EDITORIALS

With Half-Blood Prince, Finally, Harry Potter Has Breath

by
July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

It's an odd thing, Harry Potter. As someone who is fairly well read and someone who tries his best to stay abreast of the now and the verge of geek culture, Harry Potter and the seven novels that contain him were never high on my "To Read" list. When the first book was released, I can't say I remember even noticing. Upon the second novel's release, I remember picking up the first, thumbing through it, sitting down with it -- but ultimately returning it to my sister's shelf. She, three years younger than me, was more ably taken by the books. She identified more with the characters; characters who, for all intents and purposes, were experiencing life much like she was (save for the magic, of course) at that age. Experiences that I had dealt with three years prior. Harry Potter, therefore, simply did not become a part of my life.

That is until the 2001 release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. From that point on, for eight years now, I have been a devout fan of the Harry Potter universe -- as incarnated on film. I have been able to experience this epic coming-of-age story from a unique perspective -- as someone wholly removed from the baggage carried by those who are all-too-familiar with the Harry Potter of the page. Of course, I am not alone in this, but as I said earlier, it's an odd thing for me that I am not familiar with the pages upon which the boy wizard was born.

And up until tonight, I revelled in that oddity.

Last night, as the closing credits began to roll at the end of the latest installment of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I, for the first time, was left wanting more. Or, rather, I felt like I hadn't been given enough. For the first time I felt a pang of realization that perhaps what had been left out, altered, shifted, and concealed through and by the adaptation process was more important than what I had actually seen on the screen in front of me.

Though another pang clenched my gut as well. A pang in opposition to the first. A guttural and instinctual response that I often try to temper later, rationalize and qualify so as to not speak in hyperbole. As the last fade decrescendoed to black, my thoughts centered around one word: masterpiece. Spinning around that word were similes qualifying such a claim. Half-Blood Prince is like a fine cigar: a slow burn housing notes of brilliant character that linger long after the exhale. Still spinning were praises of boldness, of admiration. The boldness of leaving out the very villain atop which the entire plot balances. My admiration of such a character driven story here and now, as the penultimate entry in the series. My praise of those characters to whom I, until tonight, had merely known as archetypes and plot devices -- for tonight, with Half-Blood Prince, I finally feel like I know Harry and Ron and Hermione. My praise of showing so ably the absolutely intangible experience of moving from childhood to the very brink of adulthood.

But spinning around that word -- masterpiece -- was also trepidation. Trepidation not unlike that felt throughout the film itself. That ominous wariness that blankets Half-Blood Prince from Fade in: to Fade out. Though there are moments of levity, of honest-to-goodness joy in the film, happiness never lasts long in Hogwarts. And so too did my smile never last long on my face. There's an uneasiness about everything. A stillness. A silence that's used much like an artist uses negative space in a painting. Though seemingly insignificant, seemingly empty, it's there that the composition is crafted. So too it is there that Half-Blood Prince weaves its plot, its architecture.

And it's there that that first pang of realization began to prod. Not a whole lot actually happens. Though I now feel more connected to the characters than ever before, I am more invested in their plight, their journey, their world -- I was left hanging with nothing to actually invest in. So, as the sold-out Sarasota, Florida theater full of die-hard fans began to rise at almost three in the morning, the grumbling began. I needed not look any farther than to my immediate left where my sister, still teary-eyed, sat shaking her head. "They left out so much," she said. "You have no idea."

She's right. I don't. I've not the slightest idea what screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates decided to leave off the page, out of camera, or on the cutting room floor. I've no idea if the characters we saw should have been seen more, if scenes we didn't see should have been seen, if moments that were only hinted at should have instead been scenes of great weight and significance. But such is my experience. Would have I had enjoyed a bit more action, a scene or two explaining some lingering questions, or a pay off for some obvious setups -- of course. Though I wholly admire the stunningly truthful character development and growth -- do I wish that perhaps just a bit more would have happened or at least a more cathartic climax would have occurred? Yes. Yes I do. And perhaps with all of that I would have known more about what is happening, the intricacies of the plot at hand -- but I most certainly would not have known to whom it is happening in such vivid detail. And, for me, that is paramount.

