To start off with full disclosure, I haven’t read the book (or any Harry Potter books). I haven’t even seen the previous movie. This may give me an advantage as a watcher unbiased by the source material, but should that matter? Does being a fan of the original work hurt or hamper the adaptation viewing experience? That’ll come later. Now, onto the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie.
It was decent. I don’t really have much to say. This is a long movie, over two and a half hours, yet it doesn’t feel particularly long, or that too much is happening to keep track of. Pretty much all the characters were done well in their development, from Harry’s anger to Draco’s nervousness, from Hermione’s jealousy to Ron’s love sickness. The awkwardness of teen romances is well handled, which is good because there’s plenty of it. It seems like even wizards-to-be are not immune to high school relationship drama. The kids of the series are acted out quite nicely.
This movie isn’t perfect though. Its major problem is in the climax. It’s anticlimactic. The subplot of the mysterious Half-Blood Prince is revealed to little to no effect. The final fights are essentially over in a blink of an eye. The important character death at the end hardly has a reaction from the cast aside from a light show. The movie is pretty solid for the most part, but once we get to the Dumbledore/Draco confrontation, it goes down hill.
I did notice something when discussing the film with friends who have read the books. With most superhero films, I’m along with many fans worrying about getting the characters right and sticking with the source material and not screwing with the story too much. Sometimes I forget how it is on the other side of the audience, the side that doesn’t care about the source material.
Adaptations into movies are tricky, even with small and complete source material like the Harry Potter franchise (Yes, it is small compared to the multiple decades of any given comic book franchise). Not only will everything not make it into the film version, but there may be plot changes to better suit the medium. Subplots may be altered or even cut altogether. This becomes especially tricky when subplots in one part of a multipart franchise become essential to the plot of a later part. The absence of such subplot in an adaptation may lead to outrage to source material fans, claiming it has ruined the future story. The flaw in this thinking? Assuming that the latter plot will go unchanged without any adjustments to fix any gaps because of a missing subplot. It can be difficult to judge the accuracy of an adaptation of a multipart series until the entire series has been adapted.
So what makes a successful adaptation? In my opinion, keeping the characters true to who they are, and keeping the minimum basics of the underlying main plot solid. By character, I don’t mean exact physical details or trivial actions. Otherwise, I’d be complaining up and down that Peter Parker’s eyes are really hazel and not blue. I mean the basic core of the character, the past that forms the character and the way the character would act in any situation that may be adapted or original.
Does this mean fans should give adaptations a break? Depends on if the characters and basic plot hold true. Organic webshooters don’t change much about who Peter Parker is and what he does, yet Superman and Lois having a kid changes the characters’ dynamic and likely kills further franchise development. Making Optimus Prime an extended engine truck with a moving mouth doesn’t keep him from being the awe-inspiring leader of the Autobots, but making Galactus into a cloud kind of kills any actual character Galactus has. Everyone will always have minor bones to pick, but understanding the basics and keeping them intact will lead to the original fans likely enjoying the work. Of course, if the original work sucks anyway, all bets are off.
Back to Harry Potter. From my limited knowledge, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a good adaptation. The characters and the plot feel right and flow well. Thematically, it could have been improved at points (namely the climax and the end), but otherwise, it’s a decent movie and does the original work justice. Criticisms may be well founded and deserved, but really it’s not all done yet anyway. There are still two more movies to go before one can truly judge the actions of this movie doom the plot of the next.