Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A test screening experience and review by Eric Scull
~~~~SPOILER WARNING!~~~~ The review below includes mild spoilers for the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Read at your own discretion, but consider yourself forewarned.
First, let me explain that what we saw was a pre-release test screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the first one, apparently, which is always held in Chicago stemming back to the days of the first two films. There were, if I had to guess, Id say 300 people who made it, and none of the people I talked to knew what we were going to see beforehand. All we had been told was that the movie was expected to be rated PG-13, no video or audio recording devices were in any way allowed (they confiscated our phones) and the purpose of the screening was to obtain feedback from the diverse audience prior to the films actual release. Rather standard, Im sure.
While sitting in the theatre all we could do was speculate what the movie would be. We were completely unsure, until something happened that made me look twice. David Heyman entered the auditorium and started talking to an associate. Although I hadnt met him in person before, Id seen him in enough interviews that, once I saw him, my furthest hopes came to mind. Sure enough, the lights dimmed, and it was announced that we were going to be seeing a rough cut version, not fully completed but generally in tact, of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Onward to the movie.
We knew they had filmed a bridge collapse scene which in the book was mentioned during the first chapter, The Other Minister. This makes for a great opening sequence and, although we dont meet the Muggle Prime Minister, we get to see the disaster happen from the Muggle perspective. Actually its from both Muggle and a wizarding perspective that we see what happens a really cool trick which you can do with film. Its pulled off quite nicely. Already I like the style and care that is put in to characterizing people in this world who we dont even meet.
The Dursleys are not in this film, but that information was also already available. Instead, we find Harry waiting for Dumbledore, and I wont say where except to say that theyve constructed a scene which I think works well. The movie has already given a couple of seconds to reflect quickly on the horrors of Harrys previous year, and we are ready as moviegoers to watch Harry pick up the journey and go further from there.
Harry and Dumbledore Side-Along Apparate (the special effect, which appeared to be completed, was perfect in matching the canon description of the act) to the village where Slughorn is staying, and one of my largest concerns for the movie was getting to see Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. Dont worry. Throughout the movie, I was continuously impressed with how they adapted the character to the film, and to say that he does reflect my Slughorn from the books satisfactorily, with a little extra, is true. The scene where they meet Slughorn is surprisingly close to the events of the book, as is most of this movie, actually. I was surprised and delighted to see Couch-Slughorn put to film.
The events of Spinners End take place also in the beginning of the film. Weve received a promo picture of Alan Rickmans Snape and Helen McCrorys Narcissa doing the Unbreakable Vow, and thats why - its in the movie. Alan Rickman looks good. Theyve tailored his Snape suit and hes got nicer hair, the full main villain treatment I suspect. The scene is compellingly acted and doesnt feel out of place with the many events of the start of the film.
And thus, the movie continues. With the initial story-setting behind them, although it didnt feel rushed at all, we are taken to the Burrow. Here is where Ill speed up the review.
A lot of the things people seemed to dislike about the fifth HP film, such as vast amounts of time passing in visually appealing yet otherwise disappointing montages, does not happen in this. The film maintains its directors neat visuals, however. Right from the initial Burrow scene, it is clear that Mr. Yates has not lost his creative edge and rather moved on to do different and wonderful things with the camera.
The entire movie seems to keep its pace, and I think one of the things that has helped the filmmakers is a clear-cut set of events spread almost evenly throughout the year in the book. Theres not too much stuff going on, rather just enough things at significant enough times of year so that they can document the full year without it feeling rushed. Again I mention the closeness of the movie to the book particularly. Some scenes are almost verbatim, but the ones that arent serve to really enhance the movies impact and its ability to stand alone as a film.
All of my concerns about Bonnie Wright as Ginny were washed away in her first scene. Book Six has either too much snogging or too much Voldemort neither of which I complained about and both which I rather enjoyed but this movie completely balances the two quite nicely. It seems effortless almost. But there are really dark scenes and then there are very fun scenes. If you know the characters from having read the books, I think youll get more out of the movie than those who havent and thats surprising to me. For the first time, it seems, the filmmakers have made a movie which is REALLY true to the characters of the book and almost not afraid to leave newcomers with the shorter stick.
Also important to mention is that this movie is in NO way, at all, in any shape or form, a childrens movie. Ive said that before regarding the Potters, but this time it couldnt be truer. Everything about this movie screams serious intensity, like the Katie Bell necklace scene, and it makes me so happy that they could make such an intense movie, because it gives me real hope for the adaptations of the seventh book. But I think you should think twice before bringing your kid brother to see it.
Such effort is spent on the characters of the trio throughout the course of the movie. In fact, Emma Watsons never been better. Theres a moment in this movie where I almost screamed THATs my book Hermione! which hadnt happened to me since the first movie. Similarly Rupert has had some REAL fun scenes to play with in this film. The Lavender subplot is hilarious and, surprisingly, not annoying at all. And oh, what a joy it is to see Quidditch back!