While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may not exactly be a masterpiece, it's as close as any of the films in the series have come. What I'm choosing to do is view this film as a kind of interlude, a foundation for the climax that is to come. David Yates has given us the very core of Harry Potter with Half-Blood Prince. A core of young adults who are just now realizing their agency over their own lives. We needed this film, just as it is, in order to embark on the sure-to-be action packed, plot driven finale that will be Deathly Hallows. Even if there is plot that may have been more important than a tear-filled examination of unrequited love, a comedic quidditch tryout, or a foreboding meditation on peace, I am glad to have given up the plot. A body that walks without a beating heart is a zombie. So too is a film without breathing characters. Finally, Harry Potter has breath.

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  • drafunt
    Whoa! Nice commentary. Makes me even more eager to watch the movie this weekend.
  • watched it yesterday and these are exactly the words i was trying to find to explain it. it felt quiet, it felt completely plot driven for setups, and it felt like maturity had been achieved (of the film style, the characters, and the setups). great post. great. so yea, the same conflicting feelings you described, I felt. I cam out not exhilarated or energised but rather somber (not cuz of the death), simply because of the dark quiet, the silence as you described it. And i wont be reading the books till after its all done. also I'm not the one to worry about spoilers cuz i love movies and will watch, but with HP series, after dragging myself to watch the 3rd (cuz the first 2 were really kiddy), and realising the movies will continually mature... I now AVOID any insights or spoilers because this is one of the first times I can honeslty say I have no idea whats coming, I like that I know its good and its emotionally deep, and I can rely on it to continue to its logical end - with short times between each film. love it. applause.
  • George
    Well put man!!Ever since I saw the trailer of the movie,this is what I have been expecting people to say about the movie,I wish people could honor this movie by going to watch it repeatedly like the honourable Dark Knight,it has everything from in-depth emotion to humor,yeah some parts we left out and blah blah!It is an adaptation after all.You can just feel this movie,it is beyond exciting and funny thing is...I haven't watched it yet!
  • ChrisUK
    I went into this having only seen the first movie, and a couple of bits from the Azkabahan film. I haven't read the books or even wikipedia write ups, as the 1st movie put me off with it's muggles and other kiddie words and nonsense. It felt like half a story at the most, and there were gaping holes in it. Such as when Snape tells Potter Dumbledore is away until next term, then 5mins of movie time later, just as the story calls for a boost, Potter is with him looking at the memories of Riddle. Or how they decide the Half Blood prince book suddenly needs hiding, apparently having given Potter some bad spells which he hurt Malfoy with or something...it was a book of potions? Also the whole half blood prince thing was barely touched upon apart from the comment at the end and the help with making the potions. Seems strange considering the title of the movie. There are other points, such as the random quidditch game, the Deatheaters coming up with a contrived plan to breach Hogwarts grounds, when all they did was smash the dining hall and burn a house,then watch Dumbledore get zapped by someone who was ALREADY INSIDE HOGWARTS and was going to do it anyway, or die for breaking his promise. Oh, and the bridge being clearly empty of people when it collapses, yet apparently hundreds died during it? Not to mention Slughorns creepiness ("He's going to try and collect you Harry", "should i let him?", "yes, do what he wants"). I did like the characters, even though Snapes arc is totally obvious and was even in the first movie, it's still interesting watching it happen. I was actually rooting form Hermione and Ron, and Harry and Ginny, despite only really having this movie to get to know them, so it did work on some levels (although for a Chosen One Harry is pretty rubbish!). Dumbledore is a great character as is Snape. I thought as a standalone piece of film, it was OK. As an adaptation of a book? It's blatantly obvious that there is ALOT of very good characterisation and story in the book, which was just left out of the movie, and, i think it's got me interested in finding out what happens. It does seem like alot has to happen in the next movie, so perhaps it's good that it's being split. I now actually see why people love Harry Potter so much, so i guess the film succeeded on that front, and i'll be in line for the next installments.
