We’re in the home stretch, dear readers! It’s been almost two whole months and I’ve only got two more films, technically one more story to go! I hope you all enjoyed “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” this weekend, I have promised myself that I will not see it until after I have seen all of the Harry Potter films, and thusly all of my friends have found me a useless companion for the next few weeks.
But in my self imposed lack of beast-ing solitude, I instead took the time to see “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in which I was given just an absolute information dump about so many characters at once, and of course some death as well. This was David Yates’ first chance to mess around with a real script, as compared to the hack-job gifted to him by Michael Goldenberg, a man who’s resume varies in screenplay adaptation quality from the incomparable “Contact” to the irreparable 2011 “Green Lantern” film. But as a result of this hand-off back to Steve Kloves, we can see how Yates’ exceedingly English background plays into his effect on a script, mostly by filming the “Doctor Who” series finale he always wanted.
We literally begin with Harry and Dumbledore leaving the Ministry after the battle from the last film, photographers already present as flashing cameras blind them on their way out. This is before the title card for the film even appears. It’s a brief moment but it really sets the tone of this particular film in a very interesting way, reminding us all that the ramifications of one film carry over to the next, which has been one of my strongest complaints about the film making so far.
Flashed to London, a sequence of horrible attacks of magic upon the wizarding and muggle world, including the destruction of the Millennium Bridge. This sequence led me to realize that there is a super big question that I have never asked in any of these films because up until now. One, what is the magical world’s relation with the muggle community? I had always assumed, based on the implied rather than spoken rules from previous films, that they just left it alone unless they had a snatch a child or two who turned out to be magic. If that is the case, why is Voldemort choosing to attack muggles now? The attacks on the wizarding homes made sense to me, but to make your presence known in, to an extent, in the other community just confuses me overall as to what his overarching plan is.
As this series of shameful summer shenanigans seems to be going on, we revisit our hero, Harry, sitting in an underground subway coffee shop, something I have never seen and highly doubt exists. He reads a magical news paper flagrantly in front of muggles, though thankfully without a Dursley in sight. I was left to question what Harry had done with his summer in the wake of this battle. Instead of having my questions answered though, I got to watch a clearly 22 year old waitress hit on a 16 year old boy.
Now, we all have our “oh seriously, fuck you” moments with film directors. You know, those moments where the pun of an image is so strong, you just need to share it vocally into the ether with assumptions that the person who made that image happen will feel shame. For me, that was this moment.
Apparently Albus Dumbledore is the only man in the entire magical world who is allowed to dress like Renn Faire in front of the muggles. Thankfully this tableaux does not last long, as we have far more important things to do than sell perfume, Albus.
One of the cool ways you can tell a unique directing style in film is how the individual chooses to portray traveling from one area to another. The average boring film maker will show you a street sign, or maybe pass by a highway marker, that’s pretty much the standard. Yates continued to show his impeccably perfect style for these films by showing his audience exactly what apparition looks like from a wizards point of view. The visuals of the act immerse you as the viewer physically into the sightline of the magic, making you a part of it, it’s really brilliant.
Harry and Dumbledore land in the wreckage of a small town, reminiscent of coming into the remains of rubble after an area has been bombed. The lingering devastation is still quite palpable. Harry gets in a great line about how after all these years he just kind of goes with whatever Dumbledore is awkwardly throwing at him, which I read as a passive aggressive way of saying “Whatever dude, I’ve over your bullshit anyway”. The result though is to find yet another famous Brit who deserves to be in these films because England has twelve actors, Jim Broadbent.
Horace Slughorn is a fascinating addition to this cast of characters, as he is an embarrassing relic tucked away from another time. I had originally asked myself upon meeting this character where he had been for the past few films, only to have some of that good ol’ folksy racism pop out of his mouth, at which I understood why no one had mentioned him previously. As a “survivor” of the previous conflict, this man is not inherently bad. That being said, he was also never really coached by the words or actions of others to be good either. By riding the neutrality of selfish self interest, he has been able to disappear, a trick that I am sure helped him elude both capture and responsibility during the first conflict with Voldemort.
