(Spoiler Alert!! This book-to-movie review is written by April Kelsey, a delightful writer much more qualified than I to discuss this topic. It does contain spoilers. You have been warned. Fair disclosure -- April is my favorite daughter in law. Her own unique blog can be found at http://penitustemplum.blogspot.com)
On Thursday, I finally got the opportunity to do something I had talked about doing for almost a solid year: I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the big screen. A year is an awfully long time to wait for anything it seems, especially to see one of the most anticipated films of the year. But since the book is my absolute favorite in J. K. Rowling's entire series--and since the other novel-to-film adaptations had been so dazzlingly executed--I figured the movie-going experience would mark a high point in my otherwise humdrum existence.
What I had forgotten since I last closed the cover on The Half-Blood Prince is just how dense and complex the book really is. Along with the main storyline (Tom Riddle's harrowing past, Draco's recruitment into the Death Eaters, Harry's discovery of the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore's search for the Horcruxes, etc.), the book also details the evolving intricate relationships between the characters. And while avid readers of the series salivated over every last juicy consonant on the page, the big-screen result is...well...not quite so titillating. At this point in the game, moviegoers expect more Advra Kadavra for their money.
To give the movie's writers and director credit, they did a fair job bringing The Half-Blood Prince to life. In two and a half hours, they cover the main plot well and devote a fair share of time to exploring the relationships that matter most in the series. After all, anyone who has read the series would agree that Ron and Hermione's deepening affections play an integral part in the story's dynamics--not in the least because they lend the story dimension and depth where needed. But fans of the series should be prepared for some disappointment: Lupin and Tonks barely make even a cameo appearance in the film, as do Fred and George Weasley, Professor McGonagall, and a few other favorites--including the vicious Lord Voldemort.
However, the movie's only real deficiency is the manner in which some aspects of the main story were handled. For instance, my favorite scene in the book is when Narcissa Malfoy begs Severus Snape to protect Draco as he carries out the Dark Lord's wishes. Rowling portrays Narcissa as a once proud woman who has become desperate and remorseful; she falls to weeping at Snape's feet, begging for his assistance. The movie version of this scene, however, couldn't be more different. Narcissa remains the proud woman, head held high, tears just barely glittering at the corners of her cold eyes. Convincing Snape to perform the favor is almost too easy; in fact, the whole scene feels rushed, as if the actors were running late for another taping. Snape seems almost eager to pacify Bellatrix, which is hardly the case in the book. As a result, the scene lost much of its poignancy in the adaptation, which may come back to bite the director sometime in the next two films when Snape's precarious double-agent status is revealed.
Also, the movie does a poor job of introducing one of the book's most fearsome characters: Fenrir Grayback, the vile and bloodthirsty werewolf of Voldemort's crew. Fenrir gets a fair share of press in the book; out of all the Death Eaters who escape Azkaban, Fenrir is considered the most dangerous. You'd think, at the very least, Emma Watson (Hermione) would be given a line in the film to say, "Oh, wow, do you know who that is?" But she isn't, as is nobody else. The most moviegoers learn about Fenrir is contained on a hard-to-read wanted poster stuck to a wall in a dark alley; blink, and you miss it. Moviegoers who have never read Rowling's series (like my best friend, for instance) won't know who Fenrir is or why they should find him sufficiently terrifying. As is, Fenrir only makes three short appearances in the film and utters maybe two lines. The director probably could have left Fenrir out of the movie altogether and no one, except the most die-hard fans of the book, might have noticed.
Of course, very rarely in movie-making history has a film trumped its print counterpart in storytelling quality, and The Half-Blood Prince is no exception. That's why readers continue to read for entertainment. What goes on in the theater of the mind exceeds anything that can be portrayed on a screen, no matter how far CG effects have evolved. But moviegoers expecting the nail-biting action and dazzling whimsy of the last five Harry Potter films should be prepared for a different kind of experience, as should the series's devoted readers. While the film's makers did a fair job of bringing The Half-Blood Prince to the screen, they obviously had to straddle that everlasting fence between staying true to the novel and treating moviegoers to a good time--no easy feat where such a rich and complex book is involved.
Read Well, Friend