Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
In my view, Half-Blood Prince was Rowling’s redemption from the decidedly sub-par Order of the Phoenix. The overarching main story is far better plotted, it doesn’t seem overlong, the right mix of light and dark themes is back, we get a good Quidditch subplot for the first time since Prisoner of Azkaban; in short, there’s a lot to love here. The pensieve sequences are interesting as is the character of Horace Slughorn, while the Harry-Ginny and Ron-Lavender pairings manage to be more interesting than Harry-Cho ever was (and about half as frustrating). Dumbledore’s death, heartbreaking though it was to read, seems not only narratively justified (unlike with Sirius in the last one) but also merited by the whole book foreshadowing and building up to it . All in all… there’s almost nothing I can think of to criticise here. The only downside in the whole book is the mistake Rowling made in the series as a whole: pairing Ron and Hermione (or specifically making Hermione have a crush on Ron – the other way round is significantly was more believable). As that’s a fault of the series though, I won’t mark the book down for it.
The film’s choices of what to cut and what to keep seem misguided for the first time in a while. It needlessly adds two (not very good) action sequences in the opening attack in London and the assault on the Weasley home. What exactly was the point of these? The threat Voldemort poses to the muggle world was far better presented in the chapter ‘The Other Minister’ which starts the book, while the Weasley’s home is rebuilt without so much as a passing comment in the next film – so why should we feel sad about it? The fact that it takes out the book’s final battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters in Hogwarts makes it very underwhelming by comparison, and the previous two action sequences if intended to make up for this are very poor compensation.
Fortunately, the rest of the film has its heart in the right place. The emotion is something it gets spot on, with Radcliffe, Watson, Felton, Rickman and Gambon all giving winning and by various levels heart-breaking performances as the film builds to arguably the saddest moment in the series. Dumbledore’s death is exactly the gut-punch it needed to be, superbly aided by Nicholas Hooper’s track ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’ which ties with ‘Professor Umbridge’ as his best work for the soundtrack (indeed the entire score is memorable and, while lacking the grandeur of John Williams, is arguably my favourite score in the whole series). Jim Broadbent is perfect as the amiable if misguided Horace Slughorn (whoever the casting director was for this series hopefully got paid A LOT! They never put a foot wrong!) and Ron’s romance with Lavender Brown feels believable (unfortunately a hell of a more believable than the Ron-Hermione pairing in the film, but that’s totally the books fault, so I won’t blame the film for it as well). Its also arguably one of the funniest entries in the series, as all the teen angst makes for some great romantic comedy (Rupert Grint is brilliant as Ron under the spell of a love potion, Harry taking Luna as a date to Slughorn’s party was always going to be hilarious) which makes the film a very odd mix of lightness (in the first half) and darkness (in the second) but somehow, they get the balance right and the two halves complement each other well.
Book Rating: 5 out of 5!
Film Rating: 4 out of 5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The final book in the series covers new ground, but not all of it works that well. The first half in particular is awfully slow paced, and the lack of the Hogwarts setting for 2/3 of the book makes this feel like a far less magical entry. The interim between the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts sequences really lags, and having Ron turn his back, however temporarily, on Harry and Hermione feels like a real disservice to the character. Speaking of disservices to characters, a lot of character deaths feel largely pointless, particularly Dobby, Tonks and Lupin. Obviously you need character deaths for any sense of threat, but there were literally hundreds of others to pick from. Its by no means a bad entry in the series, with Snape’s characterisation, Harry and Voldemort’s confrontation and the whole Deathly Hallows idea deserving a lot of praise. As a series finale though… you just feel it could have been better.
The decision to split the final film feels more justified than some multi-part stories (cough *3 hobbit films* cough) but it has an unfortunate side effect in that all the weak parts of the book are in the first half of the film, and despite some cool scenes (the sky chase, the ministry of magic escape), there aren’t enough good set pieces to hold your attention, and apart from one or two instances (Harry and Hermione in the Graveyard, the Polyjuice potion sequence) the character moments don’t spark that much either. Coupled with the fact that the film features THREE major character deaths, none of which have as much of an impact as they should: Mad-Eye’s is off screen, Hedwig’s is never mentioned again after it happens, and Dobby’s is let down by Alexandre’s Desplat’s extremely underwhelming score (save Obliviate, Snape to Malfoy Manor and Godric’s Hollow Graveyard, the music really isn’t that memorable – the first and only time in the series this occurs). The film is further hampered by the lack of an obvious place to split the book (no big moments in the book work as cliffhangers) unlike say Mockingjay, which at least had an immensely good twist to end part 1 on. Voldemort seizing the Elder Wand was a cool scene, but hardly a memorable way to end things, (not that I blame them for choosing it, the skirmish at Malfoy Manor wasn’t substantial enough to work either).
The second part is a completely different beast, which not only gets going that much more quickly (Gringotts is a great sequence in it’s own right), but is enthralling from start to finish. The score from Desplat is MUCH better too, with loads of memorable tracks (Statues, Broomsticks and Fire, Courtyard Apocalypse, Severus and Lily, Voldemort’s End etc.) – he may be no John Williams, but Desplat excels at making the action sequences pack an emotional punch. Visually, the Battle of Hogwarts is stunning (and is more believable than the book version – I also appreciated the final battle more, even if it was a shame to lose some of the excellent dialogue between Voldemort and Harry). Snape, Malfoy and Neville are probably the standout performances among the supporting cast (any answer as to why Rickman didn’t win more awards for his performance as Snape?)while Radcliffe is at his best throughout as Harry. Hermione doesn’t get as much to do as I’d like (though at least she gives Harry a proper goodbye when he goes into the forest to die – what the hell Ron?) and Rupert Grint’s contribution is mainly notable for providing two of the best lines (That’s my girlfriend you numpties!/If we die for them Harry i’m going to kill you!) but otherwise Ron is just as sidelined compared to the other two as he has been in all the later films save Half-Blood Prince. Overall, however, the film is pretty much perfect as a finale to the series (it bests Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit etc. as an example of how to be a satisfying finale while also not wasting half an hour of the audience’s time wrapping things up – Peter Jackson PLEASE take note).
One last question: why the hell doesn’t Harry point the Elder Wand at the broken castle and say ‘Reparo’ before he snaps it? Harry is a moron.
Book Rating: 4 out of 5
Part 1 Film Rating: 3 out of 5
Part 2 Film Rating: 5 out of 5!
Now there is only one question to answer: how will Fantastic Beasts stack up in comparison? I’ll include two lists ranking all the books and the films in order in that review, so watch out for it tomorrow!