He agrees to come back to Hogwarts to teach, therefore allowing Dumbledore to subtly use him for information about Voldemort. Albus then makes a gross comment about accidentally “denying Harry a fun night” with the waitress back in the diner and then promptly dumps him in a swamp in front of the Weasley’s house, where he has not informed the family that he would be coming by. I hope you can all understand why contextually, I find this man to be a real jerk.
The Weasleys, while surprised, are of course happy to see Harry. Ginny continues to be an only slightly touched upon character with two lines, I continue to be furious about that. Hermione apparently just lives with these people now or something, because she is also there. It is brought up that many of the parents are concerned that Hogwarts might be too dangerous to send their children back to this year and that Dumbledore might be a little too old to handle the situation. I could not agree more, sadly then we would have no movie.
There is also a brief mention of Hermione’s parents, who have with the exception of being background characters in one scene of “Prisoner of Azkaban” have been decidedly absent in these stories. This seems a bit of a waste to me, considering how important muggle heritage has been throughout these films. It once again prompts more late-in-the-game questions, such as if muggles are even allowed to step foot into the wizarding world. It is yet another reminder than when dealing with magic in a fantasy setting, it is remarkably important to have well defined rules.
But meanwhile, somewhere else in the wizarding community, a beautifully clad queen of a snake lady slithered into these films and I became obsessed with her. Narcissa Malfoy’s sheer presence blinded me so furiously that I guess somewhere in there it is revealed that Snape is the most obvious undercover agent in the history of England. For a man who’s been the red herring for all of these films, I guess it makes sense that overall he is an agent of the enemy. I just keep feeling that since I have never seen him have an emotional connection with any one person in these films, that the teachers of Hogwarts would have been all over his butt once Voldemort came back, considering that every other Slytherin went running to his side. They basically make a super deadly pinky promise stating that if Draco can’t do his one big job for the dark lord, Snape will do it instead. Also, it appears they finally fired Alan Rickman’s wig master, because his hair in this film is godly.
Also Bellatrix is there to remind you that she too is in this movie.
We receive a glimpse of what the Weasley twins have been up to since they blew up the magic SATs, which is apparently creating a hormonal prank shop in Diagon Alley, complete with adorable yet terrifying Dolores Umbridge puppet, may we never speak of her again. We are introduced to the concept of a love potion and thusly, a very large point of this film; the idea of partnering. The Weasleys represent a refuge in a world of otherwise darkness and show a different side of back to school shopping, one where the school will be ostensibly treated this year as proverbial shore leave from the army.
Harry, however, is still in battle mode and is convinced that Draco has become a Death Eater. This assumption is of course purely based on the idea that Harry does not like Draco and is therefore displacing the sins of the father on to the son. For a character who has received less screen time than Hagrid, I wanted this to be a more three dimensional conclusion. As a character, Draco Malfoy is of course going to consider his father’s mantle, but not for the reasons Harry infuriatingly likes to jump to.
Draco stands in this film as a perfect representation of a German citizen going into the second World War. He is a humiliated, scared boy who felt that his treatment in comparison to others had been unfair due to the circumstance of his birth. After Germany was strong-armed into signing the Treaty of Versailles, many of the children grew up to find themselves having to literally pay reprimands to Britain, Belgium and France for a war they didn’t even fight in. This is why a strong leader like Hitler seemed so appealing to many.
Exactly the same as Harry, Draco was judged by the faculty the day he arrived at Hogwarts based on who his father was. By the nature of circumstance though, he just happened to be on the losing side. Bullying emerged out of what was clearly some misguided teaching at home that the other Professors actively chose to punish through humiliation as compared to trying to help him learn to be better. I really, genuinely wish that at some point in these films, we could have had Harry and Draco in a room together just talking it out. They’re astoundingly emotionally similar young men.
