And now, as Monty Python often said, for something completely different – a film adaptation of a Harry Potter book that I actually liked! Well, sort of.
After my parents arrived on Wednesday, we ordered pizza and settled in to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’m not entirely sure if it matched their remembrances or expectations, but it definitely exceeded mine. For though I knew the story, I had forgotten how funny this movie actually is. Which feels a bit odd to say, given what happens, but still, there is no denying that there are some great moments, such as Lavender Brown’s over-the-top infatuation with Ron Weasley and Harry’s comment that some people don’t like acromantulas due to their pincers.
On a side note, I know some reviewers didn’t like all of the romantic detours and I was a little nonplussed with those in the book at first too, but then I remembered that high school is kind of like that. You start to realize your attraction to other people and it can be awkward and painful and all consuming, so I actually didn’t mind it that much in the end. Plus, just about everyone can relate to the idea of a first/unrequited love, so the wizarding world becomes a bit more relatable to us Muggles.
Also, while I was still extremely aware of the differences between the book and the film, I actually understood most of them this time around, particularly as they involved Bellatrix Lestrange and Luna Lovegood. Both of these women have large roles in the books, but that hadn’t been reflected in the previous movies. As such, it made sense to me that Bellatrix takes charge in the scene involving Narcissa Malfoy, Severus Snape, and the Unbreakable Curse. I was even less upset about having a completely non-book scene added at the Burrow, because it shows how cruel Bellatrix can be, essentially burning the Weasleys’ house down for fun. Same with having her be one of the Death Eaters who breaks into Hogwarts near the end. Bellatrix plays a dominant role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so the filmmakers had to give her a bigger part to help flesh out her personality and motivations, such as they are.
Luna appears less frequently than Bellatrix, but having her find Harry on the Hogwarts Express instead of Tonks brings her more fully into his friend group. And while we don’t get to listen to her provide commentary for Quidditch, we do see a pretty awesome rendition of her lion hat!
I was further struck by the fact that, in the book (and then the movie), we know something is up with Draco Malfoy from the very beginning. After reading five books and watching five movies in the series, one gets a sense of the rhythm – summer at the Dursleys, train to Hogwarts, classes, flashes of Lord Voldemort, Quidditch, end-of-year confrontation, or some slight variation thereof. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the first time we’re really aware that there is some sort of malicious sub-plot underway, as well as who is involved.
Personally, I really liked this set-up because, for me at least, it added to the overall tension of the story. As a reader (and viewer) you’re waiting for the other characters to figure it out before things are too late. Of course, they don’t and Death Eaters are able to sneak into the castle, but that’s also where the film lost me a bit.
In the novel, there is a pretty big battle between the Death Eaters and members of Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix that rages below the Astronomy Tower. Once the Death Eaters leave the hall and Harry follows them, there is a longer sequence of curses and counter-curses before the intruders are able to Apparate outside of Hogwarts’s gates.
Though I completely understand why all of this was cut (to avoid repetition), I really hated the fact that Hogwarts seemed to fall so easily. I wanted someone, anyone, to put up some sort of resistance. I also felt like, in the book sequence, you get a stronger sense of Snape’s emotional struggle vis-à-vis Harry: Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily, so he’s trying to protect her son (essentially by not hitting him with a stronger curse), but you can feel his anger as Harry calls him a coward, assuming that he understands Snape’s motivations when they are so much more complicated than that. I’m not entirely sure how one would portray all of that on the big screen, but it was still something I missed in their exchange. Especially since it helps connect the Snape we see in Order of the Phoenix, who becomes a slightly more sympathetic character, with his redemption in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Severus Snape certainly is a villain in Half-Blood Prince, but as we learn in the series’ conclusion, he’s not as one-dimensional as we – or Harry – assumed.