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So there was a Chicago test screening of HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE on Saturday!! Wanna hear about it? UPDATED!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. I knew most of last week that there was going to be a test screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE this past Saturday, and I fought with myself about whether I should try to get in. For whatever reason, they test every HARRY POTTER film months in advance in Chicago; I've been to two of them in the past. And since this sixth film's release date has been pushed to July 2009, this is technically the earliest they've ever test screened an HP films. In the end, I knew that if I'd been spotted by the wrong people trying to get in, the consequences would have far outweighed the reward. I also knew an army of folks that were going and who were likely to send in reviews; I wasn't wrong about that. Here's the first from a frequent attenedee of many of the screenings I do in the Windy City. He calls himself Jimbo Wage, and he has faithfully submitted a Spoiler-ific review. You've been warned. The main problem I've heard about is pacing, but this was a test screening, so presumably pacing issues will be largely worked out come July of next year. Here's Jimbo Wage...

Hi. I saw Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince this past Saturday in Chicago. It was presented on the flyers as a mystery screening, and right before it started, a man with a microphone said we were the first people to see it. Maybe 75% of the special effects were complete. Also, some pieces of music from Batman Begins were on the soundtrack, indicating the score had yet to be totally completed. The runtime of this version was about 145 minutes. I read the books once, maybe twice for a couple of them, but I’m definitely not what I’d call a fanatic. I’ve seen the movies, but started to lose interest in them after the fourth, which I felt they could have done a much better job with. I read Half-Blood Prince about three years ago and don’t remember all of the details, so please bear with me. And there are spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. The film opens with an assault on a bridge in London by Death Eaters. The fly around it in corkscrew-like formations, causing the bridge to collapse into the water below. They make their way into Diagon Alley, put a bag over some guy’s head, and take him away. It was a pretty spectacular opening, and I understand after talking to a couple of people that the filmmakers decided to show some of the Death Eaters’ assaults on muggles instead of having two guys in a room talking about it as it was portrayed in the book, but in regards to the rest of the film, I couldn’t understand really why it was there. Whoever gets kidnapped doesn’t reappear for the rest of the movie, and the money spent on that opening sequence (which isn’t in the book) could have been diverted to something that happens later on, the absence of which should leave fans of the book disappointed. (The person getting kidnapped might be Ollivander, and the person getting bagged might have been a stand-in for him – all of the effects weren’t finished. Why they would do that digitally, though, makes no sense to me.) We’re introduced to Horace Slughorn, who is played by Jim Broadbent. When I first heard he wouldn’t be fat and he wouldn’t have a mustache, I was irritated, but Broadbent’s character is easily the most enjoyable in the film. There’s two scenes where he’s drunk that are great. He takes over as the Potions teacher, and Harry finds a book that once belonged to the Half-Blood Prince. In one scene, Harry follows the book’s modified potion-making instructions and gets proper results as the rest of his classmates fail around him. This leads me to another problem I had with the film – the mystery as to who the Half-Blood Prince is takes a backseat to all the dating stuff. Some of it’s pleasant and funny, but it should have been background comic relief to help balance the drama in the forefront. There’s a part where Harry fights Malfoy in a bathroom and he uses some violent spell, causing Malfoy’s chest to bleed, but the fact that Harry got the spell from the potions book was lost on me. I might have missed something, but regardless, whatever scene or line of dialogue was supposed to emphasize that fact definitely needs more attention. Also, there’s a scene during Christmas that wasn’t in the book where some Death Eaters attack the Weasley household, drawing first Harry and Ginny into a field of wheat (or something), then Lupin and someone else, I forget who. The scene feels totally unnecessary –tacked on to give the audience a jolt of action at around the halfway point of the film. I had the most problems with the film’s final third. Harry and Dumbledore’s trip to the caves seemed to come out of nowhere, as did Dumbledore’s declaration that he had to drink the water from the podium in which the locket they were after was held. I don’t remember if that’s how it happened in the book, but I remember arriving at that location & conclusion in a way that at least felt more natural. After that, they make their way to the tower and instead of using a charm to immobilize Harry and cover him with the invisibility cloak like in the book, Dumbledore just sends Harry away, and Harry goes downstairs, stops & watches the following scene through cracks in the floor above him. Malfoy tries to kill Dumbledore but realizes he can’t. Snape arrives on the floor below & signals Harry to be quiet, which he uncharacteristically does. Snape then goes upstairs & sends Dumbledore to his death. The modifications made to this scene from book to film are terrible, and they partially blow what may be the biggest surprise of the entire franchise. Afterwards, there is no enormous battle. The Death Eaters stroll out silently. I remember the fight in the book being fantastic, and I personally would rather have had a short scene in the beginning with two guys talking about the horrible things the Death Eaters are doing than eliminate the battle at the end. Harry runs after them and confronts Snape, who quietly tells him he’s the Half-Blood Prince. Again, due to lack of attention paid to this plotline, I didn’t really care. In the book, he screams his response. The book has Snape screaming and the film has him using his indoor voice. What a disappointment. And as if this weren’t enough, there is no funeral for Dumbledore. It’s been cut. They have almost a year before this film is released, so there’s plenty of time for editing, which is good news because this cut was quite underwhelming. A woman in our post-screening discussion of about 20-25 people said she usually cries at movies, but didn’t react at all when Dumbledore died. Hopefully, the filmmakers will ease up on the relationship stuff and emphasize more of the potions book/Half-Blood Prince plot. I’d like to think they’d shoot that missing end battle and also shoot the funeral, but I doubt the studio would be willing to spend any more money, especially because of how elaborate the battle was in the book. Jimbo Wage

