I really liked Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- I didn't love it the way I loved Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but that's the result of having read the later books, particularly the last one, not because I think the filmmakers did anything terribly wrong. The younger actors have all improved a lot since the earlier films; it's most obvious with Rupert Grint and Tom Felton because they have more specific things to do (physical comedy and brooding melancholy respectively), but Emma Watson's become much more subtle and relies less on a handful of facial expressions, and Daniel Radcliffe carries authority more convincingly, even if he's still terrible at crying on command. Kloves et al cut out a few plot points that made me boggle, but this time, since I know that DH is being split into two films, I am counting on them bringing some of those into DH Part One rather than tossing them out (actually, I'll probably be wrong and they'll never explain them the way they never explained Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, but it's not like Rowling didn't completely drop the ball on a lot of things in the books themselves). Here are some random thoughts and lots of spoilers:
Narcissa Malfoy is perfect. I like Helen McCrory, but my mental Narcissa Malfoy from the first time Harry laid eyes on her in the books was Grace Kelly, and there's very little resemblance there either in appearance or aristocratic bearing. I also had no idea how anyone could be found to play the role who would be convincing both as Tom Felton's mother and Helena Bonham-Carter's sister. McCrory is really perfect -- older than I picture Narcissa but that's true of pretty much every single adult character in the films, which I attribute to them being from the perspective of a teenager, and teenagers tend to think 40-year-olds look old. (Ironically, I think both Alan Rickman and Jim Broadbent look younger here than they have in most films I've seen them in recently, but that's fine -- Rickman in particular needs to look younger than he is since Narcissa and Bellatrix are both older than Snape, and I prefer Slughorn as a bit self-indulgent without being the nasty stereotype of a lazy fat pig that Rowling gives us in the books; I find it hard to believe he's two generations older than Snape, Lupin, et al, though.) Back to Narcissa, I appreciated that she was frightened and desperate without being the sniveling woman from the book. She comes across as having much more strength of character than Lucius ever has, really.
I actually like Ginny! This is a first for the books OR movies, and I think it is in large degree because this is the first time we've actually seen what she's like rather than being told from Harry's point of view...of all the things that suffer most egregiously from Rowling's failure to show not tell, Ginny gets perhaps the very worst of it. I love that she's the one who hides the Half-Blood Prince's book, and I love that their first kiss is not some big staged post-Quidditch public display but something closer to an intimate secret. I still think Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright have no chemistry, but then, I've never seen Dan have chemistry with 1) a girl or 2) a performer anywhere near his own age (sorry, Harry/Cedric fans, but I think it's all in your heads). I still think that if Harry is going to marry someone he's known since he was freakin' 11 years old, it should be Hermione, because Dan doesn't have any LESS chemistry with Emma Watson and I love Hermione and I think she deserves better than Ron (sorry, Ron/Hermione fans, but other than being inadvertently hilarious, loyal to family and devoted to Harry, I still don't know what Ron's shining virtues are). But I was less turned off by Harry/Ginny in this movie than I ever was in any of the books -- I didn't feel manipulated into being forced to think these people were meant for each other, I just felt like these were two teenagers who genuinely liked each other (and weren't ready for sex yet, anyway -- sorry, Harry/Ginny fans).
Incidentally, The Washington Post has had two amusing analysis pieces on Harry Potter the past two days -- one on whether die-hard fans of the books would be disappointed in the movie, one on whether the kiss in Twilight is loads hotter -- and look, even as someone who doesn't like Twilight and snickered loudly during the kiss scene rather than swooning, I have to admit that at least Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart look like they want to be kissing each other rather than like some director said, "Now, press your lips together and don't bump noses!" But the one on die-hard fans said that one big problem was that HBP doesn't make the romance between Harry and Ginny "feel inevitable and true," a statement with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Not because the film does make the romance seem that -- I don't believe it would have been possible to do that, at this stage, with these characters, in this film. What I appreciate is that the film does not try to force it, with Harry adoring Ginny from afar without actually having to spend any time with her because he's in detention with Snape as in the book (and you know I missed those detention scenes, not because they add a thing to the plot, but because watching Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Rickman interact is one of my principal points of pleasure in this franchise). I like that they come together slowly without any influence from Liquid Luck, and I like that there's no big stupid "I have to stop seeing you for your own good" nonsense at the end.
