Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - the longest review I ever wrote!

This review is much too long - sorry for that *blush* I hope some of you bear with me anyway…


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (USA/UK, 2009)

Seen: Friday, 24th July 2009 (cinema)
Runtime: 153′
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Bonnie Wright, Julie Walters, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Helen McCrory, Timothy Spall, Alan Rickman, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Freddie Stroma, Jessie Cave, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, David Bradley, Matthew Lewis, Georgina Leonidas, Maggie Smith, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, David Thewlis, Natalia Tena, Mark Williams, Frank Dillane
Production House: Warner Bros. Pictures, Heyday Films
Plot: (from imdb)

As Harry Potter begins his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he discovers an old book marked mysteriously “This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince” and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort’s dark past.

Here’s a short clip from a longer featurette (it deals with Draco):

If you want more clips then just see any of my many posts on the subject ;) (there’ll be more coming - there have been loads of other cool clips, interviews and so on released, so hopefully I’ll post them at some point).

Impressions In Short
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains by far my favourite of the Harry Potter films, but this one was very enjoyable. It’s fun seeing the young cast maturing as actors and it really makes a huge difference to the films.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of things that annoyed me ;-P
Oh and btw, if you hear that this one is darker than the other Potter films, disregard it - it’s bollocks ;-P It was true when they said it about the 3rd, 4th and 5th film ;) But it is not when they say it about the 6th. When they say this one is funnier than any of the others you can believe them though ;)

