Tag Archives: Severus Snape

Potter’s field

DumbledoreWhile watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in a packed theater, I was repeatedly reminded of a line from Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap: “This script is so good, not even a gifted director can ruin it!” Only in this case, replace the word “script” with “J.K. Rowling’s novel.”

That’s not to say Half-Blood Prince is a bad movie — far from it. This is a very watchable, cleverly made picture, second only to Prisoner of Azkaban among the films to date. Two and a half hours never passed so quickly in a theater.

But unlike the blowsy, overwritten Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which cried out for filmic streamlining, the Half-Blood Prince novel earned its page count with storytelling muscle. Of the four behemoths looming at the end of the Potter series, Half-Blood Prince was the most tightly written and carefully plotted. It was also the book in which the mountain of seemingly random details Rowling scattered through the first five novels started to snap into place to reveal a coherent design. Any cuts were bound to do serious damage. The interesting thing is that while director Daniel Yates and Steve Kloves so often chose the wrong things to cut, the strength of Rowling’s conception — and the quality of what remained after the cutting — still puts the film over the top.

I come to praise Half-Blood Prince, not to bury it, so let me say that the film showcases some excellent choices along with the mistakes. The masterstroke was casting Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, the errant magician who may have unintentionally given nasty young Tom Riddle the means to become monstrous Lord Voldemort. Broadbent doesn’t match Rowling’s description, but he perfectly captures the character’s blend of appealing and exasperating qualities: the heedless snobbery that underlies the outward cheer, the generosity that redeems the instinct for social climbing, the guilt that spurs the evasiveness. Slughorn is the emotional center of Half-Blood Prince, just as Severus Snape is the tragic hero of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Broadbent — who has contributed expert supporting work in everything from Time Bandits to The Crying Game — brings him off superbly.

Yates also gives the film an artful, highly distinctive look, full of desaturated colors and unexpected camera angles that had me wishing, not for the first time, that the first two movies had been directed by an artist instead of a hack. Instead of making every scene groan under the weight of special effects, Yates has an instinct for backing off and giving us palette-cleansing moments, such as a seemingly blank screen that turns out to be an immense snow-covered field with Harry and his friends reduced to black specks. Yates is currently filming the two-part adaptation of Deathly Hallows, and I’m eager to see what he does with a story that spends long stretches outside the visual confines of Hogwarts.

So what are the mistakes? Chiefly the decision to cut back the long investigation into Voldemort’s background, conducted by Harry and Albus Dumbledore with the aid of captured memories, and amp up the various teen romances, which provide some good laughs but also distract from the whole point of the series: how a troubled young man turned himself into the embodiment of evil, and how his actions in turn shaped another troubled young man into his own nemesis. The few flashbacks remaining are handled with enough creepy flair to make us wish there had been more, a lot more.

Watching Half-Blood Prince, not only did I miss the climactic battle when the death-eaters invade Hogwarts, I really missed Rowling’s grace notes and character detailing: the satiric wit of the opening chapter and Rufus Scrimgeour’s hilarious exit line; Fleur Delacor and the wonderful moment when the woman everyone has dismissed as a beautiful twit reveals her inner steel; the disturbing secrets hinted at in the cavern scene, while Dumbledore is under the influence of Voldemort’s potion. I would have gladly traded any one of them for the long, pointless action sequence in which a band of Voldemort’s Death-Eaters attack the Weasley family abode.

But the two biggest mistakes, aside from the shift of emphasis to young love instead of old evil, are the fumbled climax between Dumbledore and Snape, and the disastrous ending, which is so disorganized and scattershot that I hesitate to say the film even has a proper conclusion. Rowling’s book shows Harry coming to grips with the utter grimness of his situation and, while not completely shaking it off, at least finding the determination to go on. Yates and Kloves give us some decorative images, an appallingly out-of-place joke from Hermione, and a sense that filmmakers who can march so confidently through passages of humor and action are unqualified to handle the deeper emotional currents Rowling created for her maturing characters.