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  • I had a very similar experience. I had seen all the movies, and liked them, but then just moved on. This week, I decided to watch them all again and I found out just how much I enjoyed them. It's amazing how much better they are when you remember the previous ones. Anyway, I was now ready for the midnight showing and I couldn't wait. I never thought I would anticipate a Harry Potter movie so much. I loved it. The acting was solid and the cinematography was incredible. I don't remember seeing another movie in the theater where I was so consistently impressed by the visuals. Also, the comedy was a pleasant surprise. The only problem I could spot was the incomplete story, but for some reason I didn't miss any extra action they could have put in. But, you put it perfectly. That's why this film was so good. We finally know the characters. After the movie, I really felt like I should read the books, but I think I'll wait. It'll be hard, but I want to experience the movies from a clean perspective.
  • Mopo
    What is with the lame colorization of almost every scene of consequence? When Harry and Dumbledore are on a rock in the ocean everything is green, then inside, everything is blue. Many scenes are sepia toned. I think every scene in the movie has some sort of color 'treatment' - even ordinary scenes where colors seemed washed out and people's faces are pale and lifeless looking. I know the DP and Yates are trying to acheive a mood, and there are some truly stunning shots,but don't they trust the viewer to to be emotionally invested in the action without this manipulation? It ruined the movie for me along with lack of major plot points like ChrisUK noted. It felt dull and solemn, but strangely not dramatic enough with (spoiler) Dumbledore's death scene. Ron was welcome comic relief, but the movie, on the whole seemed truncated and strangely lacking.
  • J Cal
    Fantastic Commentary! I had never read or seen any of the Harry Potter series prior to this movie and I can honesty say it captured me completely. I had some knowledge of some of the mythology, mostly from hearsay, so I wasn't completey lost but that didn't matter much since there were plenty of potter loyalist around to fill me in... I was so impressed with the maturity of this movie, the charm and emotion each character was able to communicate was top notch. I could really feel the since of community and deep friendship shared between the main characters and even the school itself. I believe this movie is to the Harry Potter series what the spring board is to the gymnast! It's going to give the series the momentum to perform the gold metal winning routine, 10 out of 10. This movie did exactly what it was suppose to, set us up for the grand finally. Let just pray they deliver!
  • mcgruff
    I loved the film. For me, everything you guys mentioned above worked beautifully, but there were also just some smaller throwaway shots that did it for me. Draco walking past the cage where the bird had been, which now sits empty; Cormac (the guy who was obsessed with hermione) licking his fingers suggestively at the slughorn party; that first scene of the movie with dumbledore pulling harry away from the reporters, with a lingering shot of the ring on his finger; the awesomeness of weasley's wizard wheezes! the ending, of course, could have desperately used some additional action and i think the exclusion of *********** funeral was a terrible idea, but apart from that, effing awesome. and maybe they could think of a different way to end the movies than with a lingering shot of the Lake? i know theyre trying to tie everything together, but this movie was so unique and different from the others in tone and theme that i think it should define itself differently.
  • Elycia
    Great article, Brandon! Although the movie was ultimately a dissapointment for me, because having read all the books I was left unfufilled, there were some really beautiful, funny, and heart-wrenching moments. I am very aprehensive about the next two movies, but still will have hope the series will end the way it should be.
  • Xerxex
    McGruff I'm with you on that but I assume that Yates will include it in the last movie, that fact that the last is two parts, one slated for November 15, 2010 and the other for July 15, 2011 I think yates could do that. I hope...
  • I am defiantly going to see this movie this week, i love Harry Potter...
  • ?????
    In my gods honest opinion, I felt like Half Blood Prince the book wasn't the greatest. It was good but it was clearly a filler book that was more or less there to set up the 7th book. Only in the 6th book are the Horcruxes introduced and it felt slightly rushed to me. I have loved all of the movies, but I've loved them differently than the books. The books are absolutely wonderful books that I really became attatched too. In a way, I've grown up with the characters in the book and now the movies. I'm really looking foward to th final movies.
  • Darunia
    You felt wanting more because nothing barely happened. I don't know what's up with people trying to turn that into a good thing, what the fuck really.
  • CLZ
    For god's sake, it's rated PG. This movie is supposed to be darker and it's PG. Nuff said
  • WFP