In an attempt to figure out the nefarious details of Draco’s personal life, Harry and gang decide to follow him. We are reminded of the devastation around the wizarding community as Harry and fiends traverse down a very different, very darkened Diagon Alley. We solemnly revisit Ollivander’s now destroyed shop, and I was very sad to see what had become of it.
Henceforth I shall refer to it as the John Hurt Locker.
Knockturn Alley comes into play again, I’m not entirely sure why, if everyone knows this place exists, more Ministry of Magic police people aren’t monitoring it a little more carefully. Regardless, three teenagers are able to sneak in unnoticed and get some vague idea that Draco is doing something creepy with creepy people.
But with the blink of an eye, we’re back on the train and setting the tone for the year, which is apparently about ladies and Draco Malfoy. I’m sure fan fiction writers across the land had a field day with this film.
Draco has taken on much of the gestus of his father, even going so far as to now carry his cane. You can tell that above all, it is this emotional connection to the cause that resonates to him. Harry Potter is technically the direct reason his father was taken away from him. Faith in Voldemort’s ideals will always take second place to the rage of losing a parent. Unlike Harry, who dealt with similar rage in the last film, Draco does not have the gift of a Dumbledore figure to guide him.
In a remarkably stupid attempt to spy on the predominantly Slytherin occupied train car, Harry is found out and we get to see a demonstration of what Draco has been doing with his down time, particularly becoming a very powerful wizard. Since we only really ever got to witness Dumbledore’s Army actually training in any defense against dark magic, it is easy to forget that Malfoy has probably been training in, well, dark magic. It was important for us as an audience to see that even though we may not have seen it, Draco has become a viable adversary against his peers. There’s some curb stomping imagery presented as to also display that Draco’s motivations are far more vicious.
Luna Lovegood, my sweet white witch, makes an adorable appearance, stating that being with Harry is like having a friend, and melts my cold dead Slytherin heart as Harry reminds her that they are friends. She fixes his broken nose in an adorable show of trust. This is probably one of the best established relationships between two people in this entire series, I love its simplicity and its elegance.
Back at Hogwarts, we learn that Professor Snape is now the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which of course means he’s become the villain of the movie, while Professor Slughorn has taken over his position in Potions. As a result, the children of Gryffindor finally are able to actually learn something in Potions this year. Kind of.
I say kind of, because of course the only way for Harry to excel in a class he associates with borderline harassment due to his interactions with Professor Snape, including mental torture survival training, is by acquiring a book that is basically cliff notes to cheat. Honestly though, and this was highly appreciated from a storytelling perspective, what the presence of the Half-Blood Prince’s textbook ultimately does is move the pretense of schooling along, since at this point, that is not what we find interesting about this world anymore.
The more interesting part is of course the thing that the English are the most famous for during wartime despite having never been the best at it, spying. For all the dumb things that Headmaster Dumbledore has done over the course of these many films, he is at least cutting the enigmatic crap and getting straight to the point about what Harry’s intentions with Slughorn should be.
This also opens up some opportunities for Harry and Headmaster Dumbledore, (I refuse to call him Professor as they have never actually told us what he is a professor of), to actually have some growth together. Albus shares the story of when he first approached Tom Riddle about coming to Hogwarts, back when 1970s drunk uncle clothing was apparently all the rage in academic wizarding. By sharing this story with Harry, both he and the audience are able to share in the idea that like so many monsters who have come before, they did not always start out that way. Most are misunderstood. It is how we handle ourselves in the wake of how others treat us that defines how we move forward in life.
While Harry spies, Ron is once again left at odds with himself as his friends find their place in the world at an elevation station while he seems to lag behind. As a result, he decides to try out for Quidditch, becoming the new Gryffindor Keeper. Ginny is also apparently on the team now, something I am going to assume happened in past books that they are just getting to on screen.
