I’m certainly no Potter-hater. And it’s not like my opinion would make one farthing of difference to J.K. Rowling’s economy if I were. So it’s purely as a lover of good books and movies that I say: Man, was that “Half-Blood Prince” movie a real yawner, or what?
We just watched it on DVD late last night, which very nearly became early this morning, because this movie is so incredibly long, full of scene after scene that is no more than a checklist of “I remember that”s from the book. Do we care that Ron played Quidditch well? That the stalker chick pursues Ron again and again and again? Or even that Harry has a book that makes him super good at potions? (Which must be important enough that the book/movie was named for it; and yet it receives no more than two minutes of use, tops, with no explanation or closure by the finale.)
The action — or the lack thereof — is driven largely by Harry noticing someone looking suspicious, and then following that person to observe them. Harry and his Magical Scoobies always seem to have the best luck when stumbling into Suspicious Walkers and overhearing Vaguely Incriminating Statements or witnessing Plot Altering Events. At one point, dear old Maggie Smith asks them, “Why is it always you three?” to which the moviemakers throw up their hands, too, with a wink and a kind of “It’s the damnedest thing, ain’t it?” response.
Meanwhile, we spend most of the movie building the tension around the villain as he pulls a quilt off a magical cupboard not once, but three times: “Draco Malfoy and the Dramatic Unveilings.”
That’s just in the first two hours. In the final 30, we’re treated to a surprisingly uncharacteristic bit of action, swooping off to a mystery cave full of water zombies and magic lockets and demon rum. As in the book, this abrupt change of scenery felt like Rowling checking her clock and saying, “Oh crud! We haven’t done anything interesting yet, and the book’s almost over.” All the revelations came in a rushed and confused tumble. Where is this cave? How did we find it? Why does Harry have to come along and not, say, Snape or Lupin or Flitwick, or hell, all of ’em? Come to think of it, how many horcruxes have we found already? Do we have any clues about where or what they might be?
All of those questions would have made great cobblestones underfoot of a hero’s quest beginning around page 50 or so. But the real magic of Harry Potter, I suppose, is that audiences have bought so thoroughly into the character of the Boy Who Lived, that Rowling can make her bank on snogging and homework and after-school sports, using just the rarest of dollops of actual journey.
Thankfully, HBP has a sprinkling of treats to make it re-watchable, which I’m sure I will find myself doing as my kids read these books and earn the privilege to watch the movie. It’s clear that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have grown into some acting chops as their Harry and Hermione give a deft line reading here, a nuanced facial expression there, that expresses deeper emotion. Nice.
And the film-making is beautiful to watch. Like the other Potter installments, the sets are tasty enough to eat, with lingering shots upon something gothic, grotesque or gorgeous. I like in particular this shot, of Malfoy walking off to his final lonely fate, while the rest of Hogwarts lives on in blissful innocence and shadow snogging:
The depth of field, the lightness and darkness, the contrast in attitudes; it’s like a study in Neoclassical painting, isn’t it? In the end, though, the Harry Potter movies really have become like paintings to me: beautiful canvases that are wide, but not even a little bit deep.