I don’t think there has ever been, in the history of film releases, ever been a movie quite as globally monumental and highly anticipated as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: Part 2. I’m a believer that a huge aspect of any movie review stems from what kind of mindset and expectations the reviewer is burdened with prior to watching said movie, particularly if the movie if the reviewer has read the book beforehand. As such, HBP2 both, in many ways, exceeds and falls-short of my expectations.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS OF ALL SORTS FROM BOOKS AND MOVIES. YE BE WARNED.
It exceeds my expectations because there are so many instances and character moments that I love about this movie. To its very core, it is every bit as emotionally torturous as it is gripping – torturous because as a reader, one know precisely what to expect and who will die; gripping because the ambiance is so profoundly well captured.
- The soundtrack is unbelievable – strong, determined, wilful, suspenseful, and utterly relentless; I would be extremely surprised and disappointed if it doesn’t win an Oscar or an Academy Award.
- The acting is just beyond words. I think it says a lot about the actors/actresses when he/she gives audiences the suddenly urge to run up to the screen and hug the characters portrayed, which is precisely what I wanted to do to:
- Professor McGonagall – bless her heart; that scene where after she transfigured the statures to life, ordering them to protect Hogwarts, she then turns around and delightfully exclaimed, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” I love that scene because it just shows you how powerful yet human she is.
- Filtch – both when he ran to McGonagall, with Mrs. Norris in his arms, screaming “STUDENTS OUT OF BEDS” (to which she curtly replied “I know. They’re suppose to be,”); and that scene at the very end after the battle where he’s seen sweeping the floor amidst all the rubble and looks up with an exasperated sigh, as if thinking “how the heck am I going to clean up all this?” before continuing determinedly. That last scene is so amusing and endearing to me; everyone else can simply cast a cleaning spell and fix the castle in an instant, yet rather than waiting for them to do so, Filtch decides to take the initiative in whatever limited squib-ways he can to help out. At the end of the day, regardless of how much all the students despise him and vice-versa, Hogwarts is, first and foremost, his home.
- Neville – thrice: when the he suddenly realizes Hogwarts’ shield is destroyed and he runs off in a panic, regretting his earlier taunts towards the Death Eaters; when he wakes up in a daze in the middle of the battle and waddles off in a daze to gallantly slice off Nagini’s head; and lastly, at the end when he and Luna are sitting awkwardly side-by-side with a a nervous “Now what?” expression on their faces while everyone around them are hugging and celebrating. That scene is too cute! I ‘m so happy that they end up with each other.
- Hagrid – when we found out he’s been captured by Death Eaters and is forced to watch Harry die.
- Snape – that moment where he felt so outraged, disgusted, and betrayed that Dumbledore was raising Harry as “a pig for slaughter”. It’s such a brief scene in the book, but so powerfully conveyed on-screen. I absolutely agree with Tom Felton that Alan Rickman deserves an award for his role.
- And of course, Harry – when he snapped the Elder Wand in half and tossed it into the abyss. Not a single sense of remorse or regret. Just beautiful.
Other scenes worth applauding:
- The escape from Grigotts, the Dragon, and the Fire of Belzane – exactly as I imagined them to be.
- The wand chooses the master – This is mentioned several times in the series but I never realized its significance until I saw the scene where Ollivander inspects Draco and Bellatrix’s wands. It suddenly became clear to me that the characteristics of one’s wand are identical to that of the wielder’s. For instance, Bellatrix’s wand is said to be unwielding – she remained loyal to Voldemort till death and always stayed by his side; Draco’s wand is said to be supple, or in other words: flexible – which brings me to my next point…
- The decision to survive. – One thing that stuck me by surprise is how much I sympathise with Draco in the movie. After reading the book for the first time, I remember hating Rowling and the entire series because of what Draco was reduced to by the end of it all. He never amounted to anything. He was a failure at being a villain and a failure at being a hero; nothing more than a bag of hot air and empty words. I was so disappointed and hurt that Rowling would end it in such a fashion. After watching the movie; however, I think I suddenly understand his character a little more. For him, it was never about winning a battle of good versus evil; it has always been about survival. He never did anything drastic for either side to ensure his place in the fold of whichever side wins. For instance, not only didn’t he stall at identifying Harry at Malfoy Manor, he practically gave up his wand after that half-hearted tug-o-war for it with Harry. It was almost as if Draco was putting on a show for everyone else before deciding “Ah, whatever! Here, just take it! I don’t care anymore” and let willingly go, allowing Harry to run off with it. Simply put, Draco didn’t choose a side; he simply chose to be flexible, he chose to survive, and he chose to protect his family. That was not apparent to me at all in the book, but was done perfectly on film.