What Half-Blood Prince needs is a Sam Gamgee moment, the equivalent of the moving speech Peter Jackson and his collaborators used to knit together the plot strands of The Two Towers and point the way to the conclusion in The Return of the King. That Yates and his collaborators felt no such need goes to the heart of why the Potter movies, for all their charm and imagination, are works of high-level craftsmanship instead of genuine artistry, like The Lord of the Rings.

There’s plenty of wizardry shown on the screen in Half-Blood Prince, but the real magic of Harry Potter remains on the printed page.

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Harry Potter and the Bungled Sequel

Now that J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers have used their combined strength to crush a dorky Harry Potter fan and his fanboy lexicon, maybe Rowling can get a court injunction to keep Warners from releasing the upcoming film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Some undercover geeks have seen advance screenings of the thing, and the news is anything but good:

I had the most problems with the film’s final third. Harry and Dumbledore’s trip to the caves seemed to come out of nowhere, as did Dumbledore’s declaration that he had to drink the water from the podium in which the locket they were after was held. I don’t remember if that’s how it happened in the book, but I remember arriving at that location & conclusion in a way that at least felt more natural.

After that, they make their way to the tower and instead of using a charm to immobilize Harry and cover him with the invisibility cloak like in the book, Dumbledore just sends Harry away, and Harry goes downstairs, stops & watches the following scene through cracks in the floor above him. Malfoy tries to kill Dumbledore but realizes he can’t. Snape arrives on the floor below & signals Harry to be quiet, which he uncharacteristically does. Snape then goes upstairs & sends Dumbledore to his death. The modifications made to this scene from book to film are terrible, and they partially blow what may be the biggest surprise of the entire franchise.

Afterwards, there is no enormous battle. The Death Eaters stroll out silently. I remember the fight in the book being fantastic, and I personally would rather have had a short scene in the beginning with two guys talking about the horrible things the Death Eaters are doing than eliminate the battle at the end. Harry runs after them and confronts Snape, who quietly tells him he’s the Half-Blood Prince. Again, due to lack of attention paid to this plotline, I didn’t really care. In the book, he screams his response. The book has Snape screaming and the film has him using his indoor voice. What a disappointment.

And as if this weren’t enough, there is no funeral for Dumbledore. It’s been cut.

Yikes. Well, that’s only one guy’s reaction. What about somebody else from the same screening?

Uh oh: 

For a book based on Harry and Dumbledore’s quest to find out more about Voldemort, and how to stop him, via his memories, all but three memories have been cut from the film. Why is it that the filmmakers decided it was more important to focus on teen-age love rather than what are inarguably critical plot points? It is aneurysm inducing logic that will surely leave me dead in my bathtub.

And the ending. Good God, the ending. Not only is the fight between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix completely removed, but so is Dumbledore’s funeral. The last third of this movie is so incredibly mishandled that Dumbledore’s death feels more like an unfortunate accident than genuine tragedy. No one in the film seems even remotely upset that he’s gone and the Death Eaters who murdered him, including would-be-good-guy Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, the title-character in cameo form), walk out of Hogwarts unmolested.

I was sorely disappointed when Warners rescheduled this film from a November release to a mid-July slot, chiefly because (A) Half-Blood Prince is the gold standard book of the series, and (B) I was looking forward to seeing it in a theater with Dances With Mermaids, who came late to the Harry Potter craze and has only seen the films on video, having waited until we’d read our way through the whole series a couple of times. Now I’m beginning to think the schedule shuffle is a sign of a film in trouble.

One of the book’s greatest strengths was the way Harry’s blossoming happiness paralleled the investigation into young Voldemort’s transformation from a troubled boy to an outright monster. Cutting the Pensieve sessions down to a single scene while pumping up the teen romance angle is going to be catastrophic to the narrative. And getting rid of the final battle? Stupid. Really stupid.    

Maybe we’ll just wait for the DVD on this one as well.

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