The movie focuses on the trio perhaps more than ever, but the surrounding characters are well portrayed. Matthew Lewis as Neville again has a small amount of screen time, but we all know how awesome his role is going to be in the next movie. Even in scenes where the characters we all know by now arent featured or speaking, their characters show through. Thats no doubt due to improved acting all around, and a seriously commendable tolerance for their bit parts. They do the characters well. Evanna Lynchs Luna gets perhaps equal screen time as she did in the last movie, and many things from her character in the books are brought to screen and fun to see.
Also commendable is the new casting. Cormac McClaggens character and Lavender Browns really help to push the school side of the plot throughout the film. The movie almost relies on their convincing roles at times because its easier to forget that were in school with how dark and mysterious everything else is thats going on.
There are many scenes with Draco. Im surprised I havent mentioned him yet. From early on, Tom Felton has a lot to work with in this movie and its very pleasant to see him get to play his character for a good amount of time. The movie is sympathetic the story focuses on his plight as a subplot, and well often see him lurking around the castle in the backgrounds of other scenes. Were being reminded that hes got his mission, without being told everything.
Michael Gambon, in this movie, has finally satisfied me. He has the right inflection of the lines which is necessary for Dumbledore, and altogether seems to be really with it. The climax of the film is very wonderfully done, and throughout the film you are able to embrace his Dumbledore quite nicely.
Another great thing about this film is the reappearance of the little things. Tom Riddles diary, from Chamber of Secrets, and The Marauders Map, for instance. Its the little things that add continuity from previous films which Im a stickler for. Also, the twins! While I realize theyre not props, by far my FAVORITE scene in the movie is the one that takes place at Weasleys Whizarding Wheezes! Its so good to see them after the initial subdued opening of the film and their scene, while about five minutes long, is the best. The filmmakers simply couldnt leave it out and it does well to show that some people in the wizarding world are able to break through all the fear going on out there. Diagon Alley is otherwise almost completely empty Ollivanders shop is empty. Can you believe they mention it? They do. They even have time to walk inside and feel sad.
Next to mention are the Pensieve scenes. Its been confirmed that there are a lot fewer in the movie than there are in the book. I didnt have a problem with scenes cut from Movie Five, and I have even less of a problem with them not being included in Six. What the filmmakers have done is meticulously crafted a movie to portray the events that happen in the book and to tell a really compelling story which includes all the most adaptable parts they could to fit the time frame. Would I have liked to have seen The Gaunts? Maybe. But thats easily a ten to fifteen minute scene which has little to do with the actual path ahead of Harry. There are some things which Im proud that I can just read them in the book and theyll always be there, so well done, without a film adaptation.
There are only two Pensieve scenes included. The scene from the teaser trailer, Young Tom Riddle in the orphanage, and the scene in Slughorns classroom both shortened and elongated just like in the book where we learn about Horcruxes. These three journeys into the Pensieve are so well-placed in the film and the film doesnt feel short of them. Nor is there too much snogging. Overall, once more, a great balance between.
The cave scene at the end of the book could have been messed up so badly in the film, but its not. Its amazing. Its exactly what I imagined and conveys amazing emotional impact. The special features are great. Watching Harry force-feed Dumbledore is just as raw and scary as it was in the book. Dan Radcliffes acting all throughout is top-notch.
I forgot to mention the Half-Blood Prince subplot. With so many subplots, its a wonder how they all fit into the movie so well, but they do! They werent cut! And Slug Club scenes, oh yes, there are a few. And Quidditch, as mentioned. So much is back I am overwhelmed with how much of each that I didnt think wed see.
Finally, the climax. It, too, is adapted very well. There is such emotion behind it and, when the score is completed, Im sure it will be one of the defining moments of the series. I liked watching it much, much better than Sirius death scene. There was a funny moment for me at the Burrow with Lupin and Tonks and Mr. Weasley in the room when I thought, Hey wait a minute, wheres Gary Oldman? Dumbledores death will stick.
The movie score, although we did hear an un-finalized version, was great. They have used some recurring themes, including several from the Prisoner of Azkaban film! I was very in awe to hear the tune to Something Wicked This Way Comes set to book six events - so ominous and truly perfect. I have full faith that, when completed, it will be wonderful.
After the movie I introduced myself to David Heyman. Not only was he there, but so was Alan Horn, president of Warner Bros. And David Yates, the director, David Barron the co-producer, and Mark Day the film editor! They all sat for a twenty minute focus group afterwards which I did not attend, and when they came out I spoke with them at length about the film and how I felt it was a big success.
I wrote this review so that I could express to everyone how worth the wait this movie is going to be. I know its been delayed and I know that stinks. But theyre going to use the time they now have, screen it some more, and a better movie will be made as a result of it, I am completely convinced. I cant wait to see proper movie trailers, a movie poster, and all of that because my worries are completely gone. I am sure that the movie I saw is not the final film and once the CGI is completed and feedback considered, there will be plenty more to make it a completely different experience.
Seeing it is still a bit of a blur, but hopefully this helps the wait, and to assure you that the people who are making the movie have the fans concerns at heart. We all took surveys which begged us to be as specific as possible about what we did and didnt like, who our favourite characters were, questions about the pace of the film and all of that. This movie is going to be the best one yet. They have the time and the will-power to make it so.
Posted by: Eric