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Old July 15th, 2011, 11:16 pm
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Re: The Harry Potter Movie Marathon Thread

For the first time since Chamber of Secrets, we have directorial continuity from one film to the next. There are probably other directors who could have taken on Half-Blood Prince - or Deathly Hallows, for that matter - and done a great job, but having David Yates back is a big benefit to the final two/three films. Tonally, Half-Blood Prince is wildly different from Order of the Phoenix, but it's clearly Yates at work behind the camera. He's not trying so hard to seem "gritty" - HBP requires a lighter touch, and receives it. I say "a lighter touch," but that's really demanding, the same way Goblet of Fire's tone was so demanding. You just don't sense Yates working when you watch HBP; it feels, if not effortless, something close to it. I don't want to just repeat what I said about how well Newell handled GoF, but HBP has the same tricky combination of romantic woes, light comedy, consistent tension, and grave danger. What makes it even trickier is that there are so many sudden turns - for example, Ron's reaction to the love potion is hilarious, but when he's dropped to the floor, poisoned, that's pretty terrifying. There are a bunch of quick mood shifts like that. Fortunately, Yates shows off an excellent handle on the tone of things. So much of this film is whimsical and light on its feet, but not in a way that diminishes the stakes. The humor and romance of so much of it makes those scary or sad - or both - times all the more so, and vice versa.

So much of Half-Blood Prince is laying the foundation for what's to come in Deathly Hallows - and so much of that is exposition by way of the memories Dumbledore's collected - and so little of it is action or adventure. There's some crucial character development for our three leads, but there's a danger of leaving audiences saying nothing really happened. I think we all missed those memory scenes initially, some more than others (it was the one with Hepzibah Smith and Hufflepuff's cup that I missed most), but the movie has all it needs. In paring all of that way back, what we're left with is simply (A) what a horcrux is in basic terms, (B) there are probably six of them, if Voldemort did in fact split his soul seven ways, (C) Tom Riddle's diary and the ring that mangled Dumbledore's hand were the first two found, and (D) the others could be anything. Laying it all on the line like that, it sounds like a lot, and you do have to keep up in the scene where we get all that, but it's not confusing, and it actually leaves Harry with barely anything. It seemed like Dumbledore left him with very little in the book, and it's even more that way in the films. He has no idea what to look for or where to look for it, and at the end of this film, he doesn't even have the real locket, and they have the mysterious R.A.B. to find. On the page, the ending of Half-Blood Prince felt so completely hopeless in the most compelling way - it's one of the great cliffhangers (or several of them) ever, in any form of fiction. The movie leaves Harry with a lot less to cling to, not even any leads, and one could argue that that makes it even more effective. He does have something in his favor, though: that connection with Voldemort that seems to be growing more intense with each film. Order of the Phoenix introduced this strange, creepy neck-twitch gesture that comes over Harry from time to time, a clever choice on the part of David Yates or Steve Kloves or whoever, and this film follows up on it kind of brilliantly when Dumbledore observes it and proclaims, "Magic - especially dark magic - leaves traces." We don't really need the information that comes from those memory scenes, because Harry's link to the Dark Lord means that he can sense other horcruxes, in a way that he's not yet aware of but will surely tap into later on.

Beyond that matter, Kloves makes great choices in what to visualize (like the bridge collapse), what to add on (like the mysterious excerpt from Dumbledore and Snape's conversation near the end - which we only hear about), and what to cut (like the battle in Hogwarts, which would have taken away from the impact of the massive battles in Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - it's enough that Bellatrix and co. get into the castle). I especially enjoy the moments with Draco in the Room of Requirement, and the way they keep they give us a glimpse of what he's planning, let us inside his head, and yet don't destroy the lingering mystery. I think my only problem with the final screenplay is the final scene, which shouldn't have bothered touching on the matter of Harry and Ginny's relationship - it's awfully awkward when Hermione mentions Ron being okay with it - and needed a line or two about The Half-Blood Prince actually being Snape (perhaps, "And to think it was him I was trusting all year as The Half-Blood Prince," following, "It was always Snape"). I'm actually fine with the way the Harry/Ginny romance has been altered - it's a different dynamic, subtler and sweeter, and, despite a couple of bits that are awkward in the wrong way (like Ginny stopping to tie his shoelaces), it works in the writing. Kloves' return is very, very welcome.


