26 July 2000

"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" Movie Review Part 1

The movie of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was a visual feast, but I often found my attention wandering. Here's the obligatory quidditch bit, I thought, supposing that fans would not be happy with a Harry Potter movie that had no quidditch in it, and why was I thinking about the fans when I should have been engrossed in the movie? Why, during the tower scene, was I thinking about the book when I should have been swept along with the tragedy of it all, and, in the aftermath, wondering what happened to Hagrid's big scene when he catches Harry trying to kill Snape, and then finds the dead Dumbledore? Instead of being sad, I was wondering why the exciting bits of the book had been chopped from the movie.

What follows is my opinion about it.

One way to turn a book into a movie is to sort out the book's most important arrow of trajectory in the story, and follow that.

Let's suppose that the important plotline in The Half Blood Prince is the revelation that Voldemort has created seven horcruxes, and that the trajectory of this discovery takes us straight through to the tragic death of Dumbledore.

Next, there has to be some reason why we care. The reason we care lies in the theme of the story, some underlying message. Since we want the audience to care about Harry, the theme must be tied to him in some way. I'm going to suggest that the theme should be the downside of leadership.

Harry had some good times in The Order of the Pheonix teaching the other kids some defence against the Dark Arts. At that time, he was a hero, although it all ended badly with the death Sirius Black.

What Harry is left with is a token, one of the ones used by the order of the Pheonix to signal when they were about to meet. Only a few other people kept their tokens, and they were the lonely people like Luna and Neville. Neville is actually an important part of Harry's story, although he is on the periphery of it. Indeed, his is one of the most beautiful stories in the series. The scene in which Harry sees Neville's parents in the hospital, living their lives in a near vegetative state because of the torment Voldemort had put them through, and the fact that they barely know who Neville is although they keep feeling they want to give him something, is one of Rowling's finest. It's one of those scenes that remind us that, despite flaws in some of the books, Rowling can really write.

Neville is an important thread in the Harry Potter series, and it's a thread that's going to have it's final payoff in the last movie, so it's important to keep him before the audience, keep us aware of his growth from grandmother's boy to a young man who finds his own style of succeeding in the world. It might be a nerdy style, but it works for him and, eventually, those around him.

Let's consider Luna for a moment. She's an interesting character, who faithfully continues to believe strange things despite the derision of her peers. In fact, she even has faith in people even though they steal her things just to hide them and make life difficult for her. The things always come back, she says, when it's time to pack them and go home.

There are a couple of problems with conveying Luna in the movies. One is that the climax which her character is building up to actually happens off-stage in the final book. In the final book, we see her room, and the pictures she has drawn on the ceiling of Harry and the gang, and the word 'friends' written all around them. Having friends is a very new and amazing thing for her. The important encounter, though, is with her father. This is because Luna is being held hostage against him so that he will betray Harry should he come calling. It's a scene that's a bit reminiscent of that between Lucy and Mr Tumnus the Faun in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

I feel that in a film noir take on HP, Luna would have been largely left out of the story, only there with a slight bit of dialogue so that we know she is one of the friends, but not given too much film time. The important thing will be her father's reaction to Harry when he does appear at Luna's house.

The other tricky thing about Luna is the crazy things she believes. It's amusing that, in the wizarding world, the world of magic where anything is possible, there can be nutters who believe strange things. Since we don't know if what Luna is saying is true or false, it's hard to know how to react to what she says in the movie. In the books, we get an indication from her listeners that they consider what she says to be nonsense. In the movie, we've got no way of knowing. I'd suggest giving her some dialogue that conveys a strange take on our own world, an amusing (to us) comment about petrol demons, for instance, or angels becoming aeroplanes, cherubs hiding in the holly to shoot love arrows at anyone who stands still beneath them never mind stopping to kiss. The comments just have to be something that we, the audience who may have forgotten parts of the book since we read it, can recognise as wacky.

All of this is to say that the first three Harry Potter movies were fairly straightforward, but now there are some threads from the past that need to be kept before us, and some setting up for future events that needs to be done. This is all difficult to do, especially when there is a time constraint brought on by the fact that it takes a few years (apparently) to get a SFX movie out, and that the child actors are, meanwhile, growing faster than the movies can be shot.

The problem is partly compounded by the fact that Rowling, a new writer, was under pressure. Plenty of writers create long series, but I've a feeling that they usually have more experience before they do so.

However, the problem is only partly compounded. Rowling has provided plenty of material to work with, and few astute choices would bring a marvelous movie together.

Obviously, my feeling is that the movie had it's good points, mainly in the visual department. One good moment that springs to mind is the look Dumbledore gives Harry when the ring horcrux reacts to him. That's a moment that heralds something in the seventh book, and is exactly the kind of moment that the Half Blood Prince needed more of. Indeed, if more moments like that had been spent on Dumbledore's decaying hand, there could have been a terrific pay-off in the end when we arrive at Snape's big scene.


Morva Shepley

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