Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Plot

The Saunders family all went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last Monday. While we all enjoyed it a lot, the title of this post if rather a giveaway that we found various gaping plot holes. Obviously when you're filming a huge book there's a lot you need to throw away, and while I was sorry to lose some of my favourite lines I can understand that. I also realise that you have to alter emphases when making the transition from page to screen: things that work well in print sometimes don't work on screen, and vice versa. So despite its considerable liberties I enjoyed the film pretty much without reservation up to the point where Harry and Dumbledore head off to destroy a horcrux.


But from there on the plot changes seem arbitrary and weird. As Harry points out, you can't apparate in or out of Hogwarts (for heaven's sake, that's the whole point of the what's-Draco-doing-in-the-Room-Of-Requirement plotline). So to have Dumbledore and Harry apparating from Dumbledore's study because "There are advantages to being me" is just crass. If Dumbledore can do it, it's a fair bet that Voldemort (whose skill in most kinds of magic is fully up to Dumbledore's) would have found a way. The scene in the cave is disappointing: great effects, but Dumbledore just announces solutions without our ever seeing him think. In the book, the scene where he is examining the liquid in the basin is a marvellous demonstration of his investigative skills, but in the film he just announces that it has to be drunk. Nor do we see the effects of that drinking to the same extent: the sorry state to which Dumbledore is reduced in the book, begging for death and with Harry having to tell him that the next cupful will bring it, and desperately calling for water afterwards. And the best line of the whole book, when Harry is reassuring the drastically weakened wizard: "I am not afraid, Harry: I am with you" is just heartbreaking - and left out of the film.

As for the towertop confrontation at the end, that has been rendered incomprehensible. In the book, Harry is still under his invisibility cloak and as Draco and his companions arrive Dumbledore paralyses him so he can't intervene. In the film we are expected to believe that he would stand by inactive just because Snape (of all people) told him to. As a piece of gratuitous alteration of character it's up there with the farrago of Faramir's treatment in The Two Towers.
The adaptation has also stored up problems for the remainder of the series. In the book, Dumbledore shows Harry memories of Voldemort acquiring magical heirlooms and suggests the identity of most of the missing horcruxes. In the film we have none of that, so how is Harry to track them down? As far as he knows, they could be anything at all. Dumbledore's wand appears to be sitting on his desk at the end of the film, and not buried with him (so Voldemort will have trouble digging it up to steal it). And instead of hiding the Half-Blood Prince's potions textbook himself, Harry closes his eyes and lets Ginny hide it. He is supposed to remember that he's hidden it somewhere near a statue with a tiara on it, which becomes significant when he realises the tiara is in fact a horcrux and needs to locate it.

In an interview in Empire, Daniel Radcliffe talks about the drug references in the film (there is a bit about using potions for unfair sporting advantage which is in the book). He liked one line which evidently wound up on the cutting-room floor, where Harry asks Dumbledore if he has ever taken Felix Felicis (the luck potion). "Only recreationally, Harry" he replies. I'm sorry we didn't see that on the screen, because that's a line worthy of JKR herself.

Still, let's end with some positives. Jim Broadbent is fantastic, as is Helena Bonham Carter. The whole adolescence business with Hermione/Ron and Ginny/Harry is nicely done: not quite the same way as in the book, but none the worse for that. The effects are spectacular: the Death Eaters fly around in jets of black smoke, which may be inauthentic but looks amazing. The effects of Harry's Sectumsempra spell on Draco are brilliantly (and authentically this time) realised. And the actors who play the younger Tom Riddle are as creepy as hell.

So - worth seeing, for sure, at least if you've been following the series, but it could have been so much better.


At 25 July, 2009 15:01, Blogger Persephone said...

At our house, we have this down to a fine routine. As each HP book came out, we'd devour it, then order (this is important) Stephen Fry's audio-book version and listen to it. (Even though the Canadian publishers of HP use the British version, for some reason only Jim Dale's readings of the American version are available in Canada.)

Then, most important of all, we don't re-read until after we've seen the movie. So when I saw HPatHBP last week, I hadn't read the book since it came out in, what, 2005? So I didn't sit through the movie thinking "This is missing; well, they left that out..." (at least, not that much). What I thought instead was that this was the first time since the film of The Prisoner of Azkaban that I didn't feel the plot was being rushed through at a breakneck pace. They finally have time to tell the story. Maybe it isn't as true to the book, but I think it makes it rather a better film. Just MHO, of course...

At 25 July, 2009 16:46, Anonymous Phil said...

I was sorry for the actor who plays Neville (one line!). Generally I felt it was unlike most of the earlier films in focusing quite hard on a relatively small number of characters - although if I write them all out that small number is at least 7 (Harry, Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, Slughorn, Draco and Snape, or 9 with Ginny and Bellatrix).

I liked the way they bulked out the Vanishing Cabinet plot - and all the extra screen time they gave to Tom Felton as Draco, who is developing into a *much* better actor than Daniel Radcliffe. But why couldn't they at least mention the words "Room of Requirement"? I got the feeling that the plot was being pared down to the bare minimum for running-time reasons, which made a couple of substantial additions rather irritating (Bellatrix and Fenrir's Children of the Corn act and Slughorn's weird little story).

I mostly agree about the closing scenes - we were definitely a battle short. Not sure if Harry obeying Snape's command is such a bad move, though. It works for me as dramatic irony: Dumbledore's been telling him to trust Snape, Lupin's been telling him to trust Snape, and at the crucial moment he wavers and trusts Snape... and look what happens. I thought the film really went off the rails after that. The explanation of the Half Blood Prince title is pretty feeble in the book, but it deserved to be shown - if only because of the "half-blood" connection it suggests between Snape and Voldemort. And where was the funeral? A lot of wands held up like lighters at a gig, followed by a shot of Fawkes flying away, was no match for the funeral scene in the book.

Not bad, though. Not up to the third film (which it resembled in some ways - several slow quiet scenes between Harry and Lupin/Dumbledore) but I think I prefer it to most or all of the others. Roll on Harry Potter Goes Camping - and of course the sequel, Harry Potter Carries On Camping.

At 25 July, 2009 18:42, Blogger Persephone said...

The Room of Requirement is mentioned, but it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment,when Ginny and Harry find the cabinet.

At 27 July, 2009 06:34, Anonymous deals said...

I really enjoyed a lot.


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