The End Of The Magic
The Harry Potter films have been a masterclass in polishing a turd but unfortunately this impressive showcase in transmogrification comes to an end with The Half-Blood Prince.
The books dropped off rapidly after The Prisoner of Azkaban, bloating out with The Goblet Of Fire, dispensing with plot entirely from The Order Of Phoenix and becoming tortuous and tedious. The films, on the other hand, went from strength to strength replacing Rowling’s awful prose with an increasingly rich and sure visual language and using the cream of British acting to bring genuine life to pantomime characters. In the later books not only does nothing happen but what does happen doesn’t make any sense. Now, for the first time, one of the films shares this problem. The Half-Blood Prince looks like a very big book made into a pretty big film – you can see the gaps in its jagged, stuttering structure, where scences hit the floor – which is a bit odd because what does make it to the screen betrays some very strange choices about what to prioritise. How many times do we need to see Draco whip a dustcloth off the vanishing cabinet? Was the spider eulogy really necessary? The Deathly Hallows is going to be split in two so perhaps this will solve this problem. Perhaps it will throw it into sharper relief.
In his scathing review Peter Bradshaw suggests that the opening scene is the only good thing about the film. Most of his criticisms are accurate but The Half-Blood Prince is still an enjoyable (if bum-numbing and squandered) film and a vast improvement on the novel. Regardless of the ungainliness that reliance on Rowling makes inevitable, I was still able to go with it, to enter the world evoked; like all the films, this has life. In contrast, in addition to being incontinently plotted, the books are emotionally dead: you never laugh, you are never scared, you just listlessly flip-flip the pages waiting vainly for something to actually happen. You get all that in the film plus even a bit of pathos as Draco struggles with the situation he has placed him in, although surely more could have been done with this. What you don’t get is any real sense of sadness when Dumbledore dies. This is probably because it is very hard to care about Dumbledore who, despite being Harry’s mentor, is never around to do anything useful apart from pop up at the end of each book to explain what just happens. There is no man behind the beard.