Mostly, the movie reminded me how much I still love Snape. I had expected Alan Rickman to be getting rather old for the part by now, since after all he was rather too old for the part even in the first film -- but he actually looked quite good, and more importantly, he plays Snape just beautifully. That avada kedavra at the end was excellent: sudden, impulsive, desperately resolute and painfully unwilling. All those subtle facial expressions when he made the Unbreakable Vow were wonderful, too. Snape's is a role that would be easy to overplay, but Rickman is really, really good at it, and keeps it toned down just enough, while still swishing his cloak around and drawling his lines in that slippery way. Guh.
I'm not sure what I thought of his "I am the Half-Blood Prince" confession at the end, though. I never liked how he went all CRAZY CAPSLOCK MAN in the novel at that point, but it was even weirder how calm he was about it in the movie. I mean, if there's a moment for the guy to snap, this is it, and I'm starting to think capslock was probably the way to go after all. There's also, of course, the fact that the significance of his being the Half-Blood Prince was just totally absent from the movie, since his background is completely omitted and there's just... no reason to think it matters. Eh. But I can see that there was just too much stuff in the book to fit it all into the movie, and I suppose they tried their best.
I was pretty impressed with Draco. I've gotten so used to all this Draco-fangirling that I was expecting him to be completely out of character, but in fact he did a really nice job of playing Draco exactly as he's written: a rather pathetic, conceited, selfish, confused, unhappy, malicious kid. He's not likable. He's barely even pitiable. So that was well done.
I guess my chief complaint about the movie is the same thing I complained about in the book: all my favorite characters get far too little screen time. Moody was totally absent; Lupin and Arthur got about half a scene each; Hagrid got about a scene and a half. Even Snape really only had about two scenes worth of screen time. I like the kids just fine, and I get that it's their story, but I'm still always just waiting for the next time we'll get to see the grown-ups again.
There's just always something a bit shallow and oblivious about the kids. They never seem to fully realize the import of what they're doing. The characters who interest me are the ones who have had to make real choices and real sacrifices, real mistakes that they've had to live with -- the characters who at this point can only really hope to purchase a happy ending for someone else. Sirius and Remus and Moody, Arthur and Molly, Hagrid, and of course Dumbledore, once we find out more about his back-story... and most of all Snape, who makes, I should say, the most difficult sacrifice of all, wearing a devil's mask, making sure he will never see himself forgiven, making sure that those he serves best, those who owe him the most, will despise and curse him and wish for his death. His work is the most thankless of all, without any hope of glory or remembrance. Lord, the one person who knew him and trusted him, he had to kill. And I suppose he was only able to withstand it out of self-loathing, out of penance, because he feels he can never sufficiently atone for his past sins.
Yes, after all, there is something to be said for Christianity's methods: self-despise as a catalyst to reform and salvation; sin -- even original sin, if need be -- as a perpetual reminder of humility, a hurdle to be overcome and overcome. Suffering as the one path to atonement and mercy. God as conscience, and conscience as God. The idea is that it is not enough merely to be good. You must be good while men curse you. You must be good when there is no gain for it, no one to praise you. You must be good even for the sake of those who would not return the favor.
Snape isn't great at it; he's certainly not gracious about it. But he does it. And there's something to be said for that, even though I'm still not sure what it is. Is it, as Nietzsche says, a disease of the lowly, who turn their pain into a prize because they cannot escape it, and call humility greatness because they are incapable and unworthy of anything higher? Or is it, as Dostoevsky says, just the opposite: a disease of intellectuals, of overactive consciences incapable of forgiving themselves, incapable of submitting, too self-aware to act with true innocence?
Well, but that's a whole other subject.
Anyway, I did go out and rent the previous two HP films. My reactions to them were about the same. They dragged, they left out far too much, the adults got far too little screen time -- but I enjoyed them anyway. Man, though, they are really, really failing at making these movies in any way comprehensible to anyone who hasn't read the books. I think the Order of the Phoenix is mentioned exactly once in the entire movie of the same name. We spend exactly two scenes at Grimmauld Place; we never see Snape there. The Department of Mysteries is just one room full of prophecies. And we never find out how the Order knew to come looking for Harry at the Ministry, which is pretty damn important! What the hell was the point of having Snape deliver that beautifully cold "I have no idea," if they weren't going to then have him go back to Grimmauld Place and save the day? God.
I can't really be disappointed with their handling of Snape, because Rickman is so damn good for the part, but they are really, really failing at giving him enough scenes. I couldn't beleive they cut the scene in Goblet of Fire where he pulls up his sleeve and shows his Dark Mark. That is probably my favorite scene in the entire series. It's a huge revelation. Up until that scene, we don't even know he was ever a Death Eater. We just think he's a rather snarky, unpleasant man. And then all at once, in that scene, we find out not only that he's a Death Eater, but that Dumbledore knows and trusts him anyway. Dumbledore tells him to go to Voldemort, and Snape passively complies, but he is scared. For the first time we see Snape really scared, and simultaneously evincing a degree of courage that suggests he really should have been a Gryffindor. And the movie just completely ignores all this!
The point is, the movies kind of fail... but nevertheless, I'm glad they're there to remind me how much I really do love the Harry Potter series, even if it's true that JKR cannot write to save her life. The universe and the characters are fantastic enough to make up for that. At the moment I'm almost tempted to go back and read the whole series over again.