We're kind of back in Chamber of Secrets territory. Dan Radcliffe improves the least out of the three, at least in a way that's really noticeable. That's because Harry has a more passive role than he does in the three films before this - he's doing an awful lot of reacting to things, a lot of following other character's leads. He's not a complete follower, but he's not as dynamic as we've seen in the last few, which gives Radcliffe less chance to stretch. He's still excellent, though, particularly when he gets to show off his comedic chops (i.e., when he's under the influence of the Felix Felicis). Rupert and Emma do get to stretch a lot more, Rupert not only showing off his own comedic skills, which are exceptional (again most on display in a scene where the character's under the influence, in this case of a love potion - oh, right, "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll"), but also exploring Ron's vulnerabilities more. Ron's not famous the world over, he hasn't excelled in seemingly everything the way Hermione has, but when quidditch comes along and he finds some confidence in his ability (by way of a confundus charm and a faked dose of lucky potion, but still), and when Lavender shows him some very clear attention that Hermione doesn't, he seizes those opportunities, and who can blame him? I would have liked another beat with Ron that made it clearer that a big part of the reason he was with "Lav" was that Hermione didn't seem to have any faith in him, but instead, it seems a bit more superficial than it should - it's less about Ron having to deal with whether Hermione does have any faith in him or feelings for him, and deciding that Hermione really is the one that he wants, and more "Ron has a girlfriend now, and Hermione's upset about it." That's not on Grint or Watson, though, they're very good. Emma's terrific, turning in a performance that's charming, funny, and deeply touching. By the end of HBP, you have to ask yourself how these two aren't properly together yet - even if there are more important questions to answer.

The way Dumbledore was handled - and the way the Harry/Dumbledore relationship was handled - is this film's greatest success. I was, and am, so happy and relieved by Michael Gambon's performance, which is once again, thankfully, strong, charming (I overuse that word, but it applies to a lot), witty, warm, and, all things considered, enigmatic. After what we saw in the last two films, I can't believe, still, that I can use the word 'warm,' but we do have that moment where Dumbledore reminisces about Harry being that little boy in the cupboard. And we do have that opening, carried by Nicholas Hooper's theme, a memory of the two of them surrounded by press and their flurry of cameras, an assault of sound as Dumbledore simply putting an arm around a wounded Harry. After Goblet of Fire, with a Dumbledore that was far too aggressive and wild, and Order of the Phoenix, with a Dumbledore that was supposed to be cold and dismissive, I was seriously worried about how emotionally resonant Harry & Dumbledore's relationship would be in Half-Blood Prince - because if that doesn't succeed, the movie doesn't succeed - and with that opening, I was convinced it would succeed. Dan Radcliffe and Michael Gambon don't have the kind or level of chemistry that Dan Radcliffe and Richard Harris had, but they're great together in this film. When Dumbledore dies, you feel it, and not just because you would have anyway, but because this movie worked for it. When McGonagall tells Harry, "You should know, Professor Dumbledore...You meant a lot to him," you believe it. And I wasn't sure how much that would be the case. Gambon delivered here.

Before Jim Broadbent was cast, my personal top choice for Slughorn was Brian Blessed. I was thinking of someone who would best fit the more jovial, gregarious, selfish parts of Slughorn, and I wasn’t thinking as much of the deeply sad, regretful Slughorn. Tapping into that aspect of the character, Broadbent is amazing, and he’s also very funny and light when the occasion calls for it. I recognized Horace Slughorn when I was watching Jim Broadbent’s performance for the first time, but he still brought something to it that I wasn’t expecting; it was a surprising performance – surprising, I suppose, in how tender and just how well-rounded it was. The scene where he ultimately hands the memory over to Harry is an extraordinary piece of acting.

You can tell that Felton was hungry for the chance to expand his role and expand the range of the Draco Malfoy character. This is an outstanding performance; we grow beyond the preening arrogance and hatefulness from previous movies to find a Draco who’s terrified of his odds, terrified of the threat being put on his family, and affected by this war in his own way, but truly determined to seize the chance to the “Chosen One” for his side, to make good on all of the childish teasing and bullying and actually be a true challenge to Harry Potter. Watching Draco through his attempts to pull off his plan with the Vanishing Cabinet in The Room of Requirement is fascinating, and seeing him break down and cry in the bathroom is a moment that packs a punch. It’s great to see Draco becoming a character of substance.

What a creepy little kid. I hope we see more from the ironically-named Hero, because he has real presence. He’s pushy, he’s arrogant, he’s preternaturally powerful, and, above all, commanding. He owns that scene.

“Arrogant,” “preternaturally powerful,” and “commanding” all apply here too, and there’s a charm and youthful persuasion as well. Dillane’s superb; watching the teenage Tom seduce Slughorn into telling him about horcruxes is chilling. Plus, he actually looks like a teenager.

“Lav” is so viscerally irritating in that squeakily-girlish way. She’s positively fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoying, and that is, after all, the point, which means that she’s spot-on. She’s just the girl you don’t want to see Ron with, especially when there’s Hermione right there.

Hooper’s score is an improvement over OotP, and, in short, I like it, I don’t love it. “Journey to the Cave” is the real gem; that’s an excellent piece of music, it builds in an incredible way to a point of being exhilarating yet somehow sad at the same time. “Ginny” and “Harry and Hermione” are really good as well, and “Fireworks” is a fun theme for Fred & George. I prefer “Wizard Wheezes” in that spot, though, which was actually written for that scene in the first place. I still find “Dumbledore’s Army” not at all fitting for the quidditch tryout scene – I would even if it weren’t called “Dumbledore’s Army.” Point is, it was written for that part of OotP. “Dumbledore’s Farewell” is the real heartbreaker; the phoenix song is described as basically the musical embodiment of grief itself, so no pressure there. It is a masterpiece, though, and, hyperbole though it is, I would say it's at that level.

