The Harry Potter movie franchise is an odd duck: it’s not so much about movies as it is about the intellectual property. You expect a certain degree of something, and you generally receive it. After Christopher Columbus’s twee bogs of the first two, the films have improved in most every way, although of course they’ve never been an adequate substitute for the books, instead being a series of realisations of key scenes. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no different, although my choice to view it in a cinema full of teenaged girls was.
This is a bad idea and I would not recommend it to anyone unless, of course, they find themselves somehow knee deep in fandom and anything approaching romance makes them titter. The movie itself is okay, though!
A scant few weeks after the events of Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter is filling in his time watching trains go by and hitting on waitresses (a new addition to the movie, and a strange one considering we’re instantly hit on the head by the new attraction between Harry and Ginny as soon as she’s back on the scene). Dumbledore takes him away and informs him that it’s going to be a big and important year full of research and so forth – and thus sets in motion a series of events that come off like a strange grooming of Harry for seduction by both Dumbledore and new Potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, pulling funny faces).
Meanwhile Malfoy has been charged by Lord Voldemort with a new task, and there’s a constant theme of “romance” underpinning the whole thing which brings previously barely seen Lavender to the fore as Ron’s new girlfriend.
As has always been the case, a Potter movie is not very good at shaping a year around events, but rather resorts to things happening alongside the vague suggestion of the passage of time. Quidditch has been inserted as a concession to the books, where I’m certain that the placebo trick was far less lame and “snogging”, which was basically all that the book was about for a while, is here as well – in the form of a girl who dresses like Cyndi Lauper attacking “Won Won” all the time.
I’ve read that this isn’t just a good Potter movie, that it’s a good movie in general. I’m probably alone in seeing these films as existing on a different continuum, almost as if they’re not movies so much as things that get broadcast into our world. I don’t know precisely why I feel this way, but it makes it easier for me to digest what amounts to set pieces featuring characters and situations I’m familiar with without saying “this is the definitive experience”.
Where Order of the Phoenix was a political thriller, it’s harder to categorise Half Blood Prince beyond saying that it has quite possibly the most irrelevant name of all of the Potter properties. I’ve long felt that Rowling was simply casting about for a title at the time and she ended up with this one instead of “Harry Potter and the Largely Pointless MacGuffin”. A mixture of flashbacks, fine dining and then, finally a tiny bit of wizardly action at the end – interspersed, of course, with healthy doses of Death Eater terrorism – Half Blood Prince held my attention and I wasn’t bored but it’s hard to define if it was interesting, and this is in part because the audience was annoying to the point of making me resent the property.
As a story, it has some of the most dramatic and emotional events in all of Potterica, until Rowling saw fit to kill all of the good characters in her finale. I found myself getting emotional for them as they approached, but not feeling much when they happened. The climax between Dumbledore and Snape, which I won’t spoil here but really, is distinctly anti-climactic and makes the inexplicable move of a slow motion overhead falling shot, which is strictly amateur hour film making.
It’s also interesting to note that Tom Felton is allowed to try again: Malfoy’s role in the books was not always important enough to make it into the films, and so since Azkaban on screen we’ve simply received a sneering pissant. Here he is restored to being a character, and having conflicts, and being generally interesting – but again, my audience laughed at him whenever he faced difficulties. Curse you, Potter fandom.
Again Michael Gambon, illiterate rogue though he is, is a great Dumbledore and the drinking scene is well played by both he and Radcliffe. Gambon has finally allowed us to see at least a little of why Dumbledore was so beloved by the wizarding world, but of course none of these characters are quite so likeable as they were on paper. As I said at the time of Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore is a man and Gambon brings that out of him. I wish he’d been able to do a bit more with the character, especially as the “win Slughorn’s trust” story felt quite weak, but he acquitted himself far better than I imagine Richard Harris ever could have in the films where Dumbledore was more than just a twinkle in his own eye.
The ending hits a bum note, set in a clock tower rather than at a ceremony, and the characters talk to each other there in a sort of epilogue fashion that suggests that they haven’t talked at all for a while despite the fact they’ve gone up a clock tower together, it omits the dramatic choice that Harry makes in regards to romance, and it doesn’t emphasise the gravity of Harry’s intentions. Fawkes is presented matter of factly, the credits roll, and the suggestion is clear: this works better in prose.
Six movies in you should know whether or not you’re going to go to a Harry Potter movie. I don’t see the franchise as a criminal act, and Bellatrix is essentially the part Helena Bonham Carter was born to play (they don’t even need to do hair and make up for her!), so go see Half Blood Prince if you want more of the same, plus the bonus of even more awkward teengage sexuality. Bliss.