The Cast and Characters
This section contains spoilers. So if you haven’t already watched the film or read the book, continue only if you don’t care about being spoiled.
I don’t think anybody will be surprised to hear that my favourite part of the movie was Draco ;) The only bit I didn’t like were the shots of Draco crying full on (when it was more restrained it was fine).
Judging by this clip it sounds like the director was pushing Tom Felton to exaggerate more. If Felton’s natural instinct was to play it down then it’s a shame he wasn’t allowed to do that :] But to be honest, there’s not one crying scene in the film that I liked (Emma Watson’s was probably the best one, but I didn’t like hers or Radcliffe’s much either).
Other than that Tom Felton was absolutely top notch - even better than I imagined, which is awesome cause I had pretty high expectations of him *grin* The scene that is haunting me the most is the conversation between Draco and Snape. It’s the only scene in the film when Draco articulates the need to prove himself so directly (”it’s my moment and you’re not going to take it away from me”) and it’s… well it’s just a really intense moment ;) But that is generally true for his whole performance. He kept picking out some really strong feelings out of lines I wouldn’t have found those feelings in ;) I mean like there’s the scene where he tramples Harry and as he leaves he says “that’s for my father” (Harry is the reason Malfoy’s father is now in prison). I probably hear those kind of lines in half of the Hollywood big budget productions I watch :] It’s the classic “revenge line”. But the delivery had no corniness about it whatsoever and it had so much feeling behind it - you can really feel how humiliating and painful having his father in prison must be for Draco.
Snape on the other hand was a big let down in many ways :] I love Alan Rickman and love the casting of him as Snape (well except that he’s too old for it now, he still looked about right 10 years ago when they started out with the films), but IMO he was barely passable in this. Most of the time he seemed to be using cheap tricks like slowing down the delivery of his lines to sound effective and just generally trying to look physically menacing (which he does so much in various films that he doesn’t need to put much effort into that either). Then again, he didn’t have that much to work with. I fail to understand how they could have given him so little character development and screen time in this. I mean Snape is the Half-Blood Prince - he’s in the bloody title!
I understand there’s too much source material to squeeze all of it into the film and I know I’m a bit biased because Snape is my favourite character in the books, but the stuff they left out was key to Harry’s journey. In the 6th book Harry spends his time hating Snape’s guts more than ever before. By the end of it Harry hates Snape as much as he hates Voldemort if not more. In Harry’s head the deaths of Sirius, Harry’s parents and Dumbledore are all the result of Snape’s actions.
If they really couldn’t squeeze in the scene with Trelawney (when Harry finds out it was Snape who told Voldemort about the prophecy, thereby putting a death sentence on Harry’s parents) then they should have taken care to either use some of the many other scenes in the book where the mutual hatred escalates or invent their own. Without that hatred in the film the final showdown between them doesn’t have the intensity it should have because it has no build-up!
Quite apart from the way Harry and Snape’s relationship is treated (which I truly think is one of the biggest let downs of the film), I have other smaller Snape complaints too ;-P I’m not going to bore you with most of them though cause this review will probably be one of the longest I ever write anyway :] But one that particularly annoyed me was Snape’s reaction after Harry casts Sectumsempra - there is absolutely no way Snape would let Harry leave the scene like that after he critically injures a fellow student, especially if that student is Draco. That is just so out of character. For that matter no Hogwarts teacher would let any student off without punishment after something as serious as that.
Amazingly enough, despite all my posts about how much I’m going to hate Dumbledore in this movie, I actually liked Dumbledore in the film lol Michael Gambon was really playing into the humorous parts of Dumbledore’s character (they did pick all the worst Dumbledore lines for the trailers ;) ), which was great. I actually liked the film version better than the book version - the book version has too many wise old man moments while the film keeps those to the minimum. Though one thing that totally didn’t come off was how important Dumbledore is to the wizarding world. When he dies it’s treated very sentimentally (sickeningly so as a matter of fact) - the main thing you feel is that he was much loved and people will miss him. What you don’t get is the “what on Earth is going to happen to the wizarding world now?”. In the film they got the endearing parts of Dumbledore done really well, but this whole other part of him - the one which has huge authority and is a master manipulator doesn’t come through.
Daniel Radcliffe was kind of blah in the film really. I mean he was good enough to enjoy him I guess, but nothing special. IMO if you give him something dramatic and/or angsty to do he’ll put his heart into it and get quite a bit of intensity out of it, but when he does anything else he’s just blah :] This film really wasn’t that dramatic or angsty and he didn’t get much of that kind of stuff to do, so he was blah :] Even his crying scene was sort of disappointing, though I don’t think it was his fault - the scene was idiotic. I mean personally I don’t think Harry would have started crying on Dumbledore’s body in front of the whole school while Ginny hugs him, but then that’s me :] I think some of his best scenes were when he was one on one with Dumbledore, like on the beginning of this clip for example.
I liked Emma Watson a bit better than Radcliffe. Hermione has quite a few vulnerable moments in this film and she was good with those. But I thought her performance was a bit uneven.
Rupert Grint was the best of the three. He’s got a lot of comedy in this and that’s always been his forte. I think his Quidditch scenes in particular were fantastic. They’re rather tricky scenes to do cause they’re so physical, but his body language was just perfect. They released a “pre-Quidditch” scene for publicity purposes, you can see it here. I thought he was great in that one too.
The romance between Ron and Hermione was done really well. Despite all the talk of how awkward and incestuous doing intimate scenes together is, the two of them pull off all of the “something’s happening between them” moments really, really well in this one (actually it’s generally fun seeing any of the Trio together on screen - they just look so comfortable with each other).
The romance between Harry and Ginny is very blah though :] The film version of Harry actually has more chemistry with Hermione than with Ginny. In this film Ginny is pushed into the forefront of many scenes very, very awkwardly. Like even on the “pre-Quidditch” scene I linked to - why is Ginny standing behind Harry whilst everybody else is in front? I don’t mind her being the one who says “Shut It” (that’s actually very in character and Bonny Wright even delivers that line well), but she shouldn’t be standing there like she’s second in command or something. I’ve never liked Bonny Wright as Ginny much, though I suppose the fault may lie in the script. I think she should have more “Shut It” kind of lines. Ginny is a powerful girl!
There’s quite a lot sexual innuendos in the film (though they’re all very much in PG category). I was particularly amused to see some gay innuendo there. I mean it was only as a joke and only very slight, but it was unmistakably there. Both of the gay innuendo moments come when Ron accidentally has some love potion (the first one with Harry you can see here, the second is with Slughorn).
The new additions to the cast were great this year. Jessie Cave was a fantastic Lavender. It’s a shame she had so little screen time, she was hilarious. Freddie Stroma was awesome as McCormac (again a shame he’s on for such a short time) and Georgina Leonidas may only have about one line of dialogue in the film as Katie Bell, but she’s clearly a quality actress (btw, the scene when Katie Bell gets cursed seemed more chilling on the trailer than it did in the film - the sound effects they chose for the trailer were so much better :]). Hero Tiffin-Fiennes was a very chilling 11-year old Voldemort. Jim Broadbent is hardly a new discovery for me, but he’s new to the Harry Potter cast and was a great choice for Slughorn. The only new actor I didn’t like so much, though I kind of get why he’s received a lot of praise (or at least a lot when you take into account that he’s a complete unknown and only has one scene in the movie) is Frank Dillane as the teenage Voldemort. He has a lot of intensity for sure, but I didn’t like all his smirks and eye brow movements :] It was like saying “I’m a villain, have you got that?”. I much preferred Christian Coulson’s teenage Voldemort in the 2nd film *sigh* Coulson didn’t try to play him as a villain so obviously - he played it more as a polite public school boy who has something unpleasant hidden inside. Then again I don’t know how much of what Frank Dillane did was his own and how much was the director’s… He’s an interesting actor to follow for sure - the amount of intensity in that performance is huge and that’s why he’s turned so many heads.
It’s a shame most of the actors get so little screen time cause Harry Potter has probably one of the best casts in modern film history.
Maggie Smith was great even though she only had about 2 or 3 dialogue scenes.
Helena Bonham-Carter has so much fun doing Belatrix and you can really see it lol She got a bit more screen time than in the previous film, which was great, but she’s still a relatively minor character. She should be a lot of fun in the next two films. Recently when they asked Emma Watson which scene from the 7th book she was most looking forward to filming she said being tortured by Helena Bonham-Carter ;) I’m looking forward to seeing that too lol
It’s a shame that they cut out so many of Luna’s scenes (the lines and scenes Evanna Lynch got stuck with were often ones of other characters :]). There were a couple of really hilarious Luna scenes in book 6, but none of them made the cut *sigh* I really love Evanna Lynch as Luna, but she didn’t have much to do in this one. Hope she gets something more to sink her teeth into in the next one.