- The walk of shame (or lack of) – What is said about Draco can be said about Narcissa as well, which is why I particularly love the scene where she and Draco are walking — confidently, hand-in-hand, in large and quick strides — away from the battle, while Lucius scurries off behind them — twitchy and always nervously glancing back behind him in fear; whether that fear is for his family or for himself is another story.
- Harry and Hermione – I don’t mean those two together as a couple, but rather the strength of their friendship. Frankly, in matters of love, I never saw Harry with anyone, especially before and during the battle. The movie made me think differently, and this is all attributed to Emma and Daniel’s fantastic acting. In the book, it bugs me that Harry and Ginny professed their love for each other before the final battle because in my mind, the act of doing so makes him a little more selfish and a little less self-less. The whole point of the battle and Harry being the “chosen one” is that he was never destined to be the great person everyone expects him to be. He was hand-picked by Voldemort, and eventually, Harry chose to live up to that burden after loads of trials and internal conflict. He never set out to save the world, he just did what he thought was right. However, watching the movie made me think that I wouldn’t mind if Harry and Hermione got together because they have an understanding with each other that doesn’t exist with any other characters. It is so subtle, but so well portrayed; Emma and Daniel played off of each other perfectly.
The following scenes are bad, per-se. They just didn’t turn out as I expected them to.
- Narcissa checking Harry’s “corpse” – I’m not sue if it is explicitly mentioned in the book or not, but I’ve always imagined her to be smiling after Harry confirms that Draco’s alive. In my mind, she would stand up slowly and turn around with a slight smile on her face – a smile so uncharacteristic of her usual cool and collected demeanour as a sign of uncontainable relief for her son. Her subsequent words to Voldemort would not be important since he would see her smile and interpret it as an expression of victory for the dark side. He is so obsessed and consumed with the idea of winning that nothing else matters. It would never occur to him, in that brief instant, that his minions would think differently.
- Snape’s death – I don’t even know why this annoys me so much but after being struck three or four times at the neck by Nagini, he still had the strength to turn his head to look into Harry’s eyes. When I read that scene, I imagined Harry to be crouched in front of him, or at least plonking himself down in line with whatever direction Snape is facing. I found it a bit odd that Harry didn’t manoeuvre himself around so that he and Snape can talk face-to-face.
- Ginny; leaning her head listlessly on Molly’s shoulder when everyone is cleaning and bandaging up in the Great Hall – Harry Potter just killed the darkest wizard of all time and she doesn’t even give a glance of acknowledgement when Harry walks by. So much for the love of your life.
In other words, those “Why did they do that?” scenes:
- The broken mirror at Aberforth’s pub – In the book, the shard of glass that Harry kept glancing at, is a piece of Sirius’ two-way mirror. That mirror was never mentioned in the films, so what’s the origin of the broken shard? Where did Harry get it?
- No Grawp – What’s the point of introducing him in HBP if he was only going to be used as a plot device for getting rid of Umbridge? Moreover, Hagrid clearly stated in that movie that Gawp is his long lost brother so it’s not likely that they’ll be separated anytime soon. As such, it’s surprising that Grawp never made an appearance during the war, especially after Hagrid was captured.
- Locking all the Slytherin students in the dungeon – That was really stereotypical, wasn’t it? Was that in the book as well? I think I need to re-read it.
- Hermione as Bellatrix at Gringotts – Why did she look so startled and nervous? Hermione has challenged authority many times: she undermined Umbridge’s authority at school, she blackmailed Rita Skeeter, and even punched Draco in the face for being a bully. Clearly she has no qualms over such things if it was done for the greater good, so it’s curious as to why she looked so downright terrified and alarmed when disguised as Bellatrix.
- Bellatrix’s death – It’s bad enough that Mrs. Weasley screamed “NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU, BITCH!” before killing her, but the duel have to last so long? Maybe there was a bit of a duel between them in the book as well, but I’d like to think of it more as a surprise attack. I imagined Bellatrix to be over-confident in her killing spree and didn’t see where Molly was coming from until it was too late, similar to how Sirius was killed – in one swift, fluid moment. Instead, both women were shooting sparks at each other, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, Bellatrix looks scared, starts backing up while defending, gets hit and explodes into a pile of dust. What the hell did Molly do to her and how is it not worst than Avada Kadavra? With the latter, at least the body is intact. Molly, on the other hand, just blew up a person into smitherines and everyone’s okay with it?
