As Ron would say, I must be “barking”, but I’m one of those in the minority who didn’t love the sixth Harry Potter movie. Don’t get me wrong. I love love LOVE Harry Potter. I love the sixth book. But I’m afraid the movie doesn’t hold a candle to the richness, the depth, and the complexity of JK Rowling’s writing. I blame Kloves and Yates for cinematically "mangling" such a great book. I was hoping to love it, I really did. I even watched it a second time to try to figure out what I didn’t like about it, or to see if I can change my mind about it. But it didn’t.
One of the film’s major offenses was in terms of characterization. Now I admit to not loving all the characters in Rowling’s Potterverse, but I love the books enough to want to see them all cared for and characterized in a truthful manner. While most of the major characters were safe in terms of characterization (even Professor Snape's character was all-too truthfully "revealed" with the addition of a previously unwritten scene with Professor Dumbledore), some weren’t safe from Kloves’ screenplay. Most telling was Ginny’s. OOTP failed to present her as the best spell-caster among the Weasleys, and HBP failed again (why was she in the Slug Club?). The film showed her relationship with Dean Thomas, but it failed to show HOW that relationship ended. Instead, it showed her carrying a torch for Harry, which, granted, she always has done. But what the script ended up doing was portray Ginny as some sort of a fickle girl who found it easy to go from one boy to another. Which I found rather unfair especially since JK Rowling wrote her with such sincerity that I found her compelling even though she was my least favorite Weasley.
And while they did an adequate job painting Snape as the person that he would become by the end of the series, they didn’t do as adequate a job at depicting him as the Half-Blood Prince himself. They didn’t show Snape being as informed of Harry’s Potions brilliance, even though he saw Harry use the Sectumsempra spell. I am frankly amazed that Snape was able to make that leap about his old Potions book.
Another instance where characterization was fully lacking was with Fenrir Greyback. Did they establish he was a werewolf? Also, Kreacher. The House-elf, along with Grimmauld Place, failed to make another appearance (or even a mention), which makes me wonder how on earth they would be able to tie together the events in the seventh book. And the scene where Luna discovers Harry beneath his Invisibility Cloak due to the Wrackspurts surrounding him was totally made-up and annoyed me. While Luna is not entirely “loony”, and I suppose anything is possible in the Wizarding World, it must be said that Luna’s philosophy is supposed to be at odds with Wizarding reality (which is why they are on the “fringe” of magical society). So for the film to actually depict Wrackspurts as true – well, I got confused and annoyed, quite frankly. And it wasn’t even a case of building Luna’s character for the seventh movie, since she gets quite a bit of screentime here. I guess it was because they shaved off the “Tonks is in love and depressed” storyline that they had to find another way for Petrificus Totalused Harry to be found – and in so doing, basically confirmed the Lovegoods’ beliefs, but added themselves a potential headache in having to explain another relationship in the seventh film (although I could have sworn I heard Tonks use a term of endearment towards Remus at one point – or it could be I was just wishing too hard).
Another offense was the lack of continuity among the scenes. The scene after Dumbledore asks “too much of Harry” again was suddenly that of Dumbledore (and Snape) in the Astronomy tower and Harry arriving. What gets my goat is that spoilers (the theatrical trailer even!) showed a scene of Harry telling Ron and Hermione that he was off to find a Horcrux with Dumbledore, with Ron wishing his mate good luck, to which Harry supposedly replied that he doesn’t need it because he’s with Dumbledore. Where the eff was that scene?!? And there was an immediate jump to the scene for the second Tom Riddle memory, which was frankly confusing. They also awkwardly edited the scene where the Trio stalks the Malfoys to Borgin and Burkes, when we suddenly find them on a rooftop. And it annoyed me no end that, after Ron had just had his brush with death, he still found time to crack a one-liner before lying somewhat comatose in the infirmary. They’re really pushing him hard as the unnecessary clown, aren’t they?
In conjunction with the wonky continuity was the pacing. It certainly didn’t help that Rowling wrote in a complicated matter which gave her books ebbs and flows. While I applaud portions of the movie for segueing nicely between comedy and drama, there were many moments where it felt very disjointed and came off rather roller-coaster-y for me. In the books, these ebbs and flows delineated chapters. But in the HBP film, it came off fast and quick like a factory line: from Ron’s kiss to Hermione’s tears in the stairwell, from tipsy Hermione to cursed Katie, from ralphing McLaggen to Harry overhearing about the Unbreakable Vow, and so on and so forth. The film suffered from a pacing overload, and for a non-reader, it can get very confusing. I suppose it keeps the film-goers on their toes, but I think it just serves to muddle audience reactions to certain plot points.
