Warning: This review CONTAINS SPOILERS. Seriously. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie or read the books.
I grew up with Harry Potter. Alongside him, is more appropriate actually. I picked up the first book from Barnes and Noble at the age of 9, and I remember the anticipation as each book came out. Each midnight release as my friend Emma’s mom, Ann, bought us root beers and cookies at the Barnes and Noble café while we trooped around in big rimmed glasses with lightning bolt scars drawn on our heads, awaiting 12 AM when the book would finally be in our hands.
As Harry grew and adventured and experienced, I did too. I felt the pangs of first love, the loss of old friends, the joys of new ones with a fictional character who was as real as anything to me. As I read the seventh and final book cover to cover last year, I felt like a piece of my childhood was gone. I was finally grown up.
The movie franchise, however I might feel about them, has been a bit backwards. As each film has been released I’ve been less and less excited. I thought they started out splendidly. I remember tearing up in the theater at the age of thirteen when I heard Sir Richard Harris mutter the line, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I was terrified of the basilisk, and in love with Kenneth Branaugh as Gilderoy Lockhart. But as the kids grew up in the films and the CGI was relied on more and more, the magic was slowly lost for me. Especially in Movie 5, Order of the Phoenix.
Order of the Phoenix was incredibly disappointing to me for one particular reason- as important as Sirius is supposed to be to Harry, the filmmakers somehow lost ALL of that love, affection, and trust in their adaptation. They set him up well in Prisoner of Azkaban, but he is literally nonexistent in Movie 4, The Goblet of Fire. He dies in Movie 5, and it’s incredibly sad, but only for us who read the books. If a casual moviegoer saw Order of the Phoenix and hadn’t read it beforehand, they wouldn’t realize that Sirius’ death is like Harry losing a third parent. So, with this in mind, I was really nervous for how they were going to deal with Dumbledore in Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince.
Despite my misgivings, I was pleasantly surprised by Half Blood Prince. As a film, it’s great. Beautiful cinematography, for one. The color scheme works perfectly with the dismal and dark feel of the film, much like Prisoner of Azkaban. The acting is some of the best we’ve seen from these kids, and they do an amazing job really just focusing on Ron, Harry, and Herminone without letting us forget about kids like Neville and of course, the evil Malfoy. Malfoy takes on a huge role in this story, and while for some reason this actor has gotten really, really ugly as he’s grown up, he’s great in this role.
Alan Rickman gets a bit more screen time, and rightfully so because he’s amazing. And the dynamic between Dumbledore and Harry is perfect. I was ridiculously saddened by Richard Harris’ passing, and I’ve had mixed feelings about Michael Gambon, until now. He really flourishes in this one as the old grandpa character that you’re kind of intimidated by, but would trust with your life. He’s given a great amount of screen time and enough connection with Harry that, in the end, you feel the loss and mourn his death. You feel the same despair that everyone on the lawn of Hogwarts feels as Dumbledore lies there, dead in Harry’s arms.
The biggest problem with this movie is how they deal with Dumbledore’s death. The book basically told us that it’s supposed to be Malfoy, but Snape takes on the responsibility in the end. Later, in book 7, it’s revealed that Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him so that Snape could truly spy for the Order of the Phoenix once again. I don’t really understand why they decided to so obviously allude to it in Movie 6, through arguments between Snape and Dumbledore and Snape’s reaction to his death.
Snape’s behavior made my friends and I argue about his true intentions the entire wait between book 6 and 7. And the revelation at the end of book 7 was heartbreaking. I just feel like moviegoers who specifically watch the films are missing out on something great by knowing it was Dumbledore’s wishes all along. Rowling really got it right with this particular part of the story and this really ruined the movie for me.
If you’re wondering what was left out, there was a good amount of story abandoned. Nothing incredibly major, though. To narrow it down, there’s no Scrimgeour (who is being played by Bill Nighy in Movie 7), no Qudditch victory for Griffyndor, no flashback of Voldemort’s mother, no funeral for Dumbledore. I thought Dumbledore’s funeral would have been a great way to end the film, but the scene on the lawn is pretty appropriate.
One big thing missing was Harry’s obsession with the Half Blood Prince, which is touched upon, but they never define that his wish is for the previous owner of his potions book to have been his father. In the film it’s sort of ironic that Harry has been following the scribbles of the man who murdered his role model, but in the books it’s just downright depressing that instead of the Half Blood Prince being his father, it’s a person who hates his father AND killed Dumbledore.
In the end, this film was an incredible way to set up the final set of movies, Part 1 and 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m excited that they’ve split the book into two movies, because there’s so much to cover that it’d be ruined in just one. The kids seem the perfect age, and David Yates seems very invested in this franchise after his experience with the last two movies. It’ll be amazing to see the first part emotional climax to this amazing franchise play out on screen next year.