Harry Potter & The Half-Hearted Movie

OK, need to get this off my chest. Here comes the fan-boy movie rant, complete with spoilers and incoherence. You might want to just move along.

We went to see the new Harry Potter flick last night, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As the sixth and penultimate book, this one had a tricky position: Needing to tell its own story but also set things up for the finale. I thought the book did that pretty well, though it was packed with flashbacks and lacking in action. At least until the last quarter of the book when things pick up like gangbusters. Like all the Potter books, turning that into a movie is no easy task.

And I actually enjoyed the first three-quarters of the movie. They played to their base and really worked the characters (helped I saw it with a theater full of teenagers who literally grew up on Potter). The various love interests were good and the reveal of Dumbledore with the billboard referencing magic and “our man” was awesome. I didn’t even mind the many changes: The complete downplay of the Half-Blood Prince (shocking change since that’s the title of the movie, but whatever, though it does make the reveal at the end kind of lame), the complete fabrication of the attack on the Wesley’s house, the way Ginny helped Harry hide the borrowed potions book, the missing horucrux stories, etc.. While I’m not a fan of the changes, I could go along with them. The attack on the Wesley’s seemed especially weird, but I understood the need to inject some action earlier in the plot (the book could have used something like that).

How the Book Ended
But then we come to the end (I shouldn’t have to tell you, but this is where the spoilers really start coming). Harry and Dumbledore leave the castle on a quest to find one of Voldemort’s horucruxes. In the book when they return to Hogwarts all hell is breaking loose. Malfoy finally succeeded and allowed a team of Death Eaters into the castle and they’re engaged in a bloody battle with the members of the Order of the Phoenix, the professors and students true to Harry and Dumbledore. The book doesn’t show us much of the battle, but it’s a proud moment for some of the lesser characters.

Anyway, Harry and Dumbledore return to the castle and we get what is perhaps the most pivotal scene in the entire Harry Potter series. As they land their brooms on the castle, Harry is under his invisibility cloak and Malfoy confronts Dumbledore. Rather than defend himself, Dumbledore makes the curious move of petrifying Harry. The result is that Harry can observe everything, but Malfoy doesn’t realize he’s there. Malfoy disarms Dumbledore we get some banter as Malfoy tries to summon the courage to complete his task and kill Dumbledore. But he can’t do it. The battle rages on below and Death Eaters come up to do the job. But then Severus Snape, the spineless, back-stabbing, Harry-hating menace enters the scene. All series we’ve thought Snape was evil. Now we find out.

In the book Snape surveys the scene, notes the two broomsticks, and takes over for Malfoy, carrying out his unbreakable vow to help Malfoy. Dumbledore whispers please and Snape kills him. Snape, Malfoy and the Death Eaters make their escape. The death of Dumbledore releases Harry and after a stunned pause he joins the fight, rage and anger and vengeance driving him to do one thing: Kill Snape. Of course he fails, and Snape taunts him, stops the other Death Eaters from hurting Harry, claiming that Voldemort wants Harry himself.

The book closes with a haunting death, an incredible betrayal, and a devastating battle in Hogwarts like we’ve never seen before (but will see much worse in the future). The ultimate question before book 7 came out was who’s orders Snape was obeying: Dumbledore’s or Voldemort’s. Ultimately we learn Snape was true to Dumbledore, that killing Dumbledore was part of the grand scheme to bring down Voldemort. It becomes obvious that Snape knew Harry was in the tower but didn’t do anything about it because he was serving Dumbledore. And the key to that entire scene was that Dumbledore petrified Harry Potter. Why? After six Harry Potter books we all know that the last thing Harry Potter is going to do is obey. There’s no way Harry Potter could stand in the shadows while Malfoy or worse, Snape, killed Dumbledore.

How the Movie Ended
I went through that elaborate recounting of how the book ended because it’s so crucial to the story. And the movie completely flubbed it. As Harry and Dumbledore return to the castle, there’s no fight going on. Malfoy brought Death Eaters into the castle all right, but they somehow make their way to the astronomy tower unhindered (in the book Harry warned his friends to stand guard while he and Dumbledore were gone). Dumbledore tells Harry to hide and do nothing as Malfoy comes. Inexplicably, Harry listens and watches as his nemesis points a wand at his mentor. The the Death Eaters come, who seem to have no role in all of this other than to break stuff and taunt people (in the book the were having a battle in the castle below). Then Snape comes. He sees Potter hiding in the shadows and warns him to do nothing. Again, inexplicably, Harry listens. Snape then confronts Dumbledore and kills him. Yet still, Harry Potter, the one who acts first and thinks later, the one who has hated Snape since he first saw him, the one who always suspected Snape, does nothing. He watches the Death Eaters, Malfoy and Snape walk away. Finally he gives chase and Snape taunts him and easily gets away.