And speaking of things just getting on to screen, we are subsequently hit by a tsunami sized tidal wave of romantic plot lines. Ron is dating a previously unmentioned lady named Lavender Brown, which apparently makes Hermione mad because it has been wildly unclear by the last movie if they were dating or not, also technically she never really ended things with Viktor Krum on screen so that’s still pretty open ended. As a result, Hermione starts flirting with this other guy who’s name I genuinely cannot remember to make Ron jealous. Also Ginny is dating a dude named Cormac, which should just be its own secular thing except that suddenly out of nowhere in this movie, Harry is super into her. This whole thing becomes an insufferable season of the “Jersey Shore” very quickly.
Now, the Lavender Brown thing, I actually somewhat understand for two reasons. The first is to show Ron finally getting to be that successful high school boy he’s always imagined himself as. He’s king of Quidditch for a hot second and he has a super cute girlfriend who’s really into him, that fulfills that plot based fantasy he’s had since looking into that weird mirror in the first film. The second is that these films have been filled with tiny name drops and character investments that they really want you to make before doing something horrible to the characters. As we’re heading towards the final films, a big battle is somewhat inevitable, and as a result, we’re going to see a lot of student bodies drop. Putting faces to names will only make the eventual death toll more tragic.
That being said, the rest of these romance stories are honestly just too little too late. There is a part of me that sees what the idea behind this is, suddenly with war at the door the soldiers all need a distraction, and there’s no better distraction than love. The issue is that love doesn’t seem to be a factor here, it just seems to be dating drama with one book to go. If they were being played off like casual crushes, like they were in “Goblet of Fire”, this would read quite differently. But that’s just it, we’ve already dealt with crushes. The only thing close to having any kind of arched definition is Ron and Hermione, but their handling has been very clumsy. At the end of the day though, these stories are thankfully not the sum of their romances. It’s just a shame that this stuff takes up literally half the film.
In the midst of all of this bulky romance, Horace Slughorn has decided to hold a dinner party for his favorite students, also known as a dinner party for everyone except for Draco and Ron. I normally wouldn’t have taken much note of this, it’s a plot device to move both a romance story forward as well as Harry’s spying story, but what affected me specifically about this scene was how a dinner party with your professor is something you see in college, as compared to high school. It was at this moment I realized what so many moments of this film that addled me were routed to. These kids aren’t being handled as children anymore, they’re being handled as college students. I recognize that part of that is due to the war situation and that they have already been drafted as soldiers, but when counted with all of this dumb love stuff, they’re not being portrayed well enough to show as compared to telling. It also doesn’t help that the actors are clearly in their 20s now, but I think that only accentuates, as compared to being the root of where that issue is born.
They also show Neville as a waiter, which seems to promote a very weird sense of classism. It’s an odd moment that never really gets touched upon.
It is also worth noting that throughout all of these romantic shenanigans, Draco has been sneaking off and playing with a cabinet that transports things, kind of similar to that other super big fantasy thing that involves a wardrobe. No one seems to notice that he has been doing this, but good on him for not being distracted by ladies and doing his fucking job. He and Snape have an interesting exchange post Slughorn party, which Draco subsequently tried to crash, and we get to see a moment of the dichotomy of their relationship. I never assumed that Snape was Draco’s version of Dumbledore, but it was nice to see that relationship defined as pupil and authority figure, not necessarily chummy. Almost similar to Ron, Draco’s insistence that he is chosen and that this is his important task to fulfill shows that he too is spending this film trying to prove that he is special.
Christmas comes and once again, Harry gets to go home with the Weasleys.
Lupin and Nymphadora are there, discussing how maybe Snape’s not all that bad and that it comes down to trusting Dumbledore’s judgement, despite the facts that Harry is telling them. He even openly says that Dumbledore can make mistakes, just like everyone else, and yet Lupin is having none of it. Again, this blind devotion infuriates me. Even the lead character doesn’t have it with this character anymore. The under-defined nature of these adult relationships are really starting to take their toll overall on these films.
