Once More, with Spoilers*: ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’

* It’s not exactly “Once More,” since the review isn’t up yet, but hey, I like my header, and I wanted to write this all out before I forgot about it. Or fell asleep.

I’m running on five hours’ sleep. It was worth it, of course: Quidditch costumes! Gryffindor scarves! Hagrids and Narcissa Malfoys! A nicely done trailer for The Lightning Thief which confused most audience members! (Dude behind me: “Is this a real movie?”) Listening to the girl two seats from me explain that the Potter kids are as obsessed with trainers as Dr. Who! “What are trainers?” the man I assume was her father asked. “Chucks,” she answered confidently. It was one of many moments in which I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut. (I became instantly fond of this young woman when, as Harry and Dumbledore somehow crossed a restless ocean to the cave near the film’s end, she whispered, “How did they get in there?”)

Potter movies are impossible to review. Not literally, of course — it’s just that it’s a longer process than usual to sift out my outraged/charmed/enrapt/horrified Potter-fan reactions from reactions to the actual movie. At this point, I do wonder if it’s necessary: Is anyone still going to Potter films who hasn’t read the books, or at least seen all the other movies? Do I need to wonder about spoilers when there’s a Threadless T-shirt announcing what happens at the end of the book? But even if I wrote the entire review in full-on yes-I’m-wearing-a-Harry-and-the-Potters-T-shirt-so-what? mode (and wasn’t falling-on-my-face exhausted), there wouldn’t be room for everything.

So: Click here for, er, more than a few more thoughts on the Prince.

• First off: The title and the movie have very little to do with each other. Harry, of course, does find the book, but he spends precious little time wondering who the prince is. Snape’s reveal at the end means nothing. He’s the half-blood prince. And? So he’s really good at potions. We know that. And he … made up …? the Sectumsepra curse. What else does it mean? What does it reference? The movie doesn’t have time for this.

• The movie also doesn’t have time for the line that Snape fans, and lots of Potter fans in general, feel is crucial to the character of Severus Snape. At the end, when Harry is chasing after him after the death of Dumbledore, Harry yells at Snape to turn and fight, and calls him a coward. And in the book, Snape loses his shit. It was a major moment, one picked over not quite as much as Dumbledore’s last words, but picked over nonetheless. Why take it out? I have to assume there’s not time to explore the history of Severus Snape in the final movies, which worries me. How do we get to Albus Severus Potter without it?

• Also about the ending: it’s weak. Draco lets four Death Eaters into the castle and absolutely nothing happens other than Dumbledore’s death. There is no fight. There is no Fenrir Grayback (he appears, instead, in a different and frustrating scene). So why were they there? Simply to make sure Draco succeeded? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

• But what really doesn’t make sense to me is an added scene involving an attack on the Burrow. If I could change one thing about this film, it’d probably be to take this out, even though it includes a nice Harry and Ginny moment. There are plenty of things that don’t make it in — the Ministry’s sketchiness, Dobby, oh, too much to list — but the scene in which Bellatrix and Fenrir attack the Burrow fails for one simple reason: They could have just killed Harry and/or Ginny when the two of them went running into the marsh (Harry after Bellatrix, for obvious and Sirius-related reasons; Ginny after Harry, for otherwise obvious reasons). (Also, if the end of the fifth movie had given the kids the fighting experience it should’ve, wouldn’t they have known to at least stand back to back?) Frankly, they probably could have taken out several more members of the Weasley family, or Lupin and Tonks, had they so desired. But as effective as it is to have Harry tear off into the dark at the sight of Bellatrix — it wasn’t so long ago that she killed Sirius, after all — it pushes the limits of believability. Someone should have at least been injured. At the end of the movie, Bellatrix is told by Snape to leave Harry for the Dark Lord. What was to stop her, here? And was it really necessary to destroy the Burrow to rub in the nowhere-is-safe message? So much for Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

• Oh, Dumbledore. Michael Gambon’s delivery of “Severus, please,” is a heartbreaker. It reminds me of a smart choice earlier in the film: having Harry overhear Snape telling Dumbledore he doesn’t want to do this anymore, rather than having Hagrid tell Harry about this conversation. This streamlining happens once or twice, putting a character in a position to hear something or see something they would’ve been told, which is nice, but on the other hand, despite having the Marauder’s Map, Harry somehow never figures out that Draco’s using the Room of Requirement until Ginny takes him in there to hide the potions book, which is odd — and even odder is that he sees the other side of the Vanishing Cabinet and it doesn’t seem to so much as ping his memory. (There’s also never any consequence for using Sectumsempra on Malfoy.)

• One of the film’s loveliest and tiniest scenes is the one in which Hermione and Harry discuss various ways they did or did not help Ron with his Quidditch game. The quiet triumph on Harry’s face as he shows Hermione the untouched vial of Felix Felicis is perfect – as is Daniel Radcliffe when Harry uses the luck potion on himself. Slouching through the grounds like he’s a puppet and luck is pulling the strings, Harry stumbles across a skittish Horace Slughorn, then traipses off to Hagrid’s cottage, where a giant spider needs burying. Radcliffe never goes too broad, but his goofiness is contagious. Rupert Grint also does good goofy when Ron eats a box of love-potion infused chocolates — but Ron’s always been a bit of a goof, so that’s not too much of a surprise.

• I didn’t even mention him in the review, but bravo, as always, Alan Rickman. Snape gets terser and terser, the spaces between his words longer and longer; one reviewer said he counted five seconds between one word and the next. Rickman has played Snape so consistently that the look on his face as he strikes Dumbledore down could be interpreted as blankness, resignation — or horror. Snape doesn’t have the most varied of expressions, except when his eyebrows sink balefully lower and lower when he glares at Harry. But the look on his face at that fateful moment — it gives nothing and everything away.

• From Willamette Week‘s review: “Bruno Delbonnel, who also served as director of photography for Across the Universe, shoots magical combat and dinner parties alike through whatever obscuring material is available—grass, fog, glassware—lending even innocent conversations an air of quiet foreboding.” In the parlance of certain corners of the internet, let me say simply: This. In an Underground cafe, the glass seems streaked with blood. Lavender Brown’s fog-breath window-writing blurs a quiet conversation on the Hogwarts Express. In that stupid Burrow scene, the marsh grasses give the chase a horror-movie feel. Many things are just a little bit obscured, which mirrors the romantic aspect of the plot (how long can Ron keep not noticing Hermione?) and the quest that’s kicked off, however somberly, with the locket that’s in Harry’s hand as the movie ends. The meaning of the note is obscure; the relevance of so many things is still hidden.

And now I want to see it again.

I suspect this post may be continued.

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