- The origins of evil (props if you got the Wicked reference) – Maybe because Voldemort’s origins were never properly explained in the films but his defeat felt a little lacking. In retrospect, it’s not explained all that well in the books either but the last book is so task-oriented on Harry’s part that I failed to notice this. We do know that Voldemort’s – or rather Tom Riddle’s – mother died of something akin to a broken heart after her husband left her, once awakened from her love spell. No one at the orphanage knew of Tom’s family troubles and he was a baby at the time so there’s no way he could be conscious of any of it, yet when Dumbledore found him, Tom was clearly a lot more troubled, menacing, and calculating than anyone in existence at that age. I can’t accept that people are just born evil, but there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for Voldemort’s behaviour. I don’t understand what his goal was in becoming the most powerful wizard of all time. What was the point of it all? Was it to prove that muggles (eg. his father) are inferior and don’t deserve to live? Was he trying to prove something to others? To himself? As such, it seems as though Rowling made Voldemort a villain for the sake of being a villain. It undermines the entire theme of the book because Voldemort never had a choice; he could not choose because he was born evil.
- It’s really over, isn’t it? – I left this one for last because this one just takes the cake. Many people are angry that Hermione and Ron end up marrying each other since “they bicker all the time” … “there’s no future for them” … yadda yadda… As I mentioned before, I never really pictured them to be with anybody because I was so focused on the adventure itself, but I could see it happening on film. I was perfectly ready to accept it until the last scene. Harry was ready to be rid of the Elder Wand, and Ron interjects with an “Are you really sure you want to do that? It’s the most powerful wand in the world. Think of what we can do with it.” Harry then snaps the wand in half and tosses it away saying that it’s simply not worth it. Ron clearly seems to be thinking “Ah man, what a waste,” as he looks down into the void, while Hermione walks up to hold Harry’s hand. I love that moment between them because it’s quite evident that her heart is swelling up with pride and admiration for Harry and how much wisdom he has grown through this entire ordeal. She even seems to wonder herself, if she would have enough willpower to do the same, had she been in his shoes. For once, she finds herself at a loss for words and could only hold his hand in demonstration of her support. This final scene would have been absolute perfection if Ron went up to Harry’s other side to show his support as well by patting Harry on the shoulder, as if to say “I understand”; the camera would then zoom outwards and upwards, showing Harry with his two best friends by his side before giving us one final complete view of the castle on the lake against a beautiful sunny backdrop, before slowly fading to black – that would have been perfect. Instead, what we got was Ron dashing up to hold Hermione’s other hand as though he’s telepathically willing her “Hey, what about me? Don’t forget about me! I’m here too!” That one action from Ron destroyed whatever good vibes I had developed for the Ron and Hermione as a couple. That one simple movement was so childish, whiny, and almost possessive. It’s as though that ugly green monster (that should have been destroyed along with Tom Riddle’s locket) is back again, even though Harry made it perfectly clear that Hermione’s like a sister to him. That one simple action from Ron destroyed “The Golden Trio” for me.
AMUSING / BLINK-AND-YOU’LL-MISS-IT DETAILS
- Lockhart’s pixies in the room of requirements.
- The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets – was Moaning Myrtle in the washroom when they went in?
- The Gryffindor scarf hanging on the wall next to Snape’s head when he’s explaining to Voldemort how possession of the Elder Wand is transferred.
- Neville’s brief speech about how there might not be a tomorrow and ran off to find Luna.
- Bellatrix is shorter than Harry and Ron – this is apparent in the scene where Hermione stomps up as Bellatrix for the first time. It’s so weird seeing the height differences because she always seems so tall and intimidating.
- The Epilogue of Doom – this one is hilarious because there were in the theatre who laughed out loud at this. I, for one, was quite amused at how our beloved characters have aged. Ron has a pot-belly! Harry looks a little like Wolverine, Ginny looks older, and Hermione looks exactly the same! Frankly, I think this clip would have been better if they showed it at the end of the credits. That way, there’s a slight break before we go off into the distant future, and it gives those in denial the choice to ignore the “wretched, fan-fiction-like” ending. The boy who plays Albus Severus Potter (I still cringe at the name) looks pretty cute. I think I might have seen him in something else before but I’m not sure what.
In spite of all my criticisms, the good aspects of this film still out weigh the bad. They made it so easy for viewers get swept up in all the action and emotions. It’s hard to hate this movie because of all the tiny moments and character nuances that remind you how much you’ve grown to love each and every one them. The task of fining that perfect balance between staying faithful to the books while exercising your own creative freedom without hurting the integrity of the books is not an easy one, but I think the producer here did a good job. The film feels final and it was a great decision to make Harry and Voldemort’s throw each other off the castle for the final battle, away from the rest of the world. I just wish that the final scene before the epilogue was set up differently. You know what, I’ve decided: I’m buying the box-set. Who cares if I already have the first three films on DVD. =P