Such as the Horcruxes. Why fast-forward through the explanation of Marvolo’s ring? And they didn't even emphasize the importance of the locket! The diary was wonderfully and succinctly explained, though. I would have loved to have the film emphasize the importance of the Horcrux hunt, since it would be a major storyline in the seventh book. But it seemed that there was a lack of balance between telling Draco’s story, the Half-Blood Prince’s story, and the Horcrux story. And in between, of course, they had to tell the budding love stories. It was, to be honest, quite a lot of plot lines to juggle, and it was the reason why the pacing failed. I probably shouldn’t blame them for taking on a massively complicated book, but all the other books were similarly complicated and this was the ONLY Harry Potter film that I remember complaining about the pacing and characterization.
I suppose I was spoiled by Cuaron’s Azkaban, with his wonderful sense of continuity and the way the film was paced in terms of clever fadeouts. I loved that device. I just found it very odd that Yates (and Kloves – definitely Kloves) was very unsuccessful in the attempt here when he was rather good at it in OOTP. Must be the screenwriter, perhaps? I did like Goldenberg’s script, no matter how ridiculously condensed it was. I’d like to blame Yates, who must have tinkered with it too much in the lengthened run-up to theaters. In which case, I should probably blame Warner Bros for delaying the film’s launch in the first place.
The only time I felt there was a great effort at continuity was in the very first scene – a flashback to the Ministry for Magic, right after Sirius’ death and Voldemort’s escape, where Harry and Dumbledore are accosted by the press. It set the tone for the scene after (where we discover Harry to be recklessly going about London trying to take his mind off Sirius), even though it did not follow through with the rest of the movie. It was a good attempt, however, and I liked that the film opened that way.
But then THE ENDING – goodness me. I could not stop gritting my teeth after seeing the ending. That of Harry and Hermione overlooking the balcony with Ron in the background with NO LINES. What was that about? Can Rupert not fit in with those two on the balcony?? Is this Kloves’ way of getting Hermione more screentime after throwing Ron a bone with the love potion and Quidditch and snogging scenes? I mean, us Ron fans barely got enough of him in the last three movies, so I was hoping this sixth would more than break even for us. Instead, we find Kloves’ Mary Sue Hermione at the forefront again. And what's worse, it gave off the impression that Ron was just going along for the ride, and that it was Hermione's idea all along to help Harry with the Horcruxes. When in FACT, the book specifically states that it was BOTH their decisions to join Harry to the end! Sigh. I knew it was too good to last. Thankfully Ron was in the final frame as the Trio watched Fawkes soar through the sky (an idea borrowed from Newell's ending to Goblet of Fire, it seems).
Of course, not all of the movie was bad. I did love the cinematography. LOVE it. I always did love DelBonnel’s work, and his work here in HBP showed a very sophisticated sensibility. I agree that it looked very different from the previous movies, and that it was more saturated. It gave the film an overall look that was less fantastical, and more grounded and mature. There were some scenes where the cinematic composition was really good. The scene where the camera pans from Malfoy and Snape in the corridor to Harry in the next one listening to them. That was a very simple shot but it was very unique in its staging. I also liked the scene in the cave (or, as I called it, the “Fortress of Solitude” – seriously, what’s with the crystallized rocks, Yates??) when Dumbledore cast the spell for fire and seeing it light up the lake surface from below. That was pretty cool. And that scene outside of Hagrid’s hut where Bellatrix cast a spell which flung Harry backwards. The far shot of that scene was very identical to a fan art that I saw a few years ago and I was surprised when I saw that scene in the trailer. I liked that particular fan art and whether or not Yates did base it off that, I was glad to see that particular scene shot that way. (Although it would have been nice to see Hagrid – and Fang! – leaving the hut to safety.)
