Who hates Harry Potter


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (M), 153 minutes. Director: David Yates. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel RadcliffeI was an 18-year-old casual bookseller when the fourth Harry Potter book came out. Until that point the series had passed me by. Gradually I was persuaded by a trusted associate to ignore the hype, give the books a go and judge them on their own merits. I have since read all the books, and seen all the movies to date, always with that advice in mind.

The rule seems to be that one's attitude to the saga should be either obsession, derision, or toal lack of interest. If that's true, I'm in a minority: I am an equivocal fan. A few of the books are great, particularly early in the seven-volume series. A couple are average. At least one is bloody awful.

Likewise, the film versions have been hit and miss. The first two were slavishly, tediously recreated by director Chris Columbus. Films four (dir. Mike Newell) and five (David Yates) overcame the narrative bloat of the source material (by that stage, it was as if no one bothered to edit the novels any more), but the stories suffered from being thus decimated.

Only film three, The Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by wonderful Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and based on the series' best book, managed to be both a faithful adaptation and a great film in its own right.

Film six, The Half-Blood Prince is, like its literary namesake, problematic. The series builds towards a prophesied David and Goliath showdown between Harry (Radcliffe), student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the evil and formidable Lord Voldemort. The first 90 per cent of The Half-Blood Prince is a set-up for the final gripping few scenes, which in turn merely provide the catalyst for the climactic events of the next and final installment, The Deathly Hallows. In short, the film, like the book, is a glorified stop-gap.

In fact, without giving too much away, The Half-Blood Prince contains the most important and shocking plot development since Harry first learned about his magical roots. But other than that, not much happens. 

What we do get during Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts is a preponderance of exposition (less so in film than in book), thanks to a few tumbles into author J. K. Rowling's most tedious of contrivances, a magical memory-viewer/flashback device known as the 'pensieve'.

There are a few cards held close to the chest. School bully Draco Malfoy (Felton) has something more serious in the works than his usual schoolyard harassment. Whatever it is, brooding Professor Snape (Rickman) has something to do with it — his loyalties remain questionable. These sinister elements help sustain the intrigue.

There is also entertainment of the teen drama variety. Harry's best mates Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) have that whole love-hate thing going on. And Harry has feelings for Ron's sister Ginny (Wright), who is already spoken for. The humour and angst evoked lend a touch of mundane reality to the magical proceedings.

So why the lack of other goings-on? Well, Harry has been tasked by Dumbledore (Gambon), the eccentric headmaster, with a deceptively difficult mission. He must win the trust of old sycophant Professor Slughorn (Broadbent) in order to gain possession of a certain memory that contains the key to Voldemort's power.

Until he succeeds, the plot cannot move forwards. So it stagnates. The frustrating thing is that the obvious solution to Harry's dilemma lies in a plot device, a good luck potion, that is introduced very early on. God knows why he takes so long to use it — the film could have been an hour shorter.

One point of intrigue that the film fails to capitalise on pertains to the title character. His name is scrawled across the nameplate of a second-hand textbook that Harry obtains in his potions class. This mysterious 'Half-Blood Prince' has scribbled tips and corrections throughout the book. These help Harry excel in the class.

But the textbook also has a corrupting, corrosive effect on Harry. There's something not right about its previous owner, and the film fails to capture the import of this. Again without giving too much away, half-baking this aspect of the story could also bear on how powerfully one of the series' central redemptive character arcs will play out.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Harry Potter



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Existing comments

There is a yahoo group called Harry Potter for grown ups. It has over 20,000 members. Everything HP is analysed to death. Even its greatest fans bring out problems with the books. The main problem is lack of consistency in world building.

In other words: You are not alone.

Barry Rosenberg | 16 July 2009  

I enjoyed your article on MasterChef although I disagreed with your conclusions. This time, although an ardent fan of the Potter concept, I tend to agree with you. How Rowling captured the imagination of young readers though you must admit is a Good Thing! (Especially young MALE readers.)

It's a pity Pullman's marvelous trilogy His Dark Materials didn't get the same audience and accolades. (The film adaptation of his first book was awful and did him no favours.)

Janet Marsh | 16 July 2009  

I was very interested to read your piece about HP. I had to read the first novel for a little job of work in London once, and was not inspired to read further: very trad stuff that found a niche in a deprived generation. I've never seen a film: sign of age, or an anti-fantasy tendency? I have never been able to finish The Hobbitt, let alone The Lord of the Rings. Fortunately, two friends with a highly developed literary sensibility ( which is not to say I have one!) feel much the same. 'Boring little critters,' was the comment on TH; the other friend said of LR: 'Size is no recommendation.'

P Pullman is much the better writer, in my humble opinion: was glad to see him mentioned above.

Mind you, I admire JKR: a generous and clever soul: how anyone can plan 7 books is beyond me.

Irene | 17 July 2009  

I love the books but I don't think JK is a 'great writer' in a literary sense. I do think she can draw wonderful characters and has a great sense for comedy. The films fail to deliver - with the exception of Azkaban, I agree - but I've given up hoping for more and just try to get lost in the fantasy. And I reckon seeing a Quidditch game come to life is well worth the ticket price alone! Particularly in the latest film...

ren | 27 July 2009  

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