Michael Cooper . Contributing Editor
In less than a month the sixth installment in the Harry Potter franchise will be released with premieres in Tokyo, London and New York on successive days between July 6th and the 8th with worldwide release July 15th.
It’s been nearly 9 months since the movie was originally scheduled to open over Thanksgiving week but, due to the quagmire called the writers strike, studio executives were forced to spread their movies out over a longer period of time so they wouldn’t run out. Finally though, it’s Potter Time and Harry and company have three movies coming our way. After this year’s installment, the follow-up, Deathly Hallows, will be released in two parts on Thanksgiving 2010 with the conclusion in May of 2011, feeding our Harry Potter fix for the next three years.
I’ve been enamored with Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter since a friend of mine invited me to the premiere of the 5th film two summers ago. I, like many, had viewed Harry Potter as a children’s story after watching the first two Chris Columbus films. I was intrigued by the third and fourth efforts but got hooked on Potter in #5.
David Yates version of The Order of the Phoenix was a dark fantasy that left so many questions in my mind at the conclusion of the film that I just had to read the book. It began a Potter marathon. I read book five and immediately began The Half Blood Prince. As timing would have it, the seventh and final book was released just as I finished book six. Within a span of a couple of weeks I was at the end of the Potter saga and it was a whirlwind I hadn’t felt since reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Interestingly enough, I went back to the theater a month later to re-watch The Order of the Phoenix and the film that had inspired me to finally read the books left me extremely disappointed by all the significant storyline details left out from the book. I put that blame on screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, best know for 1997’s Contact. He chopped Harry too fine for my tastes and I was glad to see Rowling and the producers agreed by returning
former Screenwriter Steven Kloves (Wonder Boys and The Fabulous Baker Boys) to helm the final 3 films.
Kloves and author Rowling have a tremendous relationship and it shows. Watching the previews for Half Blood Prince for the past nine months convinced me they got this one right. Scene after scene is right from the book. Harry is beginning his sixth year at Hogswarts – as each book has followed a time line covering Harry’s life since turning 11. Now a 16-year-old Harry must face a Voldermort who is beginning to seize power not only of the Wizarding world but the world of humans (muggles) too.
The movie has eliminated a few important scenes from the book in order to fit into a 2 hour and 33 minute run time. This still makes The Half Blood Prince the third longest film in the series. Kloves eliminated Chapter One where the outgoing Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, meets with the British Prime Minister as the world of men and wizards is finally revealed. We learn that the Minister of Magic and the current British Prime Minister always meet when a pending catastrophe could affect both worlds at once. Fudge has been canned after refusing to acknowledge the return of Voldermort until it was too late and explains to the Prime Minister he is being replaced by an alleged vampire named Rufus Scrimgeour (pronounced Scrimge-yore). British actor Bill Nighy was rumored to play Scrimgeour before his part was practically eliminated. Director Yates has apparently fit Scrimgeour in for a brief non-speaking cameo.
The film replaces chapter one with an opening scene showing the collapse of a muggle bridge. This will be used to explain to the audience that Voldemort is affecting more than just the Wizarding world. Up until this point Rowling’s universe seemed to exist in our world with mankind being completely oblivious to them except for the Dursleys.
Additional scenes in the book which are cut from the film include a gruesome battle at Hogwarts. Producer David Heyman claims the fight between Death Eaters, Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix would be too repetitious because of battles in book seven – but this really makes zero sense to me at all. That’s like saying the battles in The Two Towers had to be cut because there were more fights in The Return of the King.
Many of the memory journeys via the Pensieve – the mystical way Harry and Dumbledore travel back in time – have also been cut. These include the murder of Riddle’s father by his son and a scene I really wanted to see on the screen, Voldemort’s bizarre Slytherin family. There are some memory scenes that had to be in the movie involving Horcrux’s – the mysterious sinister life forces that become central to the plot of this movie and the next two. Also, director Yates has deemed a significant character’s funeral at the end of Half Blood Prince unnecessary. Frankly, in hindsight, I think they should have made all the books from 4 through 7 into two part movies in order to really capture the story – not to mention making at least an additional billion dollars for the studio.
The title of book six comes from a used potions book given to Harry that contains secret hand written formulas by a former Hogwart’s student who refers to himself as The Half Blood Prince. With the help of these formulas Harry becomes the best potion maker in his class, much to Hermione’s consternation and concern. The mystery of the Half Blood Prince carries on throughout the story and the revelation is a stunner.
Professor Slughorn, with dark ties to Tom Riddle when he was a student at Hogwarts, is the new Potions Master while Professor Snape has finally been rewarded with the teaching post he always-craved – Defense of the Dark Arts.
My biggest disappointment is the loss of the Dursleys. They have become some of my favorite characters from the books. Cutting them out of the fourth film was bad enough but now again in the sixth is a screenwriting mistake by Kloves. However, Quiddich is returning along with two scenes not in the books – Diagon Alley is shown under attack by Voldemort’s Death Eaters and, for whatever reason, Kloves has come up with a Bellatrix Lestrange / Werewolf Fenrir Greyback
attack on Ron’s home in the Burrow. Why so much has been cut and two scenes added is a bit confusing. I’m sure it’s an attempt to create more action because of the book’s big battle scene being cut. More disappontment includes the elimination of the all important elves Kreacher and Dobby along with Ron’s brother Bill and his fiance Fleur, the alluring Vella and Beauxbatons Champion from Goblets of Fire. Bill’s big scene in the book was the Hogwart’s battle where the Werewolf Greyback mauls him. I can report that all will make returns in the two- part Deathly Hallows and will play significant roles.
This latest movie plot revolves around Harry’s belief that Voldemort has ordered Draco Malfoy on a secret mission in retaliation for all of his father’s failures in the past. Plus we continue to learn more about the early life of Tom Riddle and how it’s not so different from Harry’s. Actor Tom Felton as Draco plays a significant role in this movie along with Hero Fiennes-Tiffin as the 11-year-old Thomas Marvolo Riddle. Hero is also the real life nephew of Ralph Fiennes who plays the adult Voldermort.
In the Chamber of Secrets we met the teenage Riddle and found out he changed the letters of his muggle name to create Lord Voldemort. Actor Christian Coulson was deemed too old by Director David Yates to reprise his role and Frank Dillane will replace him. In all seven actors have played Voldermort since the Sorcerors Stone.
Finally, this film deals with the search for the Horocrux’s that explain why Voldemort did not die when his spell backfired on Harry as a baby and, of course, the assassination of one of the main characters which will change the Potter storyline immeasurably in the final two movies.
I predict these final three Potter films will go down in movie history as the very best of the franchise. They are certainly Rowling’s best writing and, unlike my co-writer on this site Chuck Curry who still considers Potter a children’s story, I believe these concluding books-to-film will stand up with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars as the greatest fantasy adventures of all time. I also predict that with over 400 million books sold, this
film will indeed overtake Star Trek, Up and Transformers and become the biggest grossing movie of the year.
Already the first 5 Harry Potter movies rank in the top 21 all time box office films worldwide. When it’s said and done, look for an unprecedented 8 of the top 20 all time movie grosses to include the name Harry Potter. Just think about that next time you decide to once again put off writing that great novel in your head.
In 1991 Joanne Rowling was destitute – a divorced 26-year-old mother surviving on welfare. Today she is the richest woman in England and not only has more money than the Queen but has her own castle too. Tolkien, Rowling and Lucas – the triumphant trifecta of fantasy storytelling for this generation of moviegoers.