Summary: This is probably the best film-of-the-book I have ever seen.
Most films-of-the-book - indeed most films, in my limited experience - are total crap. The action is ramped up at the expense of plot and characterisation, and a Hollywood shmaltzy ending is crowbarred in regardless of whether it makes sense. The Harry Potter films, for me, are proof that it doesn’t have to be like that.
It would be nice if Hollywood would note that a strong author with - presumably - an unprecedented degree of editorial control, and a screenwriter who totally gets the book, can produce a very good film indeed.
I’ve read some pretty poor reviews of this film, and I can see why some people wouldn’t have enjoyed it - the Independent sent some idiot who doesn’t even like Harry Potter as far as I can see, and spent half the review moaning about the lack of sex. In the film, that is, although perhaps he was suffering personally too. But I think anyone who loves the book - and I do find it difficult to understand why anyone who wants to see the films wouldn’t have read the books - would find little to complain about here.
I watched the whole thing slightly on tenterhooks, in case they ruined it, but in the event there wasn’t a single scene where I thought “That’s not right.” Not a single point where I was disappointed, but quite a few points where I thought “Yeah, that’s a good way to show it.” The whole thing reflected the plot and characterisation and the mood of the book perfectly imo.
In no particular order, because I can’t read the notes I took at the time (I couldn’t see what I was writing, so it’s not particularly surprising):
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I thought the relationships were handled very well indeed. Despite some areas of the fandom disagreeing, to me it’s been obvious from Book 1 that Ron and Hermione were destined for each other. I thought the way Ron muttered her name on his sick-bed was slightly cheesy, but they needed a short-cut and it worked OK. The girl who played Lavender did a very good job of her side of the relationship; in the book she came over as slightly in it for the fame, but I actually preferred the way she put it over as absolutely genuine on Lavender’s part. And also for the fame.
The Harry-Luna friendship is understated in the books, but it’s there, and it’s genuine and selfless, and we saw that in the film too, beautifully done, when he invited her to Slughorn’s Christmas party. The girl who plays Luna deserves to go on to greater things, definitely.
The Ginny/Harry was good, although there wasn’t much time to show the slow burn of Harry realising how he felt. I thought the whole business of Harry saying that Ginny has nice skin, but he’d never thought about Hermione’s skin, was lovely. And vice versa for Ron. That scene set out their feelings wonderfully clearly.
For me, though, the best relationship on the screen was the Harry-Hermione friendship. Emma and Dan brought it over very convincingly that these two love each other very much, and would do anything for each other, just not in that way. Come to think of it, there have been moments throughout the series where they’ve shown that - hand-holding, hugs and comforting without a single shred of UST, just as in the books. In the canaries scene, where Hermione sobbed on Harry’s shoulder, we saw that Harry was slightly uncomfortable with such a degree of closeness, but he didn’t pull away; he loves her and understands how she’s feeling, because he feels just the same about Ginny. That was yet another point, by the way, where I thought Steve Kloves had done an awesome job of distilling pages and pages of inner thoughts and realisations into one or two lines of expo.
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Scenes that I particularly liked:
Professor Slughorn saying the words over Aragog’s body. I laughed, because it was such a brilliant piss-take of a Minister trying to come over as deeply sincere, y’all, but in fact betraying himself as not actually giving a shit. Lovely bit of acting there.
The cave scene. That was one I was particularly worried about, because it was so central to the feeling of the whole thing, but I relaxed when they Apparated onto that rock into exactly the kind of scenery and rough seas I’d imagined. The cave was very well done, I think, although wasn’t there rather more green light in the book? The Inferi were deeply creepy, too, but I thought they could have given Dumbledore one or two lines from the book - I didn’t have time to re-read before watching the film, but doesn’t he say stuff about regretting things he’s done?
