June 25th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

As we get farther into the Harry Potter series, two things happen. The books get longer, and the movies leave more and more out in their increasingly vain attempt to concentrate on the important stuff and keep the running time around 2-1/2 hours.

In the previous movies, most of what they left out was what you might call “texture”. That is, things that added to the general feel and ambiance of the movie, but which didn’t directly really affect the plot in any major way. Oh, there were a few places where they simplified the plot in some fashion to facilitate a more simple path, but by and large I always thought they did a fairly good job of squeezing everything in.

This latest installment in the movie series, Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince, is the first one where I felt they were too severe about cutting things out of the book in order to keep the movie to a reasonable length. There’s not just one or two things I really missed; there’s a long list. In particular, things that they left out that I would have liked to have seen include:

  • The opening scene where the Minister of Magic pays a visit to the Muggle U.K’s Prime Minister. This seems to have been replaced by the scene where Bellatrix and her cronies destroy a couple of busy pedestrian bridges over the Themes in London. I did like the new scene, but I think the original would have worked better overall.
  • The scene with Bellatrix and Snape at the beginning was drastically shortened in the movie. Too much so, I thought. The original went a long way in showing that Snape is not at all fully trusted by EITHER side and it would have better balanced out Harry’s mistrust later in the story.
  • The entire subplot of Harry’s inheritance from Sirius Black was completely left out! This has serious ramifications for the plot later on.
  • They completely removed Harry’s and Hermione’s discussions about and attempts to discover the identity of the “Half-Blood Prince”. The movie’s title now makes almost no sense, because there’s simply no significant reference to the “Half-Blood Prince” remaining.
  • The book has a few sequences with Dumbledore showing Harry memories in the Pensieve that explain Voldemort’s history. Harry needs this information in the final installment.
  • Cormac McLaggen’s role in the movie was drastically reduced from the book. I would have liked to have seen Harry standing up to him the way he did in the book.
  • More Hagrid! His role was drastically reduced in this movie, largely due to entire scenes from the book being dropped. Most of those scenes were admitedly not directly crucial to the main plot, but they should have kept at least one good one in there to give us our daily recommended dose of Hagrid!
  • The aftermath of Harry’s duel with Draco in the bathroom was left out, making it look like Harry got away with no punishment. Given how Snape normally treats Harry, this is a big omission.
  • In the movie, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione convince Harry to give up the book in the aftermath of the duel, but in the book he hides the book himself to avoid being caught with it by Snape.
  • The detention that Harry gets from Snape in the book following the duel leads to his missing a big Quiddich match and to his first kiss with Ginny, in front of a stunned Ron. In the movie, the kiss happens when he and Ginny are alone in the Room of Requirement to hide the book. I wanted to see Ron’s reaction…
  • In the book, Harry had a big fight with Dumbledore shortly before their trip to recover the horcrux. I thought it was an important installment in the whole Dumbledore-Harry-Snape triangle.

None of these changes affect the overall plot, but there are significant differences in how the characters are portrayed that will affect the way people react to them. Other significant changes include:

  • The injury to Dumbledore’s hand seems much less serious than portrayed in the book. He uses the hand several times throughout the movie without more than minor apparent discomfort. Furthermore, the fact that it’s an enduring injury that cannot really be healed isn’t at all made clear.
  • Harry knew that Ron could be saved by a Bezoar because he’d read about it in the “Advanced Potion Making” book, and had produced one in Slughorn’s class, but in the movie they left that out.
  • Snape reveals himself to Harry just before the final scene with Dumbledore at the end. Why? Is this an attempt to reintroduce some of the confusion into the situation that was lost when other things were changed or removed?

Things that were changed for no apparent reason include:

  • When Harry gets attacked by Draco on the Hogwart’s Express, he’s discovered by Tonks in the book, but in the movie it’s Luna Lovegood who discovers him. The rest of the scene is shortened, and Harry doesn’t get in trouble for arriving late as he did in the book.

None of these changes made me dislike the movie… I just wish we could see a more direct translation of the book, running time be damned. Maybe we’ll have a healthy serving of deleted scenes when the movie comes out on DVD/Bluray.

The acting in this series gets a bit better every time, as the three main stars gain more and more experience. The focus is more directly on Harry this time, and Daniel Radcliff seems more confident and comfortable than in the previous outings. Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are both a bit underused here, since Harry spends more time with Dumbledore and less with them, but the story manages to take the first few steps in putting their characters together. Otherwise, the cast is largely the same as we’ve seen before, with the addition of Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn. He’s fun to watch.

The pacing of the movie was a bit uneven and even with a running time of about 160 minutes, seemed rushed much of the time. I really do have to wonder if it would have been worthwhile stretching out the length just a few minutes in order to do something like smooth out scene transitions.

The ultimate book in the series, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, is roughly the same length, but they are dividing it up into two movies instead of trying to cram everything into one. I think that’s probably a good way to go, after seeing the sacrifices and compromises made in this chapter.

Frankly, it’s long been my opinion that this franchise would be much better served by a well-produced television show, if you could manage to find a production company and a TV network that would be willing to forego the usual transformation of the original story into a collection of 20 or 40-minute episodes. I can understand why they need to do that with many book-to-TV translations, but it almost always hurts the material and I think with the Harry Potter franchise you could largely avoid it.Movie Review: Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

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