    Really? I strongly disagree with you. And frankly, I am tired of reading from your little fanboys who have an orgasm over any opinion you spew onto the internet. I think your "commentary" lacks intelligence, not because you are dumb, but because so much of it is fake and not genuine at all. Your writing style leaves me to believe that you have no idea what you are talking about. The newest Harry Potter movie was wretched bile all mushed up onto some film stock. The storyline was nonexistent: the opening scene was deceiving and useless, the winter break scene at Ron's was pointless and shifted from the movie's plot entirely, and the lake in the cave scene....Dumbledore was done for, down for the count, yet out of nowhere, and (most importantly) with no explanation, he wields some of the greatest powers we've seen him do. And the ending was very very queer. I don't care how they left the story - its the same general area as the novel - however "I've never noticed how beautiful this place is" and watching a bird fly over teh sunset; its really really lame! No other word can describe. Oh and the acting from the younger cast is beyond awful - but what else is new. This movie is so far from being able to be called "good" or even "decent." It was a hot mess!
  • Jaf
    SPOILERS Apparently the reason the HBP's ending isn't as action-packed as it was supposed to be was because it would've been redundant with the inevitable final battle in the next chapter. I say, give them credit where they had to fuse certain scenes because of time constraints. Instead of a proper funeral scene as with the book, they had a makeshift one in the courtyard (with their wands in the air), which gives off the same message - that of pupils and faculty grieving for their headmaster. And all that without making a new set in front of a lake and props such as white marble tombs! Dumbledore himself has a portrait in his former office, implying that he may have a role in the next two films. This isn't the case in the book. Another scene they fused together was the seemingly random bird and Harry, Ron and Hermione's resolve. That was Dumbledore's pet Phoenix grieving for his master at the same Harry and company plan for ahead. There were definitely a lot of things left out. I suppose I'm a little irked that just as many things were not explained for non-readers even though they had ample screen time, such as a strange ring which caused the person behind me to kick my seat in surprise. I just thought people who read the book were on a different level of enjoyment, laughing at minute details whereas non-readers were "laughing along". I sort of felt bad for my friend because there some things he couldn't understand and all I had for him was: read the book.
  • Nick Papa
    Brandon you may be a genius but this movie was not. In fact I hear it was submited to the special olympics film festival. Nuff said banana boy.
  • Reading this article only confirms what I always say: See the movies BEFORE reading the books. For me, at least, I end up enjoying both formats this way. Whereas, if I read the books before seeing the movies, I will have all these expectations for what "should" be in the movie," when I really should just be observing how well (or not well) they work as films. I end up just liking the books and hating the movies. Movies adapted from books will almost always leave out stuff. Lots of stuff. The point that we should be asking is, "Is J.K. Rowling happy with these films?" It's her story. Her characters. Does SHE feel the movies capture what is important to her stories and that the "spirit" of the books is there on film? If the answer is yes, then those Potterheads that are so devoted to the books who think the movies suck because they left this out or that, need to re-assess what is really important for the adaptation from books to films in this series. I, for one, have not read the books and every single movie thus far has worked for me. Sure, I liked some better than others. But I was always captivated by what I was seeing. I love Harry, Ron and Hermione as well as all the other characters. I just think it is ridiculous how many, many fans haven't been happy with a Harry Potter movie since 2002.
  • Tim
    I'm off to see the movie this weekend and a have a question/favor. I keep reading there's one scene that's pretty bloody in the movie. I'm taking my kid with me and want to be able to make sure's he's not overly frightened when it happens. Can someone fill me in exactly when that is? tia
  • Tia, cover his eyes directly after the fight scene between Harry and Malfoy in the bathroom. Other than that, it's very PG as far as blood is concerned. Though, there is a scene when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are walking in the snow and something happens to a girl that is fairly frightening. Also, the cave scene toward the end may be nightmare inducing as well -- prepare him as Harry reaches toward the water. Hope that helps!
  • And by Tia, I mean Tim. ...damnit.
  • Tim
    That's perfect. Thank you!
  • felix
    This movie was really good. Thanks for the article.
  • Timothy
