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Movie Does Justice to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 15, 2009

by Ari Armstrong

A rewritten version of this essay appears in the Expanded Edition of Value of Harry Potter.

My wife and I were going to wait to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until Wednesday evening, opening day, like normal people. But at 10:20 p.m. on Tuesday, we made a mad dash to the local theater and purchased literally the last two tickets available for the midnight showing, which was split among four screens.

Then I was going to wait until Wednesday morning (I mean, the part of morning that comes after sleeping) to write a review, but I thought, to heck with it, it's already after four, so what's another hour?

The theater lobby was filled with plenty of capes and related magical paraphernalia. A couple of young blokes loudly held mock magical duels. I feared the audience would be too raucous and unruly for me to hear all the dialog, but that wasn't a problem. People were there to enjoy the movie, and they respected other people's viewing. There was a bit of blubbering during -- well, you know.

Overall it's a fine movie that does well by the book. As I've mentioned, of the previous movies the third (Prisoner of Azkaban) is my favorite, followed closely by the fifth (Order of the Phoenix). I was pleased, then, that David Yates, the director of the fifth film, signed to direct the rest of the series. And pleased I remain.

As always, Alan Rickman mesmerizes as Snape, and the leading three actors do well.

I was disappointed by the film's omissions, but at a running length over two hours and a half it would have been hard to cram much more in. (In what follows I'll reveal some details about the film that you may not wish to know until you've viewed it.)

As I've discussed, love is a crucial theme of the book. Unfortunately, what the movie omits leaves that theme underdeveloped. We get the main romantic developments between Harry and Ginny as well as between Ron and Hermione. But the film does not include the romances between Lupin and Tonks (who make brief appearances) or Bill Weasley and Fleur. Nor does the movie reveal the tragic history of Voldemort's parents.

Most disappointing to me personally is the film's omission of the Minister of Magic's visit to Harry Potter. In the novel, the Minister asks Harry to "stand alongside the ministry" to "give the right impression." Harry responds angrily, "Either we've got Fudge [the previous Minister], pretending everything's lovely while people get murdered right under his nose, of we've got you, chucking the wrong people into jail and trying to pretend you've got 'the Chosen One' working for you!" Then Harry proudly proclaims to be "Dumbledore's man through and through." This is my favorite scene of the book, particularly as it does so much to establish the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore, and I regard its omission in the movie as a tragedy.

The final major omission is the fight scene at Hogwarts near the end of the story. In the book, this is where Bill becomes disfigured by Greyback, leading to Fleur standing by him. In the movie, the villains basically waltz away.

Of the numerous changes, the one that most bothered me is that, in the film, Dumbledore does not freeze Harry to keep him safe, as he does in the novel. Instead, Harry waits below, watching on dumbly. That was a mistake, I think, because it makes Harry look weak and it removes one of the important acts that Dumbledore takes to protect his beloved student.

But the movie is true to its medium. It interprets the story for film. And in one case in particular, which I won't describe though I think it will be obvious to people when they see it, the movie's visuals create a powerful emotional moment.

If you go to the movie in order to see the book as written appear on screen, you'll be disappointed. But if you go to see a great story reinterpreted and condensed for a very different medium, I think you'll be impressed. It still feels largely like a bridge work between the fifth and seventh books, but that's just the nature of this part of the story (think "Voldemort Strikes Back").

I'm just grateful that they're splitting the final book into two movies.

Want more in-depth analysis of Harry Potter? Order
Ari Armstrong's Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles.

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This book is a work of literary criticism. It has not been prepared, authorized, or endorsed
by J. K Rowling or anyone else associated with the Harry Potter books or movies.