Disclaimer: I have moved this review to my own blog from the Book Club blog. I had not read my email yesterday before I posted this review, and therefore was unaware that Hillary had already spent much time writing her own analysis of the book vs. the movie. In order to prove that I did not mean to step on any toes and do not wish to come across as intentionally cruel or vindictive I have removed the review from the other site. Thanks.
In the interest of not spoiling it for those of you who have yet to read the entire series of Potter books, I'll do my best to handle the subject in such a way that won't give away anything vital. But do please be aware that I will discuss a few items that might seem confusing to those who have yet to get to this point in the series, (either in the books or movies.) As someone who hasn't seen all five previous movies, or read the entire series of books, it's important to understand that the Half Blood Prince is largely, a history lesson. We spend much of the time learning about past events that could be crucial to the future of the magical world. The events that began unfolding in the Goblet of Fire and snowballed to an unforgettable showdown in the Order of the Phoenix are largely put on hold in the Half Blood Prince. Oh you can feel the tension building throughout this book. The real war is coming. You know it. But it doesn't actually begin yet.
Instead, the Half Blood Prince is really telling two stories. Stories that parallel one another and yet, can be taken apart as completely separate and independent of one another. The first story is that of Harry's quest. Good vs. evil. The Death Eaters vs. the Order of the Phoenix. Is Harry indeed the chosen one? Will Dumbledore be able to teach him everything he needs to know before Voldemort strikes? When, how and where will Voldemort strike? Is Draco Malfoy a death eater? What is a horcrux? So many questions so little time.
And while we're on this journey with Harry, trying to use answers from the past to unlock the questions of the future, there's a second story unfolding. A story of teenagers experiencing all those important teenage firsts. Our hero and his friends are now 16. And all teenagers have to deal with life as a teenager, even when they know magic. The parallel story is one that makes it relatable to every fan of these books. While we may not relate to a world in which a horcrux, or a sorcerer's stone are real, we can relate to a world, where girls have crushes, boys get their hearts broken and friends argue. And all of this unfolds in the Half Blood Prince. To some, these encounters may not seem vital to the story, but personally, they're part of what makes it real. To see that even wizards and witches have to navigate the sticky years of being a teenager. And even they can mess it up sometimes.
Before seeing this movie, I had feared that they would cut much of this personal drama out, in the interest of time and of moving along with the larger story. I was quite pleased not only at how much they left in the movie, but that they didn't make it overly dramatic. No soap opera antics here. Leaving in some of the teenage drama, however, not only brought some much needed comic relief to an otherwise intense story, but also allowed for a few moments that helped us to see that our heros are indeed human. My own favorite scene from the film is a very tender moment when Harry is doing his best to comfort a crying Hermoine, even as his own heart is breaking. You see their friendship and their bond. You recognize how very much they love each other and what they really mean to one another. It's a beautiful moment when all they can do, is sit on the steps together, each with a broken heart and take solace in the friendship that they share.
I think it would be pointless to do a book vs. movie breakdown because in my humble opinion you should both read the book and see the movie.
Having said that, however, I do think that as a film, the Half Blood Prince can stand on it's own better than some of the previous Potter movies. In other words, you'll get it, even if you haven't read the book. Although having read the book I can say with some certainty that the jokes are funnier when you know the history and even the future of the franchise.
And this movie, more than any of the other five films contains a lot of inside jokes. Witty moments that fans of the previous books and movies will instantly get. I was pleased with the humor. Half Blood Prince is a dark book. By this time in the series, (sorry for those who haven't read the books, or seen the previous movies, this is a little bit of a spoiler) the Dark Lord has returned and he is building an army of faithful followers. The book has an overwhelming sense of paranoia. It's a time in the lives of our protagonists that's rarely comfortable, because they don't know who they can trust. The movie does a great job of capturing that sense of unease and urgency, but at the same time, peppers the action with enough humor that you find yourself laughing at places where you'd least expect to be laughing, and yet it doesn't feel out of context. (For example, after an attack on a fellow student, Professor McGonagall looks at Harry, Ron and Hermoine and remarks, "How is it that every time something happens around here, you three always seem to be present?" Ron instantly replies, "I was just wondering that myself.")
The movie is well over two hours long, and yet it moves very quickly, thanks in large part to the perfect casting. Although Daniel Radcliffe long ago proved himself capable of the part, he really stepped up his game at the end of the 5th movie, showing us that in addition to "playing Potter" he has actually become a brilliant actor. He, of course, shines once again in the role, playing the anger, the fear and the grief wonderfully. And in this film, for the first time, even comedy, which he carries off with perfect timing. (Let's face it, Harry spends so much of his time bouncing between being heroic and being tortured that seeing him crack jokes and be funny is something of a novelty.)
And yet much of the strength of these films, lies in the supporting parts. The cast list of a Potter film is like reading a "Who's Who" of accomplished British actors. I can never say enough about Alan Rickman as Snape. There could have been no one more perfectly cast who conveys the creepiness of the man who's personal dislike of Harry infuses us with constant fear when coupled with the fact that he may or may not be a spy working for the Dark Lord. When Richard Harris passed away suddenly after the 2nd film, I was hesitant to embrace another man as Dumbledore, but Sir Michael Gambon has truly made that part his own. He has given Dumbledore nuances from the book that are never spoken, but truly define the character. And so many wonderful actors, who appear literally for only seconds, but yet, they embody their roles to a degree that we almost take them for granted. David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, Julie Waters as Mrs. Weasley, Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix and on and on and on.
But the performance of this movie belongs to Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. We've seen him transform over the years. From a spoiled and pompous bully to an angry and jealous teenager, and now, to a desperate young man being forced to grow up too fast. The task he's been given will change him forever and we see that even he recognizes this fact. We also see for the first time that he's still human. Despite what you know about Malfoy and his family, your heart breaks just a little bit for him when he cries over the death of a bird and we experience through him, some of the burden he's carrying. He's still only a teenager. Even if he is being trained for the dark side.
Being a fan of the books I always have high expectations for the films and I must say that I've never yet been disappointed. There are some of the films I like better than others, but in truth I think they've all been well done. Having said that, with so many movies, over so many years by so many different directors I think that many Potter fans, like myself have learned to just "go with it" (as Harry tells Dumbledore in the opening moments of this film.) And this time, for the very first time, the film exceeded my expectations. In fact, I think it's fair to say that it really blew me away. It did what only one film in the previous five has done. Made me want to read (or in my case re-read) the books.