Harry Potter Retrospective Part VI - "The Half-Blood Prince"

With the end of the "Harry Potter" film franchise quickly approaching, I've decided to dedicate The Soap Box Office to this wonder filled series for the next week. We'll call it the "Harry Potter Retrospective" because I really like the word "retrospective." Each day, I'll briefly take a look at one of the films, compare them to each other (and possibly the books, too), and delve into my personal experience with each. I invite you to join in the discussion as we prepare for the final chapter of Rowling's wizarding world.

SPOILERS AHEAD

"The Half -Blood Prince"

When "Prince" was moved from a late 2008 release date to one in the middle of the 2009 summer, I was furious. Furious, I tell you. One of my fellow Potterites sent out an email on the original release date lamenting the fact that instead of dragging into work that morning after seeing a midnight viewing, she was well rested and better prepared to teach her students. I agreed wholeheartedly. On the flip side, however, the push back allowed "Prince" to be the bookend for my glorious experiment known as The Summer of the Nerd. And what a great bookend it was.

After "Order of the Phoenix", "Half-Blood Prince" is my favorite of Rowling's books. I love the flashbacks, the filling in of Voldemort's past, and the piecing together of the whole Horcrux thing. More importantly, "Prince" fully fleshes out the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore and I truly appreciate that payoff. I think Rowling danced around the dynamic between these two for five books, giving us only a few moments of them actually interacting and leaving us wanting more. With the loss of Sirius, however, Harry is searching out a new father figure and so this book lends itself to the exploration of that pairing. "Prince" jumps directly into that storyline and it is magnificent. It also makes Dumbledore's murder all the more heart-breaking. It's not just about the loss of a great hero which in and of itself would be tough; it's also another thing entirely when you factor in yet another loss for poor Harry who has now experienced the death of his parents, his godfather/surrogate father, and now his mentor and counselor. It is a necessary death; Harry has to be on his own without a safety net in order to take on Voldemort. But you feel the loss and the betrayal in the pages of Rowling's book and that comes through quite well in the film.

In many ways, "Prince" is the best film of the series and it laid the groundwork for the final double volume. David Yates became the first director since Chris Columbus to direct a second "Potter" film and I think that consistency served it well. Cast and crew were also reunited with Steve Kloves after a one-film hiatus that didn't go so well in many ways. Yates and Kloves seemed to work well together and the strength of that partnership only grew in "Deathly Hallows 1" (and I can only assume it will grow further in number two). The overtones again grew darker along with the plot line, giving the proper depth to the subject matter. I find the green wash of the film to be a brilliant touch, allowing Yates to subtly highlight important elements and bringing genuine creepiness to many of the settings. All of the young actors had fully matured by this point and the strength that Radcliffe showed in "Phoenix", practically carrying the movie in places, carries over to "Prince." Even Tom Felton, maybe the worst actor of the main cast, does an excellent job of displaying the extreme duress that Malfoy was under throughout this entire story.

Through strong writing and even stronger acting, "Prince" is able to embrace the atmosphere and emotions of the book. This is, in my opinion, an upgrade in this department from the other films. Harry's isolation turned into hopeful connection with Dumbledore is wonderfully illustrated; the infuriating relationship between Ron and Lavender, and by proxy the relationship between Ron and Hermione is delightful; and Dumbledore's death at the hand of Snape is exactly the gut-punch that it was in the book. Gambon has been ridiculed at times for his portrayal of Dumbledore but between the excruciating scene where he is forced to drink a poison to his simple, "Please" before his execution makes his final 20 minutes of screen time his best in the series. I absolutely love the way "Prince" brought the book to life.

My only complaint is the treatment the rest of the characters get in the final sequences. As I've stated before, I completely understand that when you're adapting a 700 page book, some things must be cut. I get that. What I don't get is cutting scenes that completely change the tone of the film. It INFURIATES me that when Harry and Dumbledore arrive back at Hogwarts, Harry remains hidden from view and doesn't intervene to save his mentor when he has the capability to do so. In the book, Dumbledore petrifies him and prevents him from coming to his aid. That is a much more satisfactory conclusion than having Harry cower in a corner, an action that five films worth of content would suggest he'd never do. Likewise, the exclusion of the battle within the castle between Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters is frustrating. Rowling used this scene to illustrate the strength of her other characters, to display that even without Dumbledore and Sirius, Harry was not alone. Leaving this battle out seems out especially when you consider that an entirely new scene, in which Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback attack the Wealey home, is fabricated out of thin air, ostensibly to add a little action to the movie. It's never made any sense to me that Kloves drew up a new scene and then cut out such a dramatic, important sequence from the book.

These issues are the only things that hold "Prince" back from being the best in the series (so far). The acting is outstanding and again the cast improved with the addition of Jim Broadbent; the chemistry between Ron and Hermione develops naturally (and much better than that of Harry and Ginny, by the way); and there are numerous moments of legitimate humor, further proving that these kids have a grasp on comedy and Kloves' ability to write toward that. It is a visually compelling film and it is extremely rewatchable on its own whether you watch the other films before it or not. But man, it's tough to get past those deviations from the book!

Rank in the "Potter" canon: 2nd of 7