Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Movie Review of Sorts: My Thoughts on "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince"



I was one of the crazy people sitting in a movie theater at midnight to catch Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Although I love movies, I don't as a rule love movies based on books. There are, of course, exceptions, but in general if I've read and enjoyed a book I make it a point not to see a film adaptation.

The whole Harry Potter experience has been a bit unusual for me, though. I wouldn't read the books for the longest time on general principle ... I have a kind of overly stiff-necked aversion to "the latest craze" when it comes to literature. However, I also take very seriously the component of book sharing in my relationships with my students. In other words, if a kid tells me to read a book, I do so (or at least I'll try really hard). I feel like, if I'm going to recommend books to students or assign them required texts, I should at least extend them the common courtesy of giving their recommendations a chance. However, I broke that rule when it came to Harry Potter ... I only started reading J.K. Rowling's masterpieces when Addie did. Naturally, I loved the books and I (somewhat shockingly) am a fan of the movies as well (except the third one, although it's my favorite of the books ... kind of weird).

All of which is way off base of the intended topic of this post, which is to share with you my thoughts on the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, a film I took in last night at 12:04 a.m. Oh, and I guess I should warn that there are spoilers here (albeit minor ones--I'm making a concerted effort not to wreck the movie for anyone).

In a nutshell, it was a good movie. If my entire Harry Potter experience had been of the cinematic bend, in fact, I'd go so far as to say it was great. I don't want to completely ruin the plot for anyone, so I guess I'll share my three main criticisms and repeat again that it was definitely worth the midnight thing and suffering what some are referring to as a "Harry Potter Hangover" today.

I thought the beginning of the movie was horrible. It was not remotely engaging, and in fact it showed the character of Harry in a light that I found kind of pathetic. Basically, Harry is hitting on a waitress in a little diner, going so far as to arrange what appears to be a casual hook-up when the waitress gets off shift at eleven. I'm certainly not a prude or anything, but it was just ... crass. Anyway, nothing happened because Harry was forced to accompany a suddenly-present Dumbledore to a creepy-looking house in order to convince a former Hogwarts professor to return to teaching duties. It was too long, too much, and too boring, particularly when you consider that a secret meeting between the enigmatic Professor Severus Snape and two Death-Eaters soon follows. The latter scene is fast-paced, interesting, and effectively sets up circumstances that are the very meat of the movie. Pretty waitresses and the magical cleaning up of a house seem pretty draggy when such a crackling interchange is waiting in the wings. As far as I'm concerned, that's where they should have started the movie.

I enjoy humor as much as the next person. In fact, I take heat from time to time about laughing at things that are really pretty stupid (at a meeting today, for example, the word "oral" kept coming up, and I just giggled like an adolescent every time). Furthermore, I realize that any accurate depiction of teenagers is impossible without dumb jokes, particularly of the sexual variety (Harry and Ginny go alone to a secret room to hide a book and, when they return to their friends, are asked, "Did you do it?"), and I laughed as hard as anyone at these little zingers last night ... but I know that if I see the movie again, I'll know the jokes already and will just find them stale and kind of a detraction from the story. Half Blood Prince is extremely plot-driven; I don't think you need excessive sophomoric humor to entertain your audience.

Finally, I noticed when leaving the theater in a huge throng of people that several people were saying, "So who was the half blood prince? How did Harry get his book? Why does this matter?" and so on and so forth. Since I've read the book I had a deeper understanding and, while I don't expect filmmakers to elaborate in a way that is far easier to do through the written word, it bugged me that several major parts of the story were glossed over as almost an afterthought. The half blood prince, his annotated potions book that serves Harry very well, and the explanation for why he took on that dubious nickname are the sort of details that make the book a rich, thought-provoking experience. Yeah,not so much in the movie.

Other than those three criticisms, though (and remember, those criticisms are solely my own and I freely confess to having a bias against film adaptations of books I loved), it was very well done. If you haven't seen it yet, definitely make it a point to do so. You'll be glad you did, and it might even look something like this ...