I have two favorite shots in particular from the film. The first was the far shot of the Burrow on fire and Harry, Ginny, Mr. Weasley, Tonks, and Remus were running through the tall grass towards it. I loved how dramatic the grass swayed and the sense of urgency as they ran through the field to get to the Burrow, with the light from the fire contrasting with the evening dark. I could almost – ALMOST – forgive them for adding this unnecessary scene just for that shot alone. And during Aragog’s memorial, that far shot of Hagrid, Slughorn, Harry, and Fang with Hogwarts in the background. I loved that it reminded me of Cuaron’s fadeouts and those early Sorcerer’s Stone painted posters back in the day.
There were also the Easter eggs strewn throughout the film, the small moments that made me smile. The Regulus Black shoutout. Arthur Weasley stopping to admire a plug. Hermione’s bushy brown hair making a comeback. Lavender calling Ron “Won-Won” (but not the “Won-Won” necklace). The use of the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder (even though it wasn’t exactly as it was used in the book). The return of the Invisibility Cloak. Seeing the Slytherin compartment (and how all the students in there really did look like the typical Slytherin!). The return of Quidditch.
But I think the film’s biggest success is how much the Trio’s performances have improved. They are now capable of nuanced performances and even tears. They no longer rely on eyebrow twitches, shoulder raises, and theatrical modulations. They’ve come such a long way from their Sorcerer’s Stone days. Emma is showing more confidence with each film and owns her dramatic scenes. And I must say she’s a beautiful crier. Dan, meanwhile, has always shown his passion and range. And I’m delighted to see his comic side come out in this film, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was being himself when he did his Felix Felicis scenes. The scene with Hagrid with him mimicking Aragog’s pinchers was definitely classic Dan.
But Rupert is still the most natural actor them all, imbibing even his one-liners with an effortless ease. I love how wonderfully restrained he was here – actually, he always has been a very controlled actor. He lets go with the slapstick sometimes, but there’s no denying his impressive verbal comic timing. I’m so happy – SO HAPPY – that he’s gotten a lot of screentime in this film. He laughs, he struts, he snogs, he fights Harry, he gets drugged, he convulses, and he continues to be his clueless charming self after his bout with the love potion. Despite some earlier misses, I do thank Steve Kloves for giving Rupert so much to do this time around. I really did miss him being in the thick of the action since Chamber of Secrets. And I love that there were more Harry-Ron interactions in this movie. No matter how big a role Hermione played in the series, there will always be something different and special about a friendship between two boys. Rowling captured it beautifully in her books - all the angst and humor and affection. I'm glad the movie tried to show that as well.
The rest of cast acquit themselves well, too (with the exception of Bonnie Wright who really hasn’t improved much to me). I liked Tom Felton in this movie. I’m glad he’s got his moment in the sun, which is just as well since I find him underused in the Potter films. JR Rowling has written such a complex, dark character in Draco and I’m glad Tom was able to match that. The kid who played Tom Riddle as a teen was also pretty amazing, too. I did find his voice odd, but he had such a sinister innocence about him that made him perfect for the part of a budding Dark wizard. As usual, the people in the casting department are geniuses.
The grownups were just as magnificent. I agree with a blog post last week that said that Rowling’s insistence on having British actors for the Harry Potter parts guaranteed quality. And this film was teeming with it. I thought Jim Broadbent was fantastic as Professor Slughorn. I had my initial misgivings about him when I first heard the casting news (because he definitely does not remind me of a walrus). But he plays the part of Slughorn so well, with an amiable ease and a tragic sadness about him. And Helen McRory as Narcissa Malfoy was also amazing in the few minutes that we see her. You felt her unbearable sadness, as well as her steely countenance that makes her a perfect Malfoy. She acted a gamut of emotions that ranged from sadness, to desperation, to fear, to hope. That scene in Spinner’s End was short but very powerful. Those three – McRory, Rickman, and Bonham-Carter – were just geniuses playing off each other. It was an awesome scene (and I loved the idea of the Unbreakable Vow leaving bond marks on the skin). And speaking of that scene, how much do I love Timothy Spall for being in this movie despite having no lines and so little screentime as Peter Pettigrew?
I guess despite not liking the movie, it is hard not to disregard it altogether. There is still the magic of Harry Potter, after all. Plus, the wonderful actors that make it all work. And of course, being a Ron Weasley and Rupert Grint fan, there was the wonderful sense of seeing this amazing literary character go through a series of fantastic events, and seeing this amazing young actor grow up in front of you and become even better than when you saw him last. Of course, that made the film for me.