That’s it. That’s the climax.

It’s bad enough that they cut out the entire battle. It was one of the few shining moments of action in the book. It was a chance to show off that brilliant CGI and blow stuff up. It was a chance to let the lesser characters shine. Not only Ron and Hermione, but Ginny, Nevelle, Luna, Lupin, Bill and the rest. It was cathartic.

But what’s worse is the way the butchered the pivotal scene. It’s a betrayal of Harry Potter’s character to expect him to hide in the shadows while Snape and Malfoy bring down Dumbledore. It’s not true to who Harry is. That’s why Dumbledore had to use magic to petrify him in the book. Dumbledore knew Harry wouldn’t just hide quietly. It will also make the reveal of Snape’s true motivation’s unbelievable.

Why It Sucked
I’m used to movies based on books not living up to the original. That’s par for the course. I expect changes and major plot deviations. But not only was this damaging to the core story of the book, it made for a bad movie. The whole movie built up to a climax that didn’t climax. I’m all for changes if they make the movie work better. And I wasn’t the only one. Our entire theater full of teenagers raised on Potter seemed to agree. They cheered and they laughed, but they were ultimately unfullfilled as they walked out incredulous at the ending.

Now what would be really interesting is to hear why they made those changes. Something tells me ‘the battle wasn’t in the budget’ isn’t going to cut it.

OK, rant over.

5 thoughts on “Harry Potter & The Half-Hearted Movie”

  1. Excellent rant/review. Though I enjoyed the movie, I spent the whole ride home complaining with my wife about the changes they’d made.

    I hadn’t considered the anti-climax to be a betrayal of Harry’s character, though in the light in which you presented it, I can definitely see that. I took it more as a demonstration of Harry’s renewed commitment to Dumbledore as well as of his newly blossoming maturity — a sign of things to come, where he realizes it’s up to him to bring down Voldemort, even though it means leaving Hogwarts and taking an uncertain journey into danger.

    I tried to look at the movie from two standpoints: That of someone who’s read the books and of someone who hasn’t. On its own, the movie was good, albeit a tad shallow on action, but overall probably one of the better *movies* from the series. As an adaptation, it all but failed utterly, and I sure hope they’ve left enough pieces of the originals to put them back together into a cohesive whole for the seventh two-fer.

    I guess we’ll see…

  2. I’d be curious to hear from someone who hadn’t read the book and wasn’t expecting a big battle at the end–I wonder if they’d find it anti-climactic like I did. The movie itself was pretty decent, even I enjoyed the first 3/4s. I just wonder if you’d get everything without knowing the detail of the book.

  3. Excellent review Kevin.

    I listened to the book last summer, but forgot about most of it when I saw the movie the other night, so your review brought a lot of stuff back that made me rethink the movie.

    I really enjoyed the movie, enjoyed the humor and the growing pains of being an older teenager. That was well done. When the movie ended, my main complaint was that the movie jumped from scene to scene too much, not a good flow to it, and that an extra 30 min would have made it perfect.

    And know I know why. The battle was gone. Had that been in, and also the petrified Harry, it would have been much better.

    But not remembering the book all that well, I still enjoyed the movie on it’s own.

