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.