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Monday, July 20, 2009

Spoiler questions, now that we've seen Harry Potter

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Unlike some robot and/or mutant-based summer blockbusters, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince isn't riddled with plot holes that you can laugh at while picking popcorn kernels from your teeth. Steve Kloves' adaptation hews closely to J.K. Rowling's novel, with some notable additions (particularly the Death-Eater attacks) and subtractions (see below). Most of the post-Prince nit-picking involves discrepancies between the book and the movie, and speculation about the final two films to be made of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Warning: this may contain minor spoilers based on the Deathly Hallows text.

1. What was up with Draco Malfoy's dad? The opening scenes imply that Lucius Malfoy is under some kind of investigation for the attack on the Ministry of Magic from the previous film. Have charges been filed? Is he on trial in absentia? Do Draco and his mother even know where he is? The details seemed a little vague, given his importance to the Draco subplot.

2. Who did the Death-Eaters kidnap? During the terrorist attacks from Voldemort's followers, we briefly see a bombed-out storefront and the Death-Eaters clutching a victim with a hood on his head. I guess that was John Hurt Mr. Ollivander and his wand shop from the first film, but I can't be certain. I think that'll pay off in one of the next movies.

3. So what was Draco doing for months? My understanding is that Draco Malfoy used the "Room of Requirement" (where the students secretly trained in the last film) both to store and probably to "summon" the Vanishing Box, another version of which was back in the creepy store in Knockturn Alley. The Death-Eaters wanted a way into Hogwarts to circumvent the magic force fields and whatnot. Do Hogwarts' defenses explain why the Vanishing Box didn't work? Draco sends through an apple that comes back with a bite, and sends through a bird that comes back dead -- so the box was basically on the fritz for the better part of the school year?

4. Why didn't Harry recognize the Vanishing Box? When Harry and Ginny are in the Room of Requirement, if memory serves me right the box is right next to them, and Harry saw it in the suspicious scene earlier. You'd think Harry would have noticed -- but he can be forgiven for being a little distracted, what with the imminent snogging.

5. What about Bill Weasley? Lots of Harry Potter regulars aren't in the film (some of whom weren't in the book, either), including the Dursleys, the former and current Minister of Magic, adult Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Prof. Trelawney (Emma Thompson) and others. The absense of Ron's oldest brother Bill Weasley kind of bugs me. I don't think he's been any of the films, but the books he woos one of the students from the French magic school, and in the Half-Blood Prince book, he's non-fatally mauled by Fenrir Greyback (the bad werewolf guy). Bill's bittersweet wedding is one of Deathly Hallows' "nicest" set pieces before the shit starts going down -- will it still be in the movie?

6. Where's the big magic fight? In the book, the Death-Eaters don't just break into Hogwarts to kill Dumbledore, smash windows and burn a shack; they wreak all kinds of havoc and there's a big fight between them and Harry's friends (mostly "off-stage" from Harry's point of view). Supposedly director David Yates didn't want to repeat the Death-Eater fight from the previous film, and didn't want to distract from the big Battle for Hogwarts in the final film. I get it, but it's kind of a let-down, especially Harry Potter's confrontation with Snape. Many reviews compare Half-Blood Prince to The Empire Strikes Back, given its inconclusive, cliffhanger-y ending. But it's kind of like Empire if Luke and Darth Vader whipped out their light-sabers and fought for, oh, 30 seconds at the end.

7. Thematically, does the film make sense on its own? The major omissions I recall from Half-Blood Prince involve the Pensieve-flashbacks to Voldemort's background, and Harry "getting to know" the personality of the author of the notes in his Potions textbook, who turns out to have been Professor Snape. The subplots have been cut down to the minimum to drive the plot, at the expense of one of the book's most interesting ideas: the way Harry can share the perspective of two characters who are much, much darker than his own. In a way, they give him negative examples of how to live, think and behave, and with the subplots trimmed down, Harry's a particularly passive hero in this outing. Snape gets a short shrift, which seems unfair, because he shares the title of this one.

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