I’m not ashamed to admit that I, a grown man a hair’s breadth shy of 30 was giddy as a school boy as the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince drew closer to opening.
I was initially prejudiced against the Harry Potter phenomenon. Muggles and snargaluffs and Hogwarts? What about that doesn’t sound like a bad Dr. Seuss project? On the one hand I was delighted to know that kids were actually reading again; on the other, it just didn’t seem to suit my tastes.
Also there was the fact that the series bared a striking similarity to the Books of Magic series published by Vertigo in the 90s. I would have rather preferred the Vertigo series.
As it happened, my father rented the first two films directed by Chris Columbus. I found them entertaining to some degree or another, but still not quite something to catch my interests.
Normally this might be the end of the story but not for some friends of mine who were going to see Prisoner of Azkaban and asked me along. Alphonso Cuaron’s darker, more majestic world seemed to seduce me. This was not the fairytale world I expected. Harry Potter was growing up, and the world was not so pretty.
Afterwards, I attempted to read the next chapter, Goblet of Fire, but still found the book somewhat slow and impenetrable. Even so, I was now a fan and saw the midnight showing of the film on the first night it was out. By the time I saw Order of the Phoenix, I was hooked. The next week I bought a soft cover copy of The Half-Blood Prince and devoured it within 4 days. Overcome with a thirst for more, I bought the hardcover Deathly Hallows which had only recently come out at the time. Hallows took me 5 days. Like every other fan, the ending left me satisfied, yet saddened that it was over.
Since then I have been waiting, patiently for the arrival of the fourth film. It opened this past Tuesday at midnight. Because of work, I begrudgingly waited until the next night to see it. I’d spent the last two weeks re-reading the book to refresh my memory and ended up reading Hallows again as well because I couldn’t help myself.
So did it live up to the wait?
I’d have to say, NO… but with one caveat. I believe that reading the book as a refresher was a mistake. Adapting a 600 plus page book into a lean, tight script isn’t just difficult; it’s impossible. Material has to be cut out. As such, by its very nature, the films are their own animal and should be judged as such. They’re good films, this one included.
There were two way in which the film shortened the material: by abridgement, in which the original material was simply edited, and by rewriting scenes. Of the two, I much preferred the rewritten scenes. The abridged scenes felt rushed and glossed over, like they were only left in by mandate as an afterthought. This is especially true of the scene which introduces Professor Slughorn. Dumbledore brings Harry to meet him in the hopes that Slughorn will agree to return to Hogwarts out of curiosity about the infamous Harry Potter. Yet in the film, we see none of this. Harry and Slughorn are scarcely in the room together for five minutes, and he doesn’t seem to care either way. Nonetheless he agrees in a rather dramaticly uninspired change of heart. Similarly, the abduction of the wandmaker Ollivander (which will become important in the next films- maybe) are quickly and quietly thrown by; blink and you missed the mention of it.
Here is where those like me who re-read the source material are hurt the most. The rushed moments feel emphasized, and almost mechanical. It as though things happen because they are pre-ordained rather than because they fall that way.
By contrast, the scenes where the writer rewrote or added material flow wonderfully. What particularly impressed me was the handling of Harry and Ginny Weasley’s burgeoning romance. My one complaint about the final two books is that for all of her discussion of Harry’s feelings, Rowling scarcely has Harry and Ginny together for more than a few days. As a big fan of the coupling, I felt rather cheated by the lack of time with them. When a writer introduces a romantic interest into a story, he/she is almost required to properly explore the relationship as it pertains to the plot. Without it, the reader is left wanting. In the film, we are given much more of them. In particular, the kissing scene works very well. In the book, the kiss –while wonderfully done– seems at least partly a product of overactive hormones. Here the kiss is much more expressive of the feelings between them. It may have been the best moment in the film.
As mentioned, a large amount of material was edited out. Missing of note are subplots involving Rufus Scrimegour, Mundungus Fletcher and Bill Weasley & Fleur De La Cour’s engagement, all of which play heavily in the last book. I can only assume they will be eliminated from the next two films as well (The Deathly Hallows will be adapted into two movies). But perhaps the oddest scene missing involves Harry and Snape. (Spoilers!) Following a duel where Harry has injured Draco Malfoy, he is found by Snape who saves Draco’s life. In the book, Harry is duly punished. In the film, however, nothing happens. It seems curious that you could almost kill a fellow student– particularly one that you have a well-known grudge against– and get away scott free. The lack of comment is a bit distracting to watch.
In the end, I think I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince, though not as much as Order of the Phoenix. I was slightly disappointed with it, but that has as much to do with my own anticipation and expectations as with the execution. I do think that the film would have worked better with an extra ten minutes; time enough for certain moments to breathe. Of course, many would argue that it’s already long, and they would be right. However, one must remember that this is the 6th in a line of dense genre films, and most of the audience are bound to be fans. It is unlikely that they would begrudge a few extra minutes of screentime, even at the expense of their bladders.
I would advise anyone going to see it to ignore the books. This is an adaptation, and a fair one at that. It’s still a fun movie. And even after 8 years of conflicting visions and voices, they’re still magical.