Speaking of under-defined adult relationships, Lupin and Nymphadora are remarkably confusing to me. In the last film, I thought she was Lupin’s daughter. In this one, they treat and dress her more like his wife. That’s a super weird switch. It also seemed like Lupin had been way into Harry’s mom back in “Prisoner of Azkaban”, so I also briefly considered that maybe she was his little sister or something. There’s a lot of weird stuff going on here. I get the impression that this lady was a fan favorite from the books, but like so much Tom Bombadil, it seems this story would be far more seamless without her.
But before we get any real decisions made about the Snape/Malfoy situation, the house is attacked, signifying that there really are no safe places for Harry anymore. War has come to roost at home. Ginny proves once again that she is a total BAMF and we get a very cool, guerrilla style ambush magic fight. Yates proves that he has earned his paycheck once again.
Sadly the house is destroyed, but I call fallacy on the permanency of that, as at the beginning of the film Dumbledore and Slughorn were able to reconstruct an entire destroyed room in under a minute with magic.
Upon arrival back at Hogwarts, it takes a matter of days for Ron to get roofied by a love potion because apparently he is a sex symbol now. I am wildly unsure as to why these things are legal, as you know, teenagers exist. They are portraying the innocent side of the ramifications of this potion, but obviously it could be used for much more nefarious intentions.
The result is Slughorn offering the children alcohol and accidentally poisoning Ron with mead meant for Dumbledore, leading as a device to two things. One, I guess we know what Malfoy’s been up to, and two, it provides an awkward opportunity to end the weird relationship with Lavender Brown as he calls out for Hermione in his sleep in the infirmary.
In fact, the bulk of this act becomes about quickly wrapping up loose ends. It is revealed that the cliff notes cheat book might actually belong to a bad guy, which quite frankly anyone calling themselves the Half-Blood Prince in high school is probably working through some weird stuff. Harry and Ginny share a kiss, I wanted it to be cute but it just made me miffed. This romance wasn’t earned, it seems more circumstantial here in the 11th hour, which diminishes Ginny’s badassery from a character standpoint.
Dumbledore and Slughorn get a little wrap up about Tom Riddle, which leads us into JK Rowling just blatantly ripping off another fantasy series.
In 1984, Susan Cooper released The Dark is Rising, the story of Will Stanton who upon his 11th birthday is visited by a wise old man to inform him that he is a special, as he comes into his magical powers. Aided by this old man, he must collect a series of magical talismans that will help an enemy known only as the Dark come to power if he retrieves them first. This series however had its magic based in Arthurian legend. Now, while it never quite made the popular switch over to the states, The Dark is Rising series was an incredibly popular English children’s’ series, winning the Newbery award as well as being ranked in 2007 amongst “Teachers top 100 books for children”.
Now I can’t imagine what JK Rowling was thinking, adding such a time intensive idea as Horcruxes this late in the series, knowing that she only had one book left to destroy the rest of them, but having been one of the seven American children who actually read The Dark is Rising, because giant fantasy nerd, I had to throw some serious side eye at this. The whole affair is staggeringly close to Cooper’s construct, way more than just “dark mysterious black hooded death guys” or “wardrobes that magically transport people to other places”.
It also became glaringly apparent that Voldemort put a Horcrux in Harry’s face, therefore confirming my previous theory that if Harry kills himself, Voldemort can’t win. So I have a pretty good idea of how that final battle is going to work now.
Harry and Dumbledore go Horcrux hunting, which could have been a whole film unto itself that might have endeared me more to the aging Headmaster. Their working together this film has been very productive and I hope that Albus is kicking himself for not having done it earlier. It’s a cool little romp and we get to see more cool Yates magic constructs, leading us ultimately to the thing magical old men love the most, jewelry. I’m going to assume that these things are going to be a lot of people’s jewelry, a cup, and either a sword or that snake that Voldemort likes hanging around with since they made a point to drop him into “Goblet of Fire”. That’s just the most Arthurian list I can think of, and considering we’re just ripping off the construct, I’ll be curious to see how accurate this list is. I don’t know why, there’s always a cup.
