Monday, July 27, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Scenes

Over the weekend, I saw the movie version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Having read the book previously, I wanted to see how the story was adapted for the wide screen. I am well aware that anything longer (or shorter) than a novella will not survive the transition to a movie version without serious changes. This is a situation that I accept, and I appreciate clever adaptations of written works such as that of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. With the Half-Blood Prince, however, I was disappointed with the extra screen time devoted to some scenes and the inadequate time spent on others. While I do not intend to write a full review of the movie, I want to set down my thoughts on why I felt that certain scenes could have been written better. This blog post may serve as a guide on keeping one’s stories tight without making them feel rushed.

Shifting the Balance of Power

In the movie version of Half-Blood Prince, a couple of Death Eaters launched an attack on the Weasley family home. I felt that this scene, which was not present in the original novel, is completely pointless. What did Voldemort and his Death Eaters hope to achieve by destroying a single house? If their attack was intended to weaken Harry Potter and his friends, there was nothing in any of the subsequent scenes that showed they had succeeded. In fact, David Yates, the director, could have left the scene in the cutting room floor, and the audience wouldn’t have missed it.

The way I see it, the purpose of any scene involving an on-going conflict between two parties is to shift the balance of power between them. This is true regardless of whether the scene in question comes from the latest James Bond thriller or any of Jane Austen’s romances. The shift in the balance may be subtle most of the time and heart-pounding in only a few instances. Regardless, for the shift to be meaningful, its effects should be felt in the later parts of the story.

Introducing New Conflicts

Not all scenes are intended to develop an on-going conflict between two parties. Some are meant to introduce conflict between parties that had hitherto been at peace with each other. Nevertheless, if one party takes a swipe at another in one scene, we expect this conflict to escalate and eventually be resolved in later scenes.

Hence, I feel that the opening sequence showing the destruction of London’s Millenium Bridge could have been left out altogether. The wizard-versus-muggle conflict was never developed in the later parts of the story, and the screen time taken up by this sequence could have been better utilized in other scenes. I realize that the opening scene was intended as a more dramatic replacement for the first chapter in J.K. Rowling’s book. Nevertheless, I also feel that this chapter could have been safely deleted from the book for the same reason that I stated earlier.

Establishing Characters

Who is Narcissa, and why is she in the company of Bellatrix? Who is Romilda, and what’s her relationship with Harry and Ron? Who is Dean, and why is Harry upset with him? Those who saw the movie without ever having read the Harry Potter books may never know the answer to these questions. That’s because there aren’t enough scenes in the movie to establish these characters, their relationships, and their motivations. Any character that is at the heart of one or more conflicts must have enough scenes devoted to establishing them clearly enough for the audience to appreciate the conflicts in which they are involved.

On the other hand, characters that don’t figure in any of the story’s conflicts may be safely glossed over or left out. For instance, the director and screenwriter were wise to make Blaise Zabini practically invisible in the movie. Because the romance between Remus and Tonks did not make it to the movie version, giving these characters less screen time is justified. If the attack on the Weesley home had been left out, Remus and Tonks could even have gone with it.


In this blog post, I gave three reasons for developing a scene: establishing characters, introducing conflicts, and shifting the balance of power. I don’t claim that these are the only reasons for crafting a scene, but these definitely revolved around my dissatisfaction with the Half-Blood Prince movie. As usual, everything written here is just my opinion, and readers may apply or disregard all or part of my blog post as they see fit.


Azenn said...

I agree, I walked out of the movie feeling like they could have cut about 80% of the middle. Seriously, I'm pretty sure Half-Blood Prince was longer than Return of the King, which clocks in somewhere at 40 hours screentime.

That's the reason they threw in the attack at the burrow. It's because there's tons of pointless shit in between Point A (attack on the bridge) and Point B (Snape kicking ass). Honestly, it reminds me of my own module. I throw in random fights like werewolves and dragons but at least I realize it's shitty and has no purpose.

They could have salvaged the movie by throwing all romance out the window. After that, they should have just called the movie Snape Kicking Ass and have an hour and thirty minutes of Snape Kicking Ass. That's the reason Book 6 was my favorite... because Snape Kicks Ass.

It's pretty hard to mess up Snape Kicking Ass, and yet somehow they managed to do it. I mean, it's obvious how much of a badass he is when he can just fold a newspaper downward and be cool.

Why is Harry Potter even in the movie?

Frank Perez said...

Heh. Now that you mention it, the Lavender-Ron-Hermione love triangle could have been left out at the expense of some funny moments. Romilda's attempt to snare Harry was a crucial moment, however, so it's a shame that there weren't enough scenes with Romilda involved.