Half-Blood Prince is the only Harry Potter film so far to be nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar, and it is indeed visually stunning. It’s not “just” anything or “too” anything, it’s a striking concoction of bleak, colorful, and that odd place in between. The camerawork is fluid and evocative. Bruno Delbonnel does some superb things.

-The trio cracking up after Hermione’s “emotional range of a teaspoon” line in OotP was funny. They seem to have tried to do that kind of moment again in HBP after Ron’s “150 – give or take a few years” crack, but this time, it just feels like they couldn’t think of a way to finish the scene, so let’s just have them laugh, and then we’ll just move on.

-It’s okay that “Spinner’s End” isn’t the opening scene. (The scene turned out perfectly, by the way.) What’s less okay is the way it moves onto the “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes” scene, which is the only time in the film in which the abrupt mood shift feels way too abrupt. The solution, in my opinion? As simple as a fade out and pause of seven seconds in between, in order for viewers to have a little time to process what they’ve just seen from Snape.

-I hope, I hope, I hope that there are some viewers out there who haven’t read the books, but who have seen and really followed the films, who were asking themselves just what Snape is: Hero? Villain? Both at once? Because that “Spinner’s End” scene should pull the rug out from under you, make you wonder, “Wait, so Snape’s a villain? Or is he playing with Bellatrix or Narcissa? What’s going on here?” The question of “Severus Snape: Good or Evil?” has not been a part of the films’ marketing, which is understandable, because most of the world who’d care already knows. But I do hope that there are viewers who don’t who are engaged by the matter.

-I miss Rufus Scrimgeour, but I think that’s just because his attempt to make Harry the Ministry’s, in effect, mascot is one of my favorites in the book. I do see why he was cut, though, and I do see why they chose to add the attack on The Burrow. The problem is, nothing actually happens. Sure, the war is brought up close and personal, and to The Burrow, but in execution, all you have is a lot of running, everybody shouting everybody else’s name, a hairy guy standing around looking mean, Bellatrix running and repeating “I killed Sirius Black!” (which is a fun callback), and then The Burrow burning down. Nice try, I guess, but in the end, it’s useless.

-Speaking of that hairy guy…Well, that’s all he is. If you’re going to cut the character, cut the character, don’t include him merely to the extent of casting a wrestler or cage fighter or whatever who’s really not an actor, giving him generic man-wolf makeup, and just having stand around in a few scenes looking unpleasant. Fenrir Greyback is a good villain, a child-killer – he could be a figure of full-blown menace, but he’s not here. The credits say that he’s in, interviews I’ve seen with Dave Legeno say that he’s in, but he’s not. I’d rather see him totally cut than this.

-The scene just before Harry and Dumbledore apparate to the cave, where Dumbledore instructs Harry to obey his every order, captures the right feeling so remarkably – it’s sad, it’s ominous, and it really evokes the feeling that you’re on the edge of something momentous and probably terrible happening. From that point on, the film is utterly perfect, frame to frame, in the emotional response it gives the viewer. From the nearly-black and white color palette inside the cave to the awesome sight of Dumbledore conjuring the ring of fire to Snape placing his finger to his lips to assure Harry that it will be alright to the lack of music in the Astronomy Tower sequence to Gambon’s just-hard-enough-to-read delivery of, “Severus…please,” with that achingly long pause…Perfection.

-After my rewatch the other day, I don’t understand why any viewer would want a lavish funeral scene when what we do have, this wandlight vigil, is as fulfilling as it is. Having McGonagall raise her wand, shine its light, and the rest of the crowd follow her lead, both canceling out the Dark Mark and honoring Dumbledore’s memory, makes for an incredible movie moment. It’s a wonderful visual metaphor for the uniting of good people fighting back the evil of legions – it’s not the wandlight of any one of them wiping out that Dark Mark, it’s all of them, and it can’t be any other way. And it’s a MOVIE moment – you cannot have that scene in a book, not that way. It’s an extraordinary moment, and a far better way to acknowledge Dumbledore and everything he did and worked/lived for than any formal funeral scene could be.

-I wish Fawkes’ appearance hadn’t been changed. Would anyone who doesn’t already know that that’s Fawkes even recognize him? I don’t understand why they chose to make him so much larger.

I’m reserving full judgment on Deathly Hallows until I see and process Part 2, so for now, Half-Blood Prince remains my favorite Harry Potter film. Simply put, it feels the most like the book. And that’s what’s most important, that the film gives you the same emotional response that the book did, and the same spirit. I don’t know that I can pay it a higher compliment.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me.
(And her movie is available now!)

Last edited by IenjoyAcidPops; November 6th, 2013 at 1:28 am.
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