Warning! Spoilers Abound!
Written by J.K. Rowling
The book, The Half-Blood Prince, I found to be very expository this go round. As compared with the other novels in the series there is a great deal of explanation and talking and not a great deal of action apart from the grand finale. Alright, it had action, and looking back, probably not any less than the others ones, but I do stand by saying that it has a lot of exposition in this one. Harry meets with Dumbledore, and while we experience the memories Harry sees with him, at the same time they come with long explanations from our man Dumbledore, especially when it comes to making sense of them.
That being said, there is a lot of great things going on in this novel. As I said, the private sessions with Dumbledore and the climax of those sessions are not only great fun, they are also very informative in terms of letting the reader in on a litter of Lord Voldemort’s past, just as Harry is. In addition we get more great drama with the teenagers with Won-Won and Lavender and Hermione as well as Harry, Ginny and Dean Thomas. Rowling hits these instances quite well as she did in Order of the Phoenix.
The addition of another new staff member is great too, Horace Slughorn as potions master, something I had forgotten about since seeing the film last year, which, of course, means that Snape gets his long sought after post as DADA teacher. The potions class was a joy to read, as was the relationship between Slughorn and Harry.
This book may very well be my favorite titled book in the series, if that makes any sense. The other books are obviously titled, whereas this one, with the mystery of the identity of the owner of Harry’s used, yet well annotated, Potions book, there is nothing that truly sticks out as a title. This time it is subtle. The Half-Blood Prince and his identity don’t play a major role in the book, but little do we know that he is arguably the most important character in this installment. I can remember reading this book for the first time and thinking that yes, my inclinations were right, Snape is a dirty, good for nothing, piece of owl dung. That traitor, right under Dumbledore’s nose, and he killed him!
When I finished this one the second go round, I thought that it was very much a transitional piece, setting up the epicness that would be the final installment, The Deathly Hallows. While I still think this is true to some extent, as a standalone book this has much to appreciate and enjoy.
Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves
This was the first time I had been to a midnight showing, the first time I saw this. The experience was awesome, apart from the seating confusion (people changing assigned theaters to sit with their friends), and the fact that they had problems with the projector, causing it to be delayed by an hour, which means the runtime was 1am-3:30am. Needless to say, I was very droopy-eyed throughout but was lucky enough to use the free pass I got out of it to see it again when I was fully conscious. This was also the first time I saw the film and thought to myself that we had some serious filmmaking on our hands. The other films in the series are quite good, and entertaining, but there was just something about this one that takes it to a new level. It is my favorite thus far and reason to love David Yates being such a big factor in the conclusion of the series.
The first thing that stuck out to me with the film was the look of it. Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie) helms the Director of Photography post and does an astounding job. He does it all. He uses interesting lighting, interesting angles, framing techniques, color schemes and depth of field in one particular scene. Everything seems to be right. In an interview I heard with Delbonnel he explained his approach as simply trying to find a new and interesting way of lighting and shooting the sets we have become so familiar with. He didn’t want to simply do what somebody else had already done and it turns out to be a gorgeous film and worthy of its Academy Award nomination.
The next thing was the script, oddly enough. Steve Kloves breathes new life into a twist on Rowling’s tale. I will leave the analysis of the adaption until later, but I loved the way that Kloves was able to infuse humor and whim into it, much like the team did with Prisoner of Azkaban. This humor and whim can also be attributed to the steady hand of David Yates in the director’s chair. I really can’t stress how glad I am that this man is at the helm. I seem to trust him now with all things Harry Potter. But it doesn’t even stop there. Also credit editor Mark Day and composer Nicholas Hooper. Without their stellar work the piece could not come together as it did. The pacing was great and I loved what Day did with the incongruent cuts from time to time, especially in the cave scene. And Hooper, the score just seems to fit perfectly in the perfect spots. Gone are the days when Columbus is depending on Williams to carry a scene with score and in are the days when Yates can do it visually and let Hooper be much more subtle and in the background, making a perfect compliment to what is on screen.
Again, the casting needs to be credited. We have the introduction of Jim Broadbent who shines as Horace Slughorn. He joins the already ridiculously talented cast of adult actors who all also shine here, especially Gambon, Rickman and Smith. But what I want to talk about is the kids. I think this is the one where each and every one of them starts to hit their strides, first and foremost Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. I am still impressed by his performance in this one as Draco seems to be examined as a boy struggling between choosing right and wrong. There is so much he does without speaking that is just great. In addition I would say that Rupert Grint has never been funnier as Ron than he is here. Even Emma Watson starts to hit her marks. And of course Daniel Radcliffe I feel is the most promising of the big three. Though still awkward at times, he manages to hold the character of Harry steady throughout the movie, and even make scenes great, like the Felix Felicis scene.
I mentioned before that I loved what David Yates and Steve Kloves do here, and that is because, while the book probably falls somewhere in the middle in terms of ranking, this remains my favorite film of the series. So what did they do that make it work so well? Well, they took a page out of Alfonso Cuaron and Steve Kloves own book. Like Prisoner of Azkaban, the screenplay is far from faithful to the source material. The same basic concept is there, but some of the best scenes in both are quite different. For instance, Luna Lovegood finds Harry on the train instead of Tonks, which is great because Evanna Lynch needs more screen time as that character. Also the scene at the Burrow at Christmas, which was not in the book at all, provides an opportunity to show the imminent threat of the Death Eaters and the fact that they can attack anywhere, not to mention the fact the opportunity to make a great looking scene.
The romance drama was a big draw for the book, but how they visualized it was magnificent and a lot of credit has to be given the actors here, who really sell it and make it hilarious and heart-wrenching all the same to watch. There is one thing I have beef with though: Ginny. In the book Ginny is just cool. I don’t know what it is, but in the movie she doesn’t come off as cool. I totally think Harry should be with her in the book, but it is just a harder sell for me in the movie, I almost think he should be with Luna in the movie. Part of this has to do with the fact that she isn’t given as much to do in the movie as she actually does in the book.
The most controversial difference, however, is probably the ending, which is almost completely changed. Dumbledore still dies, but Harry sits by on his orders, not by means of a freeze charm set by Dumbledore. And instead of a giant battle scene in the castle, we have the Death Eaters having their way with it. This much more somber and less flashy way of ending the film I actually preferred visually. Reading about the action as great, but to see it on film, I think they made the right choice. It just seemed to fit with the overall mood of the film to that point. I don’t think the film had earned a big finale of an ending, but I mean that in a good way because I totally bought into the much more subdued mood of the film. And as for the funeral, leaving that out is an afterthought because, even if it isn’t taken care of in the beginning of the next film, it is something that, cinematically, would not have been that appealing apart from being a tear jerker moment. I just felt like the film didn’t need it to be there.
As with any book to movie adaptation, there is a lot that is left out, and I mean a lot. That being said I think the filmmakers did a good job of making the material their own and making a great movie, but at the same time, if you truly want to fully experience the world of Harry Potter, please, please, please read the book too!