappointed.

It could be a lack of chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright, as I read in one on-line review. There just aren't any sparks between these two actors, nothing that makes you long for them to be together. And the Harry/Ginny relationship build-up is presented so subtly, the matter isn't helped along at all. Because of lack of screen time in previous movies, Ginny is somewhat of a blank character, coming at you from out of the blue. At least in Book 6 you get an idea of why Harry might all of the sudden be seeing Ginny in a new light.

The other big change in the movie involved the finale. In the book, Harry and Dumbledore return to Hogwarts to find that Death Eaters have made their way onto the grounds and a fierce battle is raging between them and the few remaining members of Dumbledore's Army. Order of the Pheonix fighters arrive and help with the battle. The action is intense, the casualties painful, and the whole thing ends in a big bang with a confrontation between Harry and Snape.

The movie, however, removes the battle entirely. A tiny handful of Death Eaters meets no resistance inside the castle, and even Harry's confrontation with Snape is rather small given what it is that Harry believes Snape has just done - killed his beloved mentor in cold blood.

I'm not sure I understand the reasons for the removal of this final mini-battle. Perhaps it's because some key characters have never been introduce. Specifically, we have yet to meet Bill Weasley, who gets attacked by Fenrir Greyback in the book. (And I still haven't figured out what they will replace Bill and Fleur's wedding with in the HP 7 movies because none of it was a part of HP 6.) Maybe it was a matter of budget, although I hardly believe this.

Maybe it was a fear that a big battle might detract from the impact of Dumbledore's death.

In the end, I walked out of the movie feeling somewhat empty. I enjoyed it, but I was left wanting more. Part of the problem is that I had, literally, just finished listening to HP 6 on audio book after a long car trip, so the details of the book were fresh in my mind and therefore more glaring when they went missing in the movie. Perhaps the key is to maintain a gap between reading the books and watching the films. For HP 7, I'll declare a 6 month moratorium on the books so as to go in without any lingering expectations.

Reading through all of the "professional" reviews, I've found one or two that sum up my overall feelings about the movie. This one is especially spot-on for me. As is this one.

I'd thought to see the movie again, this time with my daughter. I'd figured that I'd love the movie so much I'd be glad for the chance to watch it a second time. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe seeing it again, knowing that it is not going to be the book put on film, will allow me to enjoy it for what it is, they way that I've always enjoyed the other movies.

What I do know is that I already can't wait until November, 2010, for the first installment of HP 7. Even disappointed, these movies - this story - is still one of the best things around. I'll miss it when it's all over.

1 comment:

movies said...

I think that this sixth movie is the best of all the movies that ever made. I don't know why, maybe it's because i didn't read the book, and saw the movie only :). well, go watch it all again before the new movies to come!