Hey, Capone again. Here are a few words from an unhappy customer from the same screening. And he has even more spoilers than the last guy.

Hello. I saw an incredibly early test screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Saturday in Chicago. It was an event shrouded in secrecy, the audience only being told what film they had come to see seconds before the lights went down, and I was honestly excited. Like, five-year old boy excited. My disappointment with what followed is endless. Warning: this review contains many, many spoilers. First, let's go with what was good if for no other reason than it will take less time. The opening, far different from the novel, was very strong. We see a bridge destroyed by Death Eaters, Diagon Alley blown to bits, Harry and Dumbledore mourning before an onslaught of Magical Press, and Snape making a very ominous, very Unbreakable Vow. I got a real sense of urgency, of darkly engrossing things to come. And they did. Just not in the sense that I had expected. There was also the inspiring performance by Jim Broadbent as Prof. Horace Slughorn. Easily the most enjoyable character in the film, I found myself lolling away the scenes he was absent from anticipating the next one he was in. In fact, there was a lot of good humor, not only from Broadbent. There is a lot of teen drama in this film, most notably a love triangle between Harry, Ginnie Weasley, and Dean Thomas. A love potion gone awry adds a bit of welcomed lightness for Ron Weasley (who finally gets a crack at Quidditch, one of many points of anticipation hacked out of the last film). And, well, that's about it. The problem with all of this romance is All of This Romance. It dominates the movie, drawing our focus away not only from major plot points – which fall disastrously through the cracks – but also deters the mood, which, in a (nearly) penultimate film, should be at the forefront. The title of this film is Harry Potter and the HALF-BLOOD PRINCE but the title character gets next to no screen time and even less explanation, save for a few asides that, if you haven't read the book, may as well have been cut. Better to call the movie Harry Potter and the Hormones from Hedes and save us our disillusionment. Most of my issues with this film deal with deletions and alterations from the book, which would be okay if they were for the betterment of the movie-going experience, except that they're not. Gone are notable characters such as Rufus Schrimgouer, Fleur Delacour, and Bill and Charlie Weasley. Series regulars such as Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane are reduced two line cameos. For a book based on Harry and Dumbledore's quest to find out more about Voldemort, and how to stop him, via his memories, all but three memories have been cut from the film. Why is it that the filmmakers decided it was more important to focus on teen-age love rather than what are inarguably critical plot points? It is aneurysm inducing logic that will surely leave me dead in my bathtub. And the ending. Good God, the ending. Not only is the fight between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix completely removed, but so is Dumbledore's funeral. The last third of this movie is so incredibly mishandled that Dumbledore's death feels more like an unfortunate accident than genuine tragedy. No one in the film seems even remotely upset that he's gone and the Death Eaters who murdered him, including would-be-good-guy Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, the title-character in cameo form), walk out of Hogwarts unmolested. Anyone who has read the book (an incredible sum of folk who Warner Bros. seem to have forgotten are the target audience – either that or they have some personal vendetta against them) will be severely, SEVERELY disappointed with this film. Let's just hope that in the ten intervening months between now and the film's release, Warner's will take the time and the money to fix this incredible mess. Sadly, I'm not holding my breath. Michael Bravo

-- Capone

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