‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ is not a Harry Potter film. It’s actually quite different. Yes, I did like it and after third time watching it, I am unsure if it’s the best Potter movie to date or it’s second only to ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’. All in all, it’s a high quality film.
Fans of the books have always had a problem with the films. Despite generating almost $5 billion worldwide, the fans never fell in love with the movies in the same way as they did with the books. In the first two films, ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone’ and ‘Chamber of Secrets’, director Chris Columbus took everything straight from the books. It was a page-by-page adaptation and everything was held intact. However, Columbus isn’t really all famous for his directorial skills; having done ‘Home Alone’ previously, what we got was an above-average kiddy flick.
Then, they brought in Alfonso Cuaron to helm the third one, ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’. Here, most, but not all, of the material from the book made it to the final script. Unlike Columbus, Cuaron’s sensational directing abilities set a different tone for the film. Potter was no longer considered a kiddy-flick, and his interpretation of J.K. Rowling’s fictional world even made the author herself applaud. It was an accurate depiction of the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The movie was perfect. Then Mike Newell came along for the fourth one, ‘Goblet of Fire’, which most, including myself, as the best book in the series. There was so much anticipation for the film. Somehow, something went wrong. Instead of taking up a notch from the tone set by Cuaron in the third film, Newell seem to have taken it down a notch. It felt like it was a kiddy flick again, but this time with actors in their tweens. There were just too many things wrong with this one mainly due to the fact that there were too many great things in the book, which were either interpreted wrongly or being totally left out: the Quidditch World Cup being anti-climatic, a lame Third Task, an angry Dumbledore, a less creepy and more psychotic Voldemort, KKK-looking Death Eaters and not to mention a terrible score. Then David Yates came aboard to take over the reigns in the fifth installment, ‘Order of the Phoenix’. At the time, I thought that this was the second best Potter film yet. Yates’ Potter was very dark, which reflects perfectly the tone of the book.
However, seeing that the fifth book is the most boring of the seven, nothing much can be expected from the film, not to mention the copious amount of material they had to trim down due the thickness of the book. Still, I like the tone and the direction he is going for. Also, we should not that for the fifth movie, resident ‘Potter’ screenwriter Steve Kloves took a temporary leave and was replaced by Michael Goldenberg. The difference can definitely be felt as Goldenberg’s script was very choppy.
Now Yates has been welcomed back for the sixth installment, ‘Half-Blood Prince’, as well as for the two upcoming films based on the seventh book, ‘Deathly Hallows’. Clearly, there was a difference between the Yates-Goldenberg collaboration and the Yates-Kloves collaboration, and I very much prefer the latter. I am not sure if it was the change in screenwriter or if Yates has changed his style, but the film has a different feel to it, and one might think that there was a change of director. The movie still maintains its dark dramatic tone like the previous one, as well as the emphasis given on romance, but in ‘Half-Blood Prince’, he took it to the next level. By that, I mean that Yates has made the movie even darker and more sexual by adding scenes that are not in the book. I can see his point for this. With regards to the darkness, Yates is setting up for the final film. He wants the audience to feel that Hogwarts and the wizarding world around it are no longer peaceful and safe places to be at, like what you saw in the first film. He wants the audience to feel that something dark and ominous awaits them in the final film. He wants the audience to know that anything goes from here, anything that you least expect, can happen in the final film. With regards to the romance bit, he wants the audience to know that the protagonists are just normal human being like us. He wants the audience to know that they need sex as much as we do. He wants the audience to know that while darkness looms, humans still need to be human.
He made the characters real.
The story follows Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) as he returns for his sixth year in Hogwarts. A few things are happening simultaneously this time around. Firstly, he is very suspicious of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who appears to have some sort of mission to accomplish. He spends most of him time trying to find out what he is actually up to, although he fails miserably. Harry’s relationship with Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) strengthens this time around, as both of them share some private lessons together visiting Lord Voldemort’s past. This also led him to be closer with his new Potions master, Professor Horace Slughorn (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent), who took an instant liking towards Harry due to his popularity. Lastly, his feelings for Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) seems to be growing and he fears that Ginny’s older brother and Harry’s best friend, Ron (Rupert Wright), might not be agreeable to this. At the same time, Ron is having his own little romance with one Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), much to the envy of Hermione Granger (Emma Watson).
