This week I saw the film of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. I enjoyed it very much. Everything in it was wonderfully rendered. As usual, though, so much had to be left out. One of the production staff has been quoted as saying that to include everything in the novel would have required eight hours. Well, yeah. The natural medium for a novel adaptation is a TV miniseries, not a novel. And, yes, I know a film can’t be a word-for-word transcription of a book. Still, I watch movies based on novels in hopes of seeing the story transferred to the screen as faithfully as possible. If the producers don’t like the original story well enough to aspire to that goal, why do they bother with it at all? (Which, fortunately, isn’t the case with the makers of the Harry Potter film series. I’ve seen a few screenplay adaptations to which my reaction was an infuriated, “If you wanted to make up your own darn story, why didn’t you do so and call it something else, instead of exploiting a perfectly good book?”)
The HALF-BLOOD PRINCE movie opens with spectacular scenes of dark magic attacks on Muggles, including the collapse of a bridge. That montage represents a good choice to show events only mentioned in dialogue in the book. The book’s delightful first scene, however, a meeting between the British Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic, was omitted. (I’ve read that it was “in and out” several times in the course of production, so I hope it will be an outtake on the DVD.) The movie skimps on visits to Voldemort’s past, which I consider the heart of the story. The investigation of the Half-Blood Prince’s identity gets pushed into the background. And we never actually see Snape teaching Dark Arts, quite a disappointing omission, even though it doesn’t hurt plot development.
There’s one added event that's not in the book, wholly gratuitous in my opinion (and setting up a problem for the adaptation of THE DEATHLY HALLOWS), but I won’t describe it because of the spoiler factor. I can give an example, though, from another epic fantasy film—PRINCE CASPIAN. An inordinately big chunk of the middle of that movie comprises an attack on Miraz’s castle that isn’t in the book at all and includes jarringly out-of-character actions and dialogue from Peter. This intrusion occurs at the expense of leaving out the long, thematically vital sequence in the novel where Aslan leads Susan, Lucy, and a troop of dryads and other pagan creatures across Narnia to join the final battle. What a disappointment that loss was!
The way I see it, in filming a book there are good alterations, omissions, and additions, and there are gravely misguided ones. Too often, producers and directors seem tone-deaf as to which is which.
Margaret L. Carter
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