    Mr. Tenney -- I have read several of your more thoughtful work and I have to say, you are an excellent writer. I saved your article on Batman 3 (Starts and Ends With Time) because I so thoroughly agreed with what you said, and I was as enrapt by they way you painted the words. The same is true here. I don't smoke. My grandfather did. And his stash of stuff smelled sweet and aged and wise, with a hint of "leave me alone - I'm smoking". That line you wrote: "Spinning around that word were similes qualifying such a claim. Half-Blood Prince is like a fine cigar: a slow burn housing notes of brilliant character that linger long after the exhale." That is a revelation to me. I could see it. I could smell it. I could see the smoke wafting this way and that, trailing into nothingness, while absolutely bringing home the comparison. You are either older, British, or extremely well-read, or all three. In any case, I am still left to wonder how you are able to capture essence in this way and pass it lovingly to the masses. How?
  • scm1000
    Wow, I don't understand people like you, Brandon. Why just watch the movies instead of reading the books, too? For one thing, the book is ALWAYS better than the movie. There may possibly be one or two exceptions out there that prove the rule, but otherwise, that rule's pretty absolute. Second, I don't even know how you UNDERSTAND the movies without the books. The first two tell you everything, of course, so those work fine. But from the third one on, even though the movies get actually good, they leave out reams of explanations that are pretty essential to understanding the whole series. For instance, the Marauder's Map in the Prisoner of Azkaban was actually created by Harry's father, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew when they were all kids. Did you know that? Also, at the end of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains the prophecy which says Harry is the chosen one, and he is therefore the only possible person who can kill Voldemort. In this movie they talk about him as the Chosen One, but they never explained how he actually *was* in the last one! That's why Dumbledore is showing him these memories of Voldemort: he's preparing him for defeating him. There's all sorts of details like this that are crucial to any understanding of the overall plot that just can't be understood without reading the books. (This point doesn't even touch on how many great characters you're really missing out on in the movies, either because you barely see them at all--Mr and Mrs. Weasley, Sirius, Tonks--or because they're left out altogether-- Peeves, Firenze, Mundungus Fletcher, Rufus Scrimgeour.) I think if you really enjoy the characters and story this much on the screen, you owe it to yourself to check them out on the page.
  • Wonderyears73
    My friends at work forced me to listen to the Potter books on tape about a year ago. I told them that I don't like reading books if they are going to be turned into movies because of this very reason. The books were magical, and up until now I can't complain about any of the movies loosing vital parts in lue of a good story. However, my disappointment in this movie is beyond any other I have ever seen, weither based on a book that i've read or not. My first thought was back to the last movie and the wonderful fight scene at the end, which they immediately referred to in the begining of this movie with the flashing camera's as Harry exit's the Ministry of Magic. I felt like this movie was going to be amazing even if it may not follow the book as anyone who has read them would hope they would. However, as the projector continued to run, my mind could only half heartedly involve myself with the characters that were now being portrayed in front of me. The mystery behind all that is Harry Potter was pushed asside by a hormonal highschool musical mentality. A teenage girl sitting three seats down from me proclaimed half way thru, "Enough of the god awful Boy Girl kissy garbage and get to the story already!" I couldn't have agreed more but would never have throw that out in the middle of a first night showing filled with volitile Potter fans ready to defend his honor. Beyond my agreeance with this young lady, I was horrified that the invasion of Hogwarts fizzled out in two and a half minutes and the death of the single most influencial character in Harry's life had about as much of an impact on the audience as if they were getting served leftovers for dinner for the third night in a row. At the end of the movie about five people clapped this painful, should I clap or not clap. It was just that... Painful. Painfully unfulfilling, painfully unemotional, painfully short, painfully lacking everything that makes Harry Potter the hit that is Harry potter. My ultimate opinion is that it should be illegal for directors and studios to add scenes to movies that weren't even remotely in a book if they don't have time to put the most essential parts from the book on screne.
  • Andrew
    Wow, reading Harry Potter fanboy crap like this really makes my brain hurt. Harry Potter is almost as bad as Twilight, and that is really saying something.
  • snickers
    The emperor has no clothes... Prisoner of Azkaban is still the best Potter movie.
  • Bob
    Oh wow, I can't imagine being introduced to Harry Potter by the movies. I think it would have tainted my view of the series forever. As it is, I just block the movies from my memory as soon as I'm done being disappointed by them.
  • Sam
