Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

This was the point in the series where I finally got to read the latest book along with everyone else. Apparently I had a lot more free time in 2005, because I don't recall having to worry about spoiler avoidance at that time. I must have read it very quickly. I remember how fun it was to be part of the Harry Potter communities on livejournal, and getting to discuss so many of the details with others. I even discovered Wizard Rock not long after this. In some ways a lot of that overshadows my memories of the book itself, which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it.

Needless to say, this post is full of spoilers.

In order for the book to grow up along with its characters, this one is full of relationships and two young characters being given very adult tasks. Sometimes the drama is a little drawn out, particularly in terms of the Hermione/Ron/Lavender bits, but overall it feels as fitting as Harry's snotty attitude in the previous book.

Perhaps the biggest criticism you could give is that not very much of importance happens in this book until the very end. It's mostly just back story for Voldemort combined with snogging and Quidditch until the large crescendo of an ending. It is a credit to Rowling's ability to define her characters that very little of this feels tedious. By this point she has drawn you in to these characters so well that I think we're all happy to spend some time finding out about how Tom Riddle was born and what happened to him before and during his time at Hogwarts. But it is a strange bit of pacing.

Perhaps because of this we need to be forgiving when we judge the movie adaptation. Not everyone who watches the films reads the books, and so many little details have been left out of the previous movies that spending this much time on back story may not make for a very entertaining film. They did their best to inject proper amounts of action and comedy and character development. The scene between Draco and Dumbledore in the tower is fantastic. My biggest complaint, both for the movie itself and also related to the adaptation, is that Harry is not paralyzed during this final scene. Even though Dumbledore tells him to stay still and say nothing, I think we all know Harry well enough at this point to know he would not listen as long as he had the ability to do something.

While the opening scene of rampaging Death Eaters works much better than us seeing two ministers discuss the issues at hand, the attack on the Burrow makes no sense and feels as obviously tacked on as it is. Voldemort wants to kill Harry himself, there's no way he would allow his followers to attack him without him there. Additionally, we see a lot of scenes of Malfoy trying to get the vanishing cabinet to work again, yet when the Death Eaters finally arrive all they do is heckle a bit, destroy some things and set Hagrid's house on fire. That's an awful lot of effort for almost nothing.

I have absolutely no problem with them completely rejecting the "what's going on with Tonks?" subplot, as it doesn't work very well in the book at all. It's an awful lot of misdirection with no real purpose behind it. I was happy to see my two favorite adult characters hook up, I just don't think she had to turn Tonks into an emo child before it. So I'm glad the movie glazes over it and just puts them together from the get go. There's also no Bill and Fleur here to serve as a counterpoint to it, so that also justifies leaving it out.

While I don't mind that they skipped a lot of Voldemort's back story, I do think the scene where he finds out about the locket and the cup would have been important to help Harry know what to look for in the Deathly Hallows movies. But I'll discuss that a little more when I get to the next film.

I never would have thought of this as a film that needed to be R rated, but there are at least two scenes in this movie that lack a lot of weight, and the only thing I can think of is that they were trying to keep the ratings down. When Harry uses Sectumsemptra on Draco in the book, Draco's blood literally splashes on to Harry. It's a perfect way to impress upon Harry just what he has just done. In the movie Malfoy just gets pushed back and then Harry walks closer to see him covered in blood. Similarly, the inferi just aren't very scary. It's a decent jump scare when the first one emerges out of the water, but overall they're just not very scary creatures at all, and I say that as someone who is frequently frightened of zombies.

But the absolute worst of it is Snape. It is obvious, in every single scene, that he doesn't want to kill Dumbledore. It's written all over his face when he makes the unbreakable vow, which is pretty stupid given that Bellatrix is standing right there. It's obvious when we see him talking to Dumbledore before they leave for the cave, and you can see the pain on his face as he performs the killing curse. I can't help but think of this as a horrible mistake on their part. For one, it was a huge thing for readers at the end of the book, wondering just whether or not Dumbledore had misplaced his trust in Snape after all. We felt just as betrayed as Harry did. It also seems silly that a man who has worked so well as a double agent for so long could not at least fake being a true Death Eater properly.

Overall I just felt like the drama in the movie wasn't pulled off very well, the one exception being the scene between Dumbledore and Draco. I think we were all very relieved to hear they would be splitting up Deathly Hallows into two films, because that meant they wouldn't have to cut as many corners and therefore give the ending of this story the proper treatment it needed.

I'll be splitting up my post for the last book as well - I'll read up until where the first movie ends then do that post. Until then, what did you think? Were you angry about the movie adaptation or did you think it improved the story? How did you feel when Snape killed Dumbledore in the book?

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, this was my least favorite of all of the movies. I think they changed too much that the did not need to, and added things (the Burrows) that could have easily been replaced with points that were actually in the book (having more of a fight in Hogwarts). Most of all, as you point out, they completely botch the death scene. Without Harry's being petrified, the scene just does not work.

    I started reading the books awhile after Half-Blood Price came out, but before The Deathly Hallows came out, I knew Snape killed Dumbledore when I read it, and it still broke my heart.

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