    Also, I’m starting to wish I would just watch the movie first, and then read the book. Movies never live up to the book, so makes more sense to end on a high point :)

  4. I saw the movie last night and I was fine with all the changes until there was no petrification. WTH! I went on imdb.com’s forums and most everyone mentions being upset that there wasn’t a battle, but very few mentioned the fact that Harry wasn’t cloaked and petrified during the whole scene. I had forgotten that they flew to the castle and Snape discovering 2 brooms. I just remembered the apparating from the cave to HogsmeadeI think. This ending was what made All readers of the 6th book go nuts debating whether Snape was good or bad. This debate went on for ages all over the net while waiting for the 7th book because you really couldn’t tell whose orders Snape followed. Was he always a true death eater and fooling Dumbledore, was he Dumbledore’s man and fooling Voldy? You couldn’t tell. And the ending was totally anticlimactic. I was expecting a big bang and waiting for that wow feeling to come in when I originally read that scene, but it was nowhere. Harry looked weak, the death eaters looked like tag-alongs, and they barely throw in a snippet of Snape being the HBP. I didn’t even remember why he was the HBP and had to google it once I got home. That’s kinda pathetic when the movie doesn’t even explain the point of the title. The way it was presented in the movie made it look unimportant when it was such a huge mystery in the book. Like someone said in a forum, they should’ve just named it HP 6 instead.

    One thing I was really hoping to see was Snape doing a DADA class since it was THE class he’d wanted to teach for years but was always refused.

  5. Let me start by saying that (after one viewing), this is the best of the HP films, narrowly beating out Cuaron’s “Prisoner of Azkaban,” which was a huge leap in quality in the movie franchise. It’s beautiful, fascinating, startling (even with all our expectations). It’s faithful to key elements of the book, but finds way to carve out its own take on the HP universe.

    The weakness of the film for me is, like Kevin, the treatment of the ending. Although I don’t think the film needed a battle scene at the end (the visually arresting trip to the cave and the shock of the death provide enough to finish strong), I was disappointed that Neville didn’t get to attempt revenge on Bellatrix for ruining his parents’ (and his) lives. Luna didn’t get to show that her pure goodness leads her so easily into the fight. Both Neville and Luna in the books know that the invasion is happening because they are the only ones left from Dumbledore’s Army who are still watching the enchanted coins – the method of communication used on book 5. That combination of profound loneliness and simple goodness and latent bravery moved me when I read HP6. I would have loved to see that in the movie.

    But let me disagree somewhat on whether Harry needed to be paralyzed by Dumbledore at the end. In the book, it is only that spell, cast by Dumbledore to protect Harry rather than to make any move to protect himself, that is Dumbledore’s last kindess to Harry, and his life ends with a piece of sacrificial love. It is also how we know Dumbledore is really dead: when he dies, the spell on Harry is lifted. And you are right, Kevin, that Harry needs the spell in the book. But this is where the book and the film differ, and I’m happy for the difference.

    In the books of “The Order of the Pheonix” and “The Half-Blood Prince,” Harry is a conflicted ball of hormones and stupid decisions. He flares with anger, which he recognizes, and dozens of other emotions which he doesn’t recognize. He’s emotionally stunted, trying to negotiate a world of relationships that he is not ready for, just as he must perform in his other challenges in life while not yet ready. And the film version of HP5 played up this aspect. Harry is explosive, mercurial, and out of control. We see that development. But in the film of “The Half-Blood Prince,” that Harry has largely matured, as we see in the wonderful opening scenes. First, Harry is pictured bloodied and assaulted by photographers, having endured the terrors at the Ministry of Magic at the end of Book 5. Then, we seem he capably but inexpertly flirting with an attractive waitress in the London Underground. From here on out, the film makes a notable departure from the books: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are much more emotionally and relationally mature in the film than in the book. Harry comforts Hermione as a friend, but with little of the awkwardness that comes in the book. These are friends who have lived through so much together that, while they can’t address their romantic feelings towards one another directly, they do now how to embrace and comfort each other as friends. The theme of the film is love of something you can’t have, and the film pushes this point by allowing its characters greater maturity. It makes the film less angst-ridden, but even more enjoyable. This more mature Harry can also serve as Dumbledore’s spy. He can look at the first-years with laughter in the hallways, realizing how far he is come. He can appreciate the beauty of Hogwarts for the first time. And it is the more mature Harry of the film that can trust Dumbledore’s order to stay quiet and hidden. That is why the scene works in the film. The filmic Harry is a more mature Harry than the written one. It’s a notable break, but a welcome one. And it’s why I thought that this one very important difference still worked.

    So I regret the loss of the D.A.’s second attempt to confront the Death Eaters (first being in the Ministry of Magic at the end of HP5) before the final show-down of book six. But I really appreciated the film’s move toward a Harry and Hermione (not so much Ron) that can negotiate a more complex emotional and relational world.

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