The “it’s different than in the book” rants and other annoyances
This section contains spoilers. So if you haven’t already watched the film or read the book, continue only if you don’t care about being spoiled.
Now that I’ve more or less finished talking about the cast and characters I’ll get to a couple of other rants (when is this review going to finally end? it’s going on far too long, isn’t it? :]).
So… lets get to one of the most debated things in the fandom - the attack on the Burrow scene, a scene that does not exist in the 6th book in any shape or form (you can watch most of the scene here). I’m not saying seeing Helena Bonham-Carter chanting “I killed Sirius Black” isn’t a good thing ;) When I first saw the scene on-line I even thought that maybe I get why they felt they needed it - it’s a good way of reinforcing Harry’s anguish over losing Sirius and establishing how threatening Voldemort has become now that he’s back in full force. The thing is - the scene completely failed at achieving this :] It’s also created a number of problems. Will they still do the attack on the Burrow scene in book 7? Hard not to as it is a major plot point and the circumstances are completely different, so they will have to repeat it. Will that scene still have the emotional impact it should? The Burrow has been Harry’s safety haven until now. Something like that would have been unlikely to happen while Dumbledore was still alive. Will we still understand that from the film?
And the way that scene was just randomly plunked into the middle of the film was so weird… In the end I conclude that it must have been put in as eye candy, I don’t see any other value in it (well other than hearing Helena Bonham-Carter chanting, but if that was the purpose of the scene then I’m sure they could have put that in in different context and it would have worked just as well ;) ).
In fact I feel that one of the biggest shortcomings of the film was that the tension and threat of Voldemort being back in full power was just not there. It was weird cause the scenes which were supposed to provoke those feelings were sort of there, but that tension never really materialized. There is the scene at the beginning (which you can see here) when Rons says his mum didn’t want him going back to Hogwarts for fear of Voldemort, but the feeling the scene evokes is not tension and fear - quite the contrary, it becomes a scene about how Ron, Hermione and Harry get a good laugh and the warmth between them is what really comes through. There are scenes which show Death Eater attacks, but those just feel like eye candy. There is a scene when they’re searching students entering Hogwarts, but that was more of a comedic scene than anything else. There are the two memories - one of the 11 year old Voldemort and the other of the teenage Voldemort and both of those Voldemorts are very chilling, but they’re just memories from years back, they don’t cause any feelings of an ongoing threat. Even when Harry keeps saying “Voldemort” rather than “You-Know-Who” Slughorn hardly freaks out. Everybody at Hogwarts looks happy, carefee and comfortable… well everyone except Draco.
Draco was literally the only person on screen where that ongoing threat was clear. Every time he appears on screen you know he’s up to something and you know he’s taking the task Voldemort set him very seriously. Finally, when he’s up on the tower with Dumbledore, it’s probably the first time in the whole film when somebody actually expresses true fear of Voldemort :] Draco is scared for his life and of what Voldemort will do if he fails to complete the task - it’s the only real fear of Voldemort we see in the movie I think.
Oh and I think their continuity sucks :] How did the diary horcrux end up in Dumbledore’s office? *rolls eyes* We clearly see the diary given back to Lucius Malfoy at the end of film no.2.
Also I disliked the editing. It was so rushed and choppy. A lot of people commented on the 11 year old Voldemort scene they released - that it was too choppy. I assumed that it was a shortened version, but that’s exactly how it appeared in the film. One gets used to the style and more and more Hollywood movies are going for choppy editing nowadays, but I just don’t like it :]
Finally, just like in the 5th film, I find that David Yates tries to make sure the film has all the Hollywood conventions upheld. So you have to have some sort of Hollywood sentimentalism, you have to start with a bang with a lot of special effects and so on… Not my cup of tea at all, that.

