I’m willing to forgive much in movies based on books, such as the Harry Potter franchise. The actors are looking much older than their bookish counterparts—that’s understandable and unavoidable. And there simply has to be some cutting of threads and plots from the books—particularly from the middle of the series when the books were bloated, 800-page behemoths. But there’s one thing a Harry Potter film musn’t be, and that’s boring. This film is boring.
David Yates is back as director, with Steve Kloves again having the unenviable task of slicing a 650-page novel into a two-and-a-half hour movie. The usual suspects are back in their roles, and all perform well—with Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape in the showcase performance as he chews on every line, adding significant pauses steeped in contempt.
This year’s new professor is Horace Slughorn—played marvelously by Jim Broadbent. When his character appeared on screen I found myself sitting forward to study his every action, as I did with Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Slughorn loves to surround himself with people of significance—he “collects” them, as Dumbledore remarks. So naturally he’s intrigued beyond measure by Harry—the Chosen One.
This time around Harry’s been tasked by Dumbledore with convincing Slughorn to reveal an important memory of he and Tom Riddle—the young man who would grow up to become Lord Voldemort. All this while Draco Malfoy (more in the spotlight in this film than ever before), is working from the inside of Hogwarts to get the Death Eaters past the school’s defenses. Rather than bring in some deeper aspects of the books, the filmmakers decided to give us multiple scenes of Draco using the magic cabinet–as though we’ll wonder what, exactly, it does. One scene was plenty; we get it…it’s magic. Now don’t bring it back until it’s important.
The odd thing is that the film didn’t feel as though that’s what the plot was about. It was there, but to me it all felt secondary to the various amorous pursuits of the characters. I think that’s because this film is really just a maneuvering of people into position for the Big Ending, so the lighter, funnier moments stuck out. Bridge films can be done well—with meaningful and important subplots—such as in The Two Towers or The Empire Strikes Back. But here, once Slughorn’s elusive memory is revealed, we’re ushered toward the finales (the last book will be split into two films).
So why is the book any different? Because in the book we learn more about Tom Riddle’s past, shedding light on how and why Voldemort became Voldemort. The filmmakers have chosen to excise that entire aspect, and we’re left with a fairly thin plot. There’s also the titular Half-Blood Prince. In the book the revelation of his identity leads to memories that add depth to an already interesting character. In the film there’s literally one throwaway line that reveals whom he is, but it gives us nothing else. I couldn’t believe it.
The romantic subplots—while pervasive—are tastefully done. Ron is dealing with a girl who has a mad crush on him—leading to some of the film’s funniest moments. Meanwhile, Hermione is dealing with her own feelings toward Ron, which are coming to light thanks to Ron’s new admirer. And Harry and Ron’s sister Ginny are finally starting to admit their feelings toward each other—leading to a surprising and expertly handled first kiss.
While the characters don’t make great leaps forward in their development, one interesting character whom we do see in a new light is Draco Malfoy. He’s still a baddie, but we seem to get a glimpse of the turmoil he feels. He’s trying to please many different people with many different agendas, but in this film we may have caught the first glimpse at the real Draco who’s been buried deep inside this tortured body. His task is a terrible one, and he may not be up to it. The struggle is an interesting one.
It’s not a bad film, by any means; many things are done well (I’m thinking of the wonderful scene with Hermione’s conjured birds, for instance). I just question some of the Leave In/Take Out choices, and I’m disappointed that it feels like just a very long segue to those last two films. I’m actually glad the studio decided to go the two-film route, as the final installments may end up being the closest things to the source material we’ve seen on film. I’m looking forward to it.
Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality.
- Have you ever known anyone who—like Slughorn—“collected” people solely on their popularity? Did that change your opinion of him or her? Explain.
- Were you surprised at Draco Malfoy’s inaction at the end of the film? Explain. Was it an act of redemption for his previous actions? Why or why not? Do you think he’s still the same person he was? Why or why not.
- Dumbledore felt strongly that Snape could be trusted. Was he wrong to believe in Snape, even though Snape disappointed him? Should we believe in people regardless of their actions? Why or why not?
- Have you ever felt jealous of someone else’s romantic relationship? How did you react to that situation?
Scott Firestone IV is the associate editor for Group Magazine, online editor for youthmindev.wpengine.com, and a huge fan of music and movies.
This review first appeared on ministryandmedia.com. Go there. Take the tour. Sign up.