From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

As an avid lover of fantasy, I resisted the mainstream power of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series for some time. Being both an adult and one of those grumpy types who hates to see a genre popularized, the phenomenon seemed offensive and pretty pointless for some time. Being also a writer, I later decided to explore the series to see whether I might learn its secrets.

I quickly discovered that I prefer the movies to the books: Rowling’s writing technique is largely more immature and awkward than her readership. The stories, characters and clever nomenclatures, I can appreciate, but the writing itself makes the artisan-writer in me weep.

Nevertheless, I decided to read each book before seeing the movie, or rather to enjoy hearing the talented Stephen Fry read it to me.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been my favorite so far. The book’s darker themes and more adult intrigues appealed to me.

That said, the film is, well, lacking. While the tried and true cast performed much as expected, and the special effects, soundtrack and visual theme are phenomenal (excepting occasional editing and continuity goofs), the sixth installment in the Harry Potter chronicles was simply flat.

Added scenes and a focus on the main characters’ growth into romantically-inclined teens gave the film the unpleasant tang of romantic comedy, including (of all things) a pratfall. The Half-Blood Prince is meant to be a gothic intrigue, rife with suspense, fear and death, but teenage love-interests and nearly constant jokes about snogging steal the focus.

It seems odd that the film’s producers chose to lighten the mood so much in this installment. This is a story about the true price of doing what is ultimately right, and about the constant presence of death in spite of life’s many wonders, and that focus was largely lost amidst pratfalls and executive decisions about the flow of the series.

While the merit of an action scene in the middle of the film is arguable, it is the exclusion of the climactic battle that offended my sensibilities most. After all, Draco Malfoy spends no less than three scenes acting opposite only a vanishing cabinet to establish the route into Hogwarts for a pack of Death Eaters. Arriving, they watch a wizard killed by someone who actually lives at the school, break some glass, and set fire to Hagrid’s hovel. One fails to see the point.

There is the argument that the next film will feature a battle very early on, but then, the next film is actually two films, the first of which we will be waiting some fifteen months to see. It is understandable that a series requires a balanced progression, but each film also deserves an internal rhythm.

And when it comes to rhythm, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince plods along mercilessly, much like an army division steadily heaving itself up a mountain, at the top of which is no particular objective. There are punctuations of comedy (largely misplaced), action (including a long-awaited Quidditch match and wanton destruction) and mystery (the secret of Lord Voldemort’s weakness and the mysterious wizard who first discovered it), but these scenes are timed so that the movie has no crescendo whatsoever.

Add to that the lifeless treatment of the fall of the scion of Hogwarts, and the film plays like a hard rock tune without the benefit of drums or lead guitar. What should have left me excited and drained instead caused me to wonder how long I’d been in a trance.

The acting throughout was enjoyable, especially that of the tried and true Rupert Grint (Ron Weasely), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) and Alan Rickman (Severus Snape). Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), a newcomer to the series, also played his role wonderfully, though I thought him a bit trim for the character. Tom Felton deserves a special accolade, having transformed the sneering and petulant child Draco Malfoy into a vicious and vengeful Dark Lord in training. Roles of lesser impact in this particular film include Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid, Evanna Lynch’s quirky Luna Lovegood and Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall.

The best scenes were both well acted and true to the novel, such as the meeting between Snape, Bellatrix LeStrange and Narcissa Malfoy and the Pensieve flashbacks, wherein we see some very creepy portrayals of young Tom Riddle by actors Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane.

The sets are stunning, of course, though it does seem to me that more than the stairways shift at Hogwarts, considering the impressive growth of the astronomy tower. The collapsing Millennium Bridge and exterior of the Weasely Burrow are also worthy of note. One does wonder, however, how it happened that certain parts of the Ministry of Magic and a certain boy’s home were built of the same, apparently volcanic, black bricks.

Where special effects are concerned, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince certainly surpasses expectations. From the Warner Brothers logo modification to the end credits, the visual effects are stunning. There are some goofs here and there, as mentioned earlier, including a bicycle seat on a broomstick and some obvious glow tape, but all in all, the swooping cloudy Death Eaters, cascades of fire and blasting waves of force were beautiful.

Unfortunately, cutting edge visuals, acceptable to excellent acting, and gorgeous backgrounds cannot save a mediocre script rife with ho-hum pacing and gaping plot holes.

Having enjoyed all of the previous Potter presentations, I was disappointed upon leaving the theatre after Half-Blood Prince. I had been conditioned to expect a much more exciting movie by both the book and the earlier movies. The constant teen romance inflection, lack of solid structural elements and absence of a gripping battle (which added tremendous impact to the headmaster’s death in the novel) diminish the film’s impact considerably.

Also of note: there’s no funeral. Perhaps we’ll see it in the first Deathly Hallows film.

In summation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has about half the structure, pathos and interest it might have had. Between screenwriter Steve Kloves, director David Yates and a handful of producers, too much was added and too much was lost.

As for the upcoming split-novel project, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I must echo Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Biran Dumbledore and say, “Once again, I must ask too much of you, Harry.”

I give Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 3 out of 10 wands.

Logan L. Masterson, Missourian by birth and Tennessean by choice, is a writer, actor, storyteller, artist, geek & new world man. His writing to date includes an examiner column covering Nashville’s active theatre community and several published poems in such collections as In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself. In addition to the writing of poems, songs and fiction, Logan enjoys roleplaying games, playing guitar and his five rescued dogs. His blog can be found here.

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