The “it’s different than in the books, but I liked it” bits
This section contains spoilers. So if you haven’t already watched the film or read the book, continue only if you don’t care about being spoiled.
There were a couple of things I liked better in the film than in the book amazingly enough. The top scene amongst these was the horcrux scene. I always thought the way Jo Rowling wrote it was a little far-fetched. Dumbledore had already guessed that Voldemort had tried to divide his soul into 7 pieces, Slughorn’s memory was just meant to confirm it. The thing was that the modified memory already went quite far in confirming what Dumbledore had guessed at. In the film, when even the word “horcrux” is inaudible in the modified memory it makes a lot more sense that Dumbledore would find it crucial to get access to the memory in its unmodified form.
Another bit of the 6th book I never liked was the cave scene. It always sounded a bit like fan fiction to me - the scene is too sentimental, too many things “just happen” or Dumbledore “just knows” them etc. The film version, though it still has some of those annoying qualities, seems much better than the book version. It probably helps that it’s beautifully shot. The bit that I thought came off particularly well was when Harry has to force-feed the potion to Dumbledore, it felt much more intense to me than the book version.
A scene that was not in the book, but that I really liked was when Snape passes Harry as he goes up to the tower. Part of it was on the trailers - the bit where Snape signals to Harry to stay quiet. It’s the one scene I really liked Alan Rickman in :]

If you like the Harry Potter films you’ll see it and if you don’t you won’t, so I don’t think there’s any point in recommending or not recommending the film :]

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