OK, lets get the cons out of the way first. Firstly, yes, there is no funeral for Dumbledore (no spoilers here, it’s all in the book). Was it necessary? Yes, I think it is. It would have given us a glimpse of how the wizarding community hold its funerals. It is also crucial to give Dumbledore a proper sending-off and give time for the audience to shed a tear or two. Instead, what we got was the ‘raising of the wand’ ceremony, which I thought was pretty well done. The funeral would have been a nice addition but I guess they didn’t want to stretch the movie beyond two and a half hours. Also, budget-wise, the scene would have cost the producers quite a bit, what with the set construction and bringing back the actors from the previous films (Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Julie Christie, etc). Secondly, I am a little disappointed that the ‘House of Gaunt’ scene was not included. Ever since I’ve read the book, I have always imagined the actors who would have best fit the roles; Anthony Hopkins as Marvolo Gaunt, Emily Watson as Merope Gaunt, Mackenzie Crook as Morfin Gaunt, Jude Law as Tom Riddle Sr and Sienna Miller as Riddle’s fiancé. I feel that the scene would have given the audience a nice little insight on Voldemort’s family background, on who his parents were, their blood status, on how he ended up in the orphanage and on how the horcruxes went from one hand to another. Unfortunately, all this will remain just in my imagination. And yes, the Other Minister scene was also one of my absolute favorites. I had hoped to see Michael Sheen reprising his role as Tony Blair (from ‘The Queen’) and Bill Nighy as Rufus Scrimgeour (at least I will get to see Nighy as Scrimgeour in the next film).
By now, you should realize that I have this habit of trying to find a positive reason to something that is blatantly negative, which in this movie’s case, there were many. For instance, there was a scene that is not in the book, involving the death eaters razing the Burrow to the ground. I know that some people didn’t like the scene and thought that it is was needless. What the scene did was demolish an important monument from the books, a safe haven for Harry and his mates that we thought cannot be destroyed. Those who hated the scene would go, “Shit! Why did they burn down the Burrow! It didn’t happen in the book! How could they!” I somehow looked at it differently. When I saw the Death Eaters destroying the Burrow with a ball of fire, I was shocked. It didn’t happen in the book and thus, that scene came in as a surprise. I mean, come on…we have all read the book, and we know what is going to happen. I don’t think it’s a sin if the director chooses to include a new scene and surprise us all. The scene also made me realise how unsafe the wizarding has come to be. It made me comprehend, like I said earlier, anything goes from here. A structure that you thought was indestructible before has now been destroyed. It’s like glimpses of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ are flashing right in front of you. The scene was a little taste of what’s to come. And if you’re not busy cursing the filmmaker during that scene, you would have probably noticed the look on Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), which I thought was just sad and priceless. And if you’re wondering “how the hell are they going to use the Burrow for the last film if it’s now destroyed,” in case you’ve forgotten, this is Harry Potter we’re talking about; anything can be fixed with a little swish and flick.
There were other minor changes being made that you just have to live with, like it was Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) who found Harry on the train covered with the Invisibility Cloak and not Nymphadora Tonks (Natalie Tena), as in the books. And it appears as if Draco delivered the package to Katie Bell (Georgina Leonidas) at the Three Broomsticks when it was supposed to be Madam Rosmerta. These are just minor changes made to ease the flow of the movie and give the writer a little bit of freedom to think out of the box. Try being a screenwriter and see if you’re not tempted to f*ck things up. Ah, and there was this one scene in the beginning where Harry was sort of flirting with a waitress at a Muggle café. He was actually flirting and hoping to get laid. Sure, it was not in the book but what is the purpose of adding that scene? Well, as mentioned before, the director aims to make the characters as real as possible and this is how you do it. All this while, Harry is always this problematic orphan, whose parents died a tragic death and its always up to him to make things right, to fight the dark lord, to vanquish evil, to be the chosen one, to be humiliated in the papers, to be the center of attention and to be the ultimate fighting machine who can’t lead a normal human life because there are too many things on his plate. Also, if you look closely at his lightning bolt scar, it actually reads “I am Harry and I only do what is right.” I get that, that is Harry Potter, but for that I find the character lame. There were times when I think along the same lines as Ron and Hermione, and feels that Harry just needs to chill for a little bit and just try to be normal. Thus, I was happy to see that scene because he was being your average Joe. I turned to my friend and said, “brother just wants to get laid.” It makes you feel more connected to Harry in the sense that deep down he is just regular guy like you and me. As for the scene after the Three Broomsticks, when Hermione appears tipsy, though Butterbeer is not an alcoholic drink, it’s just portraying her as a normal British teenager who loves to drink and get drunk. These kids have gone through a lot so let’s just give them a freaking break.
