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Saturday, 18 July 2009

At The Fleapit: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (2009)

I stalled reading the Harry Potter cycle after Order Of The Phoenix, when it became obvious that JK Rowling's editors were too terrified of her (or losing the wealth she brings their company) to suggest trimming the fat.

Which was a shame because I really enjoyed the first four books and found the magical world Rowling had created for her characters to be very absorbing.

I'm sure one day I will summon up the internal fortitude to plough through the last two books, but in the meantime it meant that - for the first time with The Half-Blood Prince - I was going into a Harry Potter film not actually knowing what was going to happen.

Unfortunately that put me at a disadvantage because clearly there was a lot going on that doesn't pay off; almost the whole film is foreshadowing of some form or another, but there is very little resolution.

In fact the film, at two-and-half hours, managed to be simultaneously over long and yet feel incomplete; as though the entire movie was simply a prologue for the two-part finale, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.

Like Rowling's later books themselves, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince could have done with some editing down of its own.

It's a great looking movie, heaving with atmosphere and grim portents of "things to come", but it just doesn't stand up as a self-contained film as the earlier ones have.

I suspect, as when I first saw The Fellowship Of The Ring I will only come to appreciate The Half-Blood Prince when I've seen it in the context of the saga's epic conclusion. But in the meantime I found it very underwhelming.

Take, for example, the identity of the mysterious "Half-Blood Prince" (given that it's the name of the film I thought it might be quite important). Harry acquires a magical book that previously belonged to this character, but no-one knows who he is and after a while it isn't mentioned again.

Then, in virtually the last sequence of the movie, an established character declares: "I am the Half-Blood Prince" and walks off screen. And that's it... begging the question: why was the character of such importance that he makes it into the title of the film and what does the phrase "half-blood prince" actually mean?

A visually stunning film, with a number of incredible set-pieces (that could have been arranged in almost any order for all the seeming impact each one had on the next) and confident performances from most of the cast (young and old), the main weakness of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince was clearly its script.

Or the part of a script that actually made it to the screen.

There was barely a three-act structure to hold the film together and what passed as the climax - the death of a well-loved character - had been so clearly telegraphed earlier as a work of sleight-of-hand deception (remember I haven't read the book and so am judging this just from the film) that it carried almost no dramatic weight.

That's not to say Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is boring or drags, far from it, it is constantly building up to something that is "going to happen"... only not in the film I'd just paid £8.50 to see.

What does happen though is a sudden explosion of hormones and teen angst that made me wonder if I'd actually wandered into a screening of Twilight or Hollyoaks: The Movie. This was all good character development (even though Harry's attraction to Ron's sister came out of nowhere), but didn't really lead anywhere.

A major disappointment, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince lets itself down by adopting the structure of a serial television drama rather than a movie and making a solid knowledge of the books necessary to full enjoyment.

I look forward to watching it again just before Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (part one) comes out in November, 2010, to refresh my addled brain as to what was foreshadowed. Of course, I might actually have these last books by then.

10 comments:

  1. I loved it. In fact it was my favourite of the series so far.

    I've read none of the books but have seen each of the films, and thought that this one was easily the most atmospheric, best acted, best scripted, creepiest and most interesting of the lot. It wasn't just that the set pieces were stunning, but that the whole thing hung together very well, perfectly balancing elements of horror and humour.

    I have a feeling that when the series is finished people will look on it as the 'Empire Strikes Back' of the Harry Potter film franchise - unloved at the time but taking on greater meaning and significance in context.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I've read none of the books but have seen each of the films, and thought that this one was easily the most atmospheric, best acted, best scripted, creepiest and most interesting of the lot."

    I agree with you totally here and think your Empire Strikes Back analogy is probably very true.

    Although, as a Star Wars fan, I'm in the minority who don't rate Empire as highly as most, preferring A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Guys, read the books. Really, the movies are nothing but little trailers for the books.

    Flea, I don't really know what the word count is in the books, but they're printed in such a large font, I'll bet it's not that high.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sean: I've enjoyed the films as they are. Coming to them as a Harry Potter virgin, as it were, they haven't felt like trailers for the books, but like pretty decent films in their own right. No classics (though #6 comes close - I really think it was that good), and #2 was a bit of a stinker, but a competently executed franchise. Which is rare these days.

    ReplyDelete
  5. noisms: Well, it's interesting to hear your opinion. Since everyone I know who's gone to see the films has also read the books, I've thought they'd be hard to follow on their own. Good to know I was wrong.

    I do think Half-Blood Prince was one of the best of the movies, though flea makes some good points. It is very much a bridge story between Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hollows, and that means an incomplete story.

    As the primary characters grow older, the stories become more mature. I thought the last book did a magnificent job of wrapping everything up. I hope the last movie can do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can I get that 2-and-a-half hours of my life back? Maybe the $30 at least?

    I've been a fan of the Harry Potter movies since the first (minus the disjointed mess that was Goblet of Fire). A couple of years ago, I sat down during a bout with the flu and read the first four books. I've loved both, but this movie was a complete waste of my time. It was like the second act of a play, or a segue between two fully plotted movies - it had no discernible plot of its own.

    Which was too bad - the acting was top notch, the story that was there was enjoyable, the cinematography was beautiful. But I walked away feeling like I'd watched the back story of a larger movie. (According to my fiancee, they managed to make a movie that left out over 90% of the core plot of the book, which I find totally believable.)

    In the end, I think William Shakespeare said best how I feel about this film:

    It was "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

    ReplyDelete
  7. David Yates (director) did a superb job just magnificent to watch, may be Alfonso Cuarón would have made them ROCK. I am a great fan of Harry Potter series. My favorite still remains HP3: Prisoner of Azkaban. But Half Blood was simply outstanding on levels.
    Being a great fan I have collected a list of good sites and articles (may be around 200) related to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (movie information, movie schedule, movie reviews, books, games, news, wallpapers and many more). If you are interested take a look at the below link

    http://markthispage.blogspot.com/2009/07/all-you-want-to-know-about-harry-potter.html

    ReplyDelete
  8. When I saw the first Harry Potter film, I was left scratching my head wondering what all the fuss was about.

    Then I read the book and watched the movie again. The movie was 10x better as my mind fills in the blanks of what was left out to fill in the parts of the story that *WEREN'T* shown (that make the whole movie better overall).

    I felt that Order of The Phoenix left waaaaaaay too much out (in terms of development of secondary characters) and this film dropped the ball completely in terms of dealing with Dumbledore's quests, the memories regarding Tom Riddle and the mystery of The Half-Blood Prince.

    If you want to really appreciate this movie, you REALLY need to read the book and then watch it again.

    Aside from the glaring omissions, I found that this was one of the best HP movies but, as has been said already, it's really a set-up for the final book and the final two movies and doesn't stand on its own very well.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you all for your comments.

    The general impression seems to be that the film looked good and was well acted, but the final verdict depends on whether you've read the books or not and knew what had been left out!

    ReplyDelete

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