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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Yates, 2009)

I worried that as this series drew to a close, given the increasing length of the books, the film adaptations would falter. After an underwhelming Goblet of Fire, I was glad to see that Order of the Phoenix turned out to be fun, harrowing, and ultimately sensible. I credit that as much to the screenwriters and director David Yates as anybody else.

Sadly, this one disappoints. It’s not that it’s horrible, per se, but by comparison, it suffers from a few glaring issues the preceding Potter films have mostly been able to avoid. More than anything, the film feels horribly unfocused. Events appear to happen simply because the plot calls for it. Rarely do we see them set in motion, or the motives that inspired characters to act (which would have thereby injected some much-needed depth). Maybe we’ve known these characters long enough to forgive such oversights, but when Harry says, “After all these years I just sort of go with it,” I find it ironically apt in this film's case. Going through the motions.

When the characters do stretch their legs, the result is often disappointing. Dumbledore, for example, a character who has exhibited such splendid wile and wisdom (especially after the addition of Michael Gambon), is surprisingly neutered this time ‘round. His mystique is called out too directly - mostly through awfully wooden dialogue – giving visitors the sense that he's a plot device more than anything else.

Similarly, the series’ newest addition, Professor Slughorn, falls flat in both eccentricity and depth when compared to past professors. There’s a more substantial character lingering here, I know, but the only thing that’s retained is his role as a very important yet completely coincidental stepping stone in the pursuit to defeat Voldemort. Really, given his character, that job could have been relegated to anybody. So was he really needed?

The main three, still young as they are, continue to show their maturity at the acting game. It’s just unfortunate that the “relationship stuff” is so shoddily written. Really, the who’s-dating-who and who’s-upset-with-who scenarios seem all too much like exaggerations of puppy love. I get that we’re supposed to see bonds forming between Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny, but what we’re ultimately given is painfully generic. Insert random girl to separate Hermione and Ron. Insert random jock to compete with Ron and then vanish for the rest of the film. For all its goofiness, I thought the "chick flick" segment that was plugged conspicuously into the middle act of Goblet of Fire handled relationship issues much better.

Like I said, the whole product is just horribly unfocused anyway. I get that there are really two narrative strains at work: the adolescent romantics of the young students, and the continuing threat of Voldemort and his minions. Again, I haven’t read the books, but it doesn’t seem difficult to keep this stuff straight. Aside from a few genuinely charming moments, most of the puppy love scenes are sporadic and in dire need of cutting. Likewise, with the exception of Malfoy’s confused preparation to assassinate Dumbledore (finally, Draco shows some real character!) and the flashbacks of Tom Riddle (which are admittedly pretty nice), the Voldemort threat angle is too underdeveloped and peaks too late to have much profound impact on viewers.

As far as the shocking ending that everybody already knows…

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Dumbledore’s death, in principle alone, does sting a bit. As the ever-present confidant and guiding light to Harry, his murder would understandably ripple greatly over what’s left of the story. Which is why I can’t ignore the terribly uninspired “requiem” that follows. Everyone raising their wands was a nice touch, but come on… wasn’t anybody upset? I would think Dumbledore’s death would throw Hogwarts into chaos. Certainly, there wouldn’t be some neat circle of people quietly looking over his body (which is kind of creepy, if you think about it). And what? No funeral? No great gathering of magic-folk to pay their last respects to such a venerated leader? Cedric Diggory got more play than this.

Finally, I’ve got some lingering questions about aspects of the story that I thought should have been adequately answered. Maybe they’re plotholes. Maybe they’re points of contention between book and film. I don’t know. Enlighten me!

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
What’s so important about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince? What’s it mean? I imagine there’s something deeper here that the film couldn’t (or wouldn’t) delve into, but it seemed like a significant missing piece. I can’t believe the importance is simply that Harry found a book that used to belong to Snape. (Nor can I believe that Snape would risk leaving a book like that in his old office.)

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why does Snape kill Dumbledore? I’m assuming he was a willing double-agent for Voldemort, but the guy was after the Defense Against the Dark Arts post for years. He finally gets it and then turns on Dumbledore? There even seemed to be some hesitance on Snape’s part to agree to kill Dumbledore if Malfoy failed. Did he really want to do it? Does he regret it? Is he only acting because he has no choice? I’ve got to believe there’s more at work here than the film let on.

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why is Malfoy chosen to kill Dumbledore first? The kid has shown no competent or reliable qualities throughout these films, other than his ability to be an insufferable douchebag. Did he possess some advantage that Snape didn’t? It seems like Snape, having the confidence of (and greater access to) Dumbledore already, would have made him the primary assassin.

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Why isn’t Harry expelled when he nearly kills Malfoy with Snape’s spell? Harry had no proof of any wrongdoing on Draco's part, so essentially the event was assault. It seems Snape would have made a gigantic fuss of it too, knowing that Harry posed a risk of hampering the assassination. And politically-speaking, I’m not sure Dumbledore could have ignored the severity of the event.

WARNING: "Harry Potter" spoilers below
Bellatrix and her goons infiltrate Hogwarts, and after killing Dumbledore, all they do is kick over some glasses and break a few windows? Everyone was asleep. You’d think they’d go room to room and eliminate the competition. You’d think they would especially want to capture Harry and take him to Voldemort. Why leave him?