    Great article and I completely agree. It is quite annoying having to wade through all of this "they cut this scene out" bullshit. Please, the series has not ended, reserve your judgement for the end. Even then, these are movies, not books. Go and watch the first two if you want the novels to be spoon-fed to you.
  • Timothy, thank you. Truly. scm1000, I am set to embark on the Harry Potter literary journey immediately. And, as I said in the first paragraph of the article, I am usually very keen to have read the source material, the book/comic/graphic novel/etc. before I see its movie adaptaion. I had read Lord of the Rings three times before I saw its film adaptation. I've read the Hobbit. I've read The Road and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and even Pride and Prejudice. I searched out the Batman comics that Nolan was using as a basis for his Batman reboot that we later learned was going to be titled Batman Begins. Before movies, literature was always my passion -- it still is. Hence the first sentence of the article -- "It's an odd thing, Harry Potter." After my initial disinterest with the series and seeing the first couple of films without the book's backup, I was intrigued by this new experience. I'd never seen such a giant property with so little knowledge. And I am still enjoying that sensation -- though, and as was the point of this piece, I am conflicted now because my urge to know more is finally outweighing that novelty. I will say, even though I didn't know some of the stuff you mentioned (or even more intricate plot details that I've heard my sister mention) -- I fail to see why I have to in the context of the film. I understood the emotional impact just fine. The beats are there. But, as I said, I am ready to read the novels -- starting with the first book within the next couple of weeks. Though, I'm unsure if I'll read through Deathly Hallows before the film -- I'd still like to preserve the cinematic experience I've had with all of the others.
  • Dominic
    Absolutely brilliant. Wonderfully worded, I haven't seen the film yet but I can appreciate it more when I finally do. You have managed to capture a preview and a review in one article. Very nice.
  • Christ
    Great article.
  • me
    Love the films, love the books! To be the HBP director is not an easy job! Yates can't put all the book's content in the film. You need more than 4 hours to do that and a film is under 4 hours. And who will watch a 4-hour movie? I didn't see Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince yet, but i know that the funeral was cut. I don't see anything wrong with that. I would do the same if i were the director. At the end of the film Dumbledore's tomb appears?? Please answer! If the tomb appears it's OK. If not... there is a problem because of the content of Deathly Hollows(not so big problem). Please answer!!!
  • D.T.S.
    This movie was not bad but I expected much, much more. The acting was really good I must say but, many of the main things in this movie was just messed up. For example, the "supposed to be love seens" were more of just hints toward liking that certain person, not love. And Dumbledore dying was not sad like it was suppoesed to be. And Harry Potter was able to at least battle the Dark Lord but Snape can stop every pathetic spell Harry tried to shoot at Snape, thats fucking stupid. Harry should be able to take his shit down or at least make him hurt a little or fall down from a powerful spell from the great Harry Potter but instead, Snape blocks absolutely everything.
  • Richard
    This is *exactly* how I felt watching it, well almost, I didn't think it was a masterpiece, in fact I thought that I might not even have liked it. Where in fact I had just some sort of strong reaction to it which I didn't know whether or not it was dislike, intrigue, or what. After thinking about it I came to most of the same conclusions you did and yes it did make me want to read the books finally as well, just not sure I can bring myself to it. I almost feel like I'd be slapping Terry Goodkind in the face reading this after something like the Sword of Truth series lol.
  • qrnster
    Masterpiece was the exact word that came to my mind upon finishing reading the book, something which is very rare for me to say about Harry Potter. It is the centre of the whole series of books; a foundation for all the drama to follow.
  • Panagiwths
    Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince it was what i was expecting. It was excellent.
  • Jimbone
    " I, for the first time, was left wanting more. Or, rather, I felt like I hadn't been given enough. For the first time I felt a pang of realization that perhaps what had been left out, altered, shifted, and concealed through and by the adaptation process was more important than what I had actually seen on the screen in front of me." whoa, it's a movie based on a series barely even a decade old, how about you calm down and put that enthusiasm towards world peace.
  • Al
    there was no major plot to this, get real people. all of the events in the film could have been summed up in 20 minutes as part of another Potter film.

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