Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. David Yates
viewed: 12/11/09

Okay, full disclosure: I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies, either in the theater or on DVD.  And actually, my original semi-plan was to read ahead so that I’d read the book before seeing the film version of each episode.  But then I just never got enough oomph behind me to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  So, I didn’t bother trying to catch it in the cinema, and thought one last reprieve would be waiting for DVD.

But then up came a Friday night movie night with the kids with no plans and it had just been released and Felix has been listening to one of the stories very avidly on his iPod, so I bit the bullet. I decided that I will probably never read another Harry Potter book, just watch the damn movies.  Entertainment and diversion shouldn’t be work, right?

This currently latest cinematic episode was also directed by David Yates, who helmed the last film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), and who seems to have gotten his feet under himself a little more on this episode.  Felix had actually seen the film with his mother in the theater so was the only one of us who knew what was going to happen.  A bit of a different situation for us.

So, it’s kind of different for me, going into a Harry Potter movie and not knowing the overall plot, etc.  Actually, it made it a bit more enjoyable.

I’m definitely someone who as far as adaptations go, am one to credit the original material over the adaptation, typically meaning the book over the film, if you are ordering the experience.  One way or another, you kind of take something away from the one that comes second.  You know what’s supposed to happen.  You get an idea of how it’s supposed to go, what characters are “supposed” to be like.  And obviously in books, you have to imagine a lot more and film fills in a lot of blanks that you don’t even realize yourself that you are filling in, just plain via visuals.

With the adaptation of popular material, film is usually the secondary or further interpretation of the material, so the onus rides on the filmmaker “to get it right” or simply “not to screw it up”.   Harry Potter is a major case in point.  They are adapting innumerable characters, locations, events that millions have read and envisioned on their own without any Hollywood intervention.  And one of the biggest successes of the franchise has been that they did a very good job in casting and art design, so that only the hardest core of nerds would be dissatisfied.

But then you get the other side of the experience, those who are only introduced to the characters as played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, and others, to the point that when they do turn to the texts, they are imagining the people and faces that they have learned rather than imagining from their own mind.  And even those of us who started reading it before seeing it, still have a hard time looking at other texts without imagining the actors in the films in the roles of the characters on the page.

It’s a bizarre conundrum.

Anyways, this film was a little more compelling to me, perhaps because I didn’t know what to expect.  I was able to follow the story as the film wanted to tell it, not deviating from some template that I already had laid out in my mind.  And so I found it engaging, though through popular culture and just assumptions about the culmination of a narrative, while full of invention, is also pretty straightforward, kind of knew what to expect.

It’s weird to see how the actors have grown up in their roles.  I think about the Star Wars franchise and how we waiting 3 long years between episodes as kids, and here with modern franchising and production that they make these films for serial release, using the same cast, not having to replace people (though the original Dumbledore, Richard Harris, did die and had to be replaced), but you actually see them mature through what is a relatively concurrent pace with the characters.  They lucked out in casting.  Even with as much science or intuition, it’s still luck.  The cast has all matured and developed in line enough with the maturity of the story and characters.

And the narrative is increasingly darker and a wee bit more mature.  Clara, I think, might enjoy the first film/story, but this one was definitely a bit old for her.  It’s a conceit that worked for author J.K. Rowling throughout, and it’s worked for the film franchise.

Though it hasn’t been released yet, the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has been turned into a two-part movie, milking that cash cow lest she die fully unmilked.

In case you are interested, I’ll place the links to the other Harry Potter movies that I’ve written about over the years.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

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