3:30 am Review of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

I've just returned from a midnight showing of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, and want to jot down some quick thoughts before I tap out for the night.

First off, as I mentioned today on Facebook, I understand that since the movie Independence Day Hollywood has been pushing movies earlier and earlier into the week in order to skew their reported "opening weekend" gross. I understand the pressure to bloat the figures, but I think we've officially reached the point at which this is ridiculous. A Tuesday midnight showing? Really? I may be a teacher on summer break, and therefore have little reason to complain, but even I know that Tuesday night is not the weekend. We've now reached the point at which, if Hollywood wants to extend the "weekend" any more, they will have to begin at midnight on Sunday night of the previous week, which, to me, makes it the previous weekend, therefore nullifying the benefit. So let's just stop the silliness before all movies open at midnight on Sunday nights.

Okay, with that aside, the film itself will be a huge hit. I live in a small town (around 18,000 between the two twin cities of Independence and Monmouth, Oregon) and our multi-plex had a line that wrapped around to the back of the building. They showed it on five screens, and my theater, at least, was packed to the gills. I doubt these numbers will taper off when folks can see it on a genuine weekend.

Now, I wasn't a fan of he first films in the series. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. Sure, the early special effects were a bit blue-screeny, but that wasn't the big issue. Then a friend (Joel) pointed it out. They were too bright. One of the reasons readers, both kids and adults, enjoy spending time at Hogwarts is because it is a dark and forbidding place. The first films were overly targeted at the youngest readers, with too many goofy one-lines and far too much quidditch, but mostly it was the cheery coloring that set them off on the wrong foot.

Well, better too bright than too dark, because this has allowed the films to improve as the children age and the series progresses. Until tonight I thought Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix was the only film that finally caught the tone of the books, eschewing all the cheeriness of the first films. Watching the previews for Half Blood Prince, I was very concerned that they'd lost their taste for the darkness and were making a movie focusing entirely on the kids' developing romances. One could easily be excused for believing this would be a happy movie, judging by the previews alone.

I'm pleased to report that they got it right. Not to spoil anything too much, but the ending is not a happy one, and it matches the abruptness of the novel, which caught me off guard in the reading as well. Because everything has to be condensed so much, there were scenes that had to be shortened and others cut. This will not please the die hard fins, who seem to be more than willing to sit through a seven hour film to see all their favorite scenes included intact, but I thought they made good choices, over-all. There was a bit too much of the relationship stuff, but there was a bit too much of it in the book, too. There it served to draw out the space between the more pressing matters and illustrate just how much these main characters are still kids, unwilling and unable to sink into the despair their situation should inspire. It served the same function in the film, but, despite the lead characters' continued immaturity in some respects, they also caught that Harry is out of the accurately portrayed annoying whiny phase he went through in much of The Order of the Phoenix, and starting to grow up into a genuinely likable adult.

Before the abrupt and (frankly) anticlimactic ending, there's a fabulous and genuinely scary scene which will keep me from showing this movie to my four year old for many years. The jock sitting two seats from me, holding his girlfriend either protectively or lasciviously throughout the movie, screamed like a little girl, and I might have laughed at him (as his girlfriend did) had I not started violently (but, luckily, silently) in my seat at the same time.

Because the ending is cut so short, it cannot possibly inspire the same feelings as the novel, and shouldn't be expected to. I'm grateful that the medium can;t quite capture the novels, because that's more reason to encourage people to read the books. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, there's no disputing that these books are better than their movies. (I love the Tolkien novels, but I can make a pretty good argument that the movies are better.) Perhaps the creators of The Half Blood Prince movie could have focused more on this last portion of the film, rather than leaving us with what is essentially a "to be continued", but by the end I felt some of their better moments had earned them a little mercy.

So, when it comes to a grade, I suppose the question is, if a movie doesn't hit every note quite right but succeeds at what it's attempting to do, is it a success? This movie was designed to whet the appetite for the next pair, and though I think it's probably a B or B+, it left me expecting the last two to be straight A's.