Upon their return to Hogwarts, Dumbledore is not at 100% and asks Harry to get Snape over a real physician for some reason. This leads to a showdown in the astronomy tower where, when push comes to shove, it turns out Draco Malfoy isn’t completely ten million times evil forever. We get a really strong performance out of Tom Felton, probably the strongest he’s had in the series to date, quite possibly because it’s the most words he has said together in one sitting. That being said, it’s quite powerful. The line “I have to kill you or else he’ll kill me” leads me to believe that this poor young boy has never had a choice dictated solely by his own self.
Sadly he is quickly joined by Bellatrix and this odd creature man who’s been an inconsequential background guy at best in this film, and a few other death eaters. They yell at Draco to fulfill his dark destiny or whatever, Snape shows up, it becomes pretty clear that they put Snape in that position specifically so that Draco had a way out. It’s a messed up position to be in, ending of course in Dumbledore’s death. Someone has to do it, so once again Professor Snape assumes the role of scapegoat.
So is this the thing? Is this why people love and or hate Severus Snape? Because he killed Dumbledore? Because this seems like a pretty straight forward situation to me.
I’ve been clear about my dislike of this character, but this needed to happen for more than just my personal feelings. Dumbledore is a crutch for this entire universe and there was no way the story was going to move forward as long as he was alive. No one in these films are willing to make a move without the approval of the almighty Albus Dumbledore. No one can grow up, no one can move on, no one can really properly function as long as he is around. I’m happy to finally see this character go because now everyone else will need to assume their roles in this universe and get shit done. Lupin will have to start taking action, Harry will have to assume a true leadership role amongst more than just his peers, heck, even Draco’s resentment towards the man for his lavish attentions to Harry must find a new direction. Everyone is forced to act.
Also apparently Snape is the Half-Blood Prince. While contextually with the potions book that makes sense, that name gets zero explanation and lingers on this film like a wet fart someone drops before leaving a room forever. Is he related to Voldemort or something? It’s a glaring plot point for a non-book person and when it’s the name of your movie, I would have hoped a little more thought would have been put into its explanation.
So there’s a big long cry fest funeral scene that I’m sure is very sad for all of you who enjoyed the character of Albus Dumbledore more than I. They really do all of those things that according to the flashcards tell me what human emotions mean, would evoke ultimate sadness. There is a beautiful tableaux scene with the entire school’s wands raised to dispel a dark mark placed in the sky above the school by Bellatrix, kind of proving my point about everyone rallying together to finally get shit done. The whole end death sequence with Harry and the rest of the school really is gorgeous, I’m not so heartless that I can’t recognize that. I’m just really excited that we can finally move on.
Dawn rises on a destroyed Hogwarts, where Harry and the gang decide that it is time to step up, find the rest of the Horcruxes and end this shit once and for all.
I was really excited to finally see a complex character piece in this film. It was something that I had been genuinely missing from this series so far, which is a shame because all of these characters are interesting. I’m sure you learn more about them with the books, but the adventures from story to story seem to have been played as almost more situation-of-the-year as compared to real character based stories with growth and depth. It bums me out to think that we only have one more book, technically two more movies, to see if we can dig into any of these other characters the same way.
That being said, there were also a lot of technical issues with this story. Similar to “The Order of the Phoenix”, a lot of this stuff felt disjointed, out of place, or rushed.
I enjoyed it far more, but it still left me wanting more as we approach the finale.
Oh man, you guys, I only have two films left! Final thoughts going into the next one…
Join me next Monday as we get down and dirty with the final story, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”.
Check out more instalments in this journey below!