A lot of non-fans were complaining because there are hardly any action sequences in this film. I guess the filmmaker decided to tone this one down in terms of action in anticipation for the blood bath that is going to take place in the next one. Like Gandalf said, it’s “the deep breath before the final plunge.” Yates is going for more of a drama approach here. Although the Battle at Hogwarts scene was removed, that doesn’t mean we didn’t get any action. The Cave scene was splendid because we finally get our Gandalf-Dumbledore moment (love the Ring of Fire). The Quidditch has gotten cooler in this film, more with the fact that they managed to get John William’s Quidditch theme from the third film. We did get one duel in the bathroom with Draco and Harry, which ended up as one of the more brutal duels in the films. Though I do get the point of the Burrow scene and love it, they could have included a little battle prior to the burning of the Burrow, just to spice things up. What we got instead was the Death Eaters hiding in the bush and firing hexes at our heroes. Again, I think Yates is refraining from showing too much action here. As for the opening scene, although it was good that they showed the chaos inflicted by the Death Eaters, more could have been shown. The purpose of the opening scene is to depict just how chaotic things are at the present moment and what we get is the destruction of Millennium Bridge and the abduction of Ollivander. What about further destruction of Diagon Alley or the genocide of Muggle-borns or even that tornado mentioned in the book? All this will certainly give a certain sense of macabre that unfortunately was not truly felt during the opening scene.
The cast performances were all brilliant. Daniel, Emma and Rupert have all settled in their roles. It is now difficult to see anyone else filling in their shoes. Jim Broadbent was a nice little addition as Hogwarts new Potions Master, Prof. Horace Slughorn. Although he looks nothing like Slughorn as in the books, the essence of the character is very well alive within him. Then there’s Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy, who was originally cast as Bellatrix Lestrange. She has that air around her, fitting as both a Malfoy and a Black. Perhaps that is why her blonde hair has a shade of black, which in the book was just blonde. Again, David Yates’ brilliance. There’s also Dave Legeno as Fenrir Greyback. I think this was a miscast. Greyback is supposed to be the werewolf who bit Remus Lupin (David Thewlis) when he was a kid and therefore, I have always imagined him to be this old ancient werewolf. Legeno is much younger than Thewlis and appears to be this big, tough, young and obnoxious werewolf as opposed to an old, weary and experienced werewolf. Not a good move, Mr. Yates. Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown was just as annoying as in the book and I think she played her part well. It’s like Won-Won was actually stamped on her forehead.
We also have two new young actors, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane, portraying an 11-year old and 16-year old Voldemort respectively. Hero, Ralph Fiennes’ (Lord Voldemort) actual nephew, sent chills down my spine in his creepy little scene. He certainly looks and acts like Lil’ Voldemort. When it came to Frank‘s scene, it seems as if Voldemort has gone a bit softer. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that he was creepy gay bastard, but this is Voldemort. Intentionally softening himself up in front of his teachers to get what he wants is exactly what Voldemort would have done and Frank pulled it off. Love it. Michael Gambon played an important role here as Prof. Albus Dumbledore and it seems that his acting has changed positively. In ‘Azkaban’, he appears more like the book Dumbledore, an eccentric old wizard. In ‘Goblet’, he was just wrong, screaming every now and then at Harry. In ‘Phoenix’, he was a tired and serious old man. In ‘Prince’, he is an old man cheerfully trying to enjoy the end of his days and managed to pull off some of the important scenes perfectly (the Cave scene and the Astronomy Tower scene). Bonnie Wright was given more to do in this movie as Ginny Weasley and thankfully, she’s not that bad, acting-wise and look-wise. As for the remainder of the returning cast, they’re all great as usual. Helena Bonham Carter is irreplaceable as Bellatrix Lestrange and her scene at the end where she was destroying the Great Hall is just sick and brilliant. Maggie Smith’s portrayal as Prof. Minerva McGonagall is just first-class. Nothing else to say about her. Alan Rickman IS Severus Snape. However seeing that Rickman is playing the second titular character here, I did expect to see more of him but I was happy that he has more to do here than in the previous ones. Still, we shall never know what Severus Snape’s Defence against the Dark Arts class would be like.
The cinematography took a leap ahead in this film, since the producers engaged a new, Oscar-winning director of photography, Bruno Delbonell . His style is quite apparent as some of the scenes were truly breathtaking, unlike nothing we’ve seen before, especially the intro to the cave scene. His extreme long shots were captured beautifully and simply put you in awe. Then again, the cinematographer can only capture what’s to be captured; if the production designs aren’t stunning, the scene will not be impressive. Luckily, Potter’s resident production designer, Stuart Craig returns for this film and though some of the sets were the same as the previous films, the new additions were great, like Spinner’s End and the Cave. Now that we’ve got good production designs, which were capture superbly on camera, the only thing that will make the scene truly spectacular is the score. Thankfully, Nicolas Hooper did the job well. Although I would have much preferred John Williams to return, Hooper is not that bad as some of the key scenes were nicely scored.
Overall, the best movie of the summer for me.
Fazil also bought the Half-Blood Prince video game, played it for two weeks and then sold it off to a school kid.