The scene on the tower wasn’t quite as I’d imagined, but that’s my fault because I hadn’t taken into account that it’s not that easy to get an audience to focus on a hero who is Petrified and invisible. (Although they managed it on the train). So moving him down a level so we could see him watching but he couldn’t do anything served the purpose adequately. The ambiguity of Dumbledore pleading with Snape worked well, too. I agree with other reviewers about the under-use of Greyback, but with a book this size you have to cut out entire chunks and characters, and they could have spent hours on the characterisation of Greyback without it adding anything to the film. He’s a book character, horrible and the stuff of nightmares, but I can see why they left most of that out of the film.
I thought one of the most atmospheric parts of the film was the brief look down at the Great Hall, silent and empty. No-one in sight, no plates on the tables. Abandoned. Throughout the film, the general noise of the audience rustling their sweet packets had been driving me nuts - I’m sure it was much louder than last time I saw a film - but during this scene, even though nothing was happening, the entire cinema was utterly silent, totally absorbed.
I also liked the scene where Harry and Hermione talked about how they love Hogwarts. I don’t think that was in the book, but the school and its grounds have been a major character in the films, and this was its payoff; a final, gentle look at the place that has been home for six years. When they come back at the end of Deathly Hallows everything is different. This is the real end of their time at Hogwarts.
The end of the film was left slightly hanging, but that’s totally the feeling in the book, too, so I take that as a success. Everyone knows that this is just a short breather before things get even worse; everyone is looking ahead, so there can be no sense of closure, or even much in the way of rest and regrouping, at this stage. Those black clouds are too close, and too menacing, for that.
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Biggest relief of the day: Michael Gambon finally GETS Dumbledore! I’ve never liked him as an actor, and I didn’t like his characterisation of Dumbledore in previous films. I particularly hated the bit in Goblet of Fire where he yells at Harry after his name comes out of the goblet - just totally wrong.
My complaint was that Dumbledore is supposed to be the best wizard in the world, compassionate and highly intelligent, and Gambon was playing him like an idiot. And that disgusting slimy-looking robe they gave him just made me think he probably had dirty toe-nails underneath it. (No, I don’t know why).
For Half-Blood Prince, it was vitally important that Dumbledore be obviously intelligent. He had to be capable of solving the problem of the Horcruxes (and I still think it should be Horcruces), and Harry had not only to follow him into great danger but agree to leave him there if so ordered. And the characterisation that Michael Gambon showed us in previous films just wouldn’t have worked.
Luckily, for some reason, he finally changed the way he was playing him. Perhaps he actually read the damn’ books at last or something, because finally I could watch Dumbledore without muttering angrily all the time about how wrong he was for the part. He was, finally, right for the part, if still not as good as Richard Harris.
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And finally, Tom Felton. Didn’t they give that actor a difficult job to do? Draco has a mission which terrifies him, but he’s so proud to have been chosen. He gets the chance to live up to his father’s ideals, but he’s conflicted about betraying Dumbledore. He’s always been a nasty little shit, but that doesn’t necessarily make him evil.
In the books, JK Rowling uses both Malfoy and Snape to illustrate the fact that nasty and evil are not necessarily the same thing. Snape is horrible, and he hates Harry and treats him unfairly, but that doesn’t automatically put him on the Dark side. And Malfoy is on the Dark side, and proud of it, but at the end he simply can’t go through with it; he’s just not that wicked.
And Tom had to show all this with very few lines of dialogue iirc, just a lot of scenes of him walking about looking worried. But he did it. He absolutely nailed Malfoy’s fear of what he had to do, and his dawning realisation that he didn’t want to do it.
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All in all, I liked the film a lot. I hardly ever go to the cinema because even the films I desperately want to see generally turn out to be disappointing. I am totally a book person, not a film person. But this one absolutely worked for me. I can’t think of a film-of-the-book that has ever been better than the book; I don’t think - for me at least - that’s even possible, but this one left me with one overall impression.
Simply put, this film IS Jo’s book, on the screen.
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