And on the subject of romance, while I was sorry to see so little of Remus in the film since the films have always gotten him spot-on to me, I actually did not want to throw up over Lupin/Tonks, even though I may have gagged a bit when she called him sweetheart (because, you know, sweetheart Is what Molly Weasley calls children, not what lovers call each other in this series). Remus Lupin really ceased to exist for me after HBP, or at least became unrecognizable -- I had an easier time seeing him as a threat-to-everyone-and-himself werewolf than the character he had been in POA. Moreover, Tonks turned into someone I couldn't wait for Rowling to kill off, a woman so needy for a man that she lost not only her personality but even her unique talents as a witch. If I have a choice between that cowering, terrified Lupin and that whingeing, woeful Tonks versus the competent members of the Order of the Phoenix who ran out into the night to defend Harry and Ginny against Death-Eaters, I'll take the pair who are dating any time. Particularly Tonks.
I can't really talk about Lupin because it's so unclear to me whether he's going to become as disposable as Trelawney to the film franchise. He does so little in the seventh book that it doesn't much matter to me from the standpoint of the character, but I was really sorry to lose all the werewolf storylines -- both Lupin's backstory with Fenrir Greyback, whom I don't think a novice to the franchise would have understood was a werewolf, and Bill Weasley's fate, which admittedly got no interesting follow-up in DH but I was still sorry to see excised. It could all be brought in to the next film, tied in to Lupin freaking out over Tonks' pregnancy, so I'm hoping it will. Fenrir isn't nearly scary enough asking whether he can have Hermione when the Death Eaters are done with her if we don't know what he is and what he's done.
There are a few things that I think MUST be covered in the two-part DH movie. There are several things Dumbledore told Harry in the novel HBP that Harry is evidently going to have to figure out for himself...or find out from Dumbledore's ghost, but I am really hoping they don't go that route, since I thought the DH exposition scene with the ghost was too long in the book. One is Tom Riddle's life story. I suppose we don't need every detail on the Gaunt family, but I do think we need to know what Riddle did to his blood relatives when he found out who they were, and why. And obviously, Harry needs to be able to figure out what the rest of the horcruxes might be, since Dumbledore never uttered his guesses -- I like the idea that it might be Harry and Hermione who figure out Tom is trying to connect himself to Hogwarts' founders rather than having it dictated to them. It seemed pretty clear to me that Dumbledore knew Harry was a horcrux when Harry touched the ring and had flashes of Riddle's life; I'll be interested to see whether he tells Harry or whether Harry figures that out himself, too.
Even without the Prime Minister meeting the Other Minister, I must confess that I am still irritated about the terrorist wizards of London. When the book first came out, my son, who was quite young at the time, asked why the good wizards weren't doing something about global warming if this is supposed to be our real world existing parallel with theirs, which I thought was an excellent question. Rowling said she wanted readers to see parallels between the pureblood agenda among the Death Eaters and the Holocaust...well, sorry, Jo, but the Death Eaters are small-time compared to the Nazis, and even if you wanted to tone it down because you were writing for children, I find it insulting that you'd compare poor woobie Harry who along with Tom Riddle seems to be the only wizard ever to have lost both his parents with the thousands of children who lost their families during World War II. And I find it aggravating to have it suggested that evil wizards could be behind the sort of very real terrorist attacks that have hit London in the not-very-distant past, rather than people with very real agendas that must be understood, worked through, defused and defended against by the very real people affected by them. The bridge going down is scary not because the Death Eaters bring it down, but because Death Eaters bringing it down is by no means the most terrifying scenario.
I did not miss the battle with the Death Eaters, though I did wish Harry and Snape's confrontation had been longer at the end -- I assume the filmmakers are trying not to make Snape too scary for younger viewers, particularly since he ends up not being a villain. I also assume that since there's a big battle at Hogwarts in the final movie, they figured it would seem repetitive if they had one here, so they just let Bella put the lights out in the Great Hall (I do like the scene where McGonagall and everyone else raises their wands and the Dark Mark disappears). Um, why did Dumbledore's wand end up on his desk? Are we to assume McGonagall just left it there till Snape took over? Anyway, I have clearly blathered enough, and I haven't even mentioned that I thought the pacing was terrific -- enough so that I was willing to overlook a lot of the cuts -- and I found the teen romance much more entertaining here than in GOF or OOTP. I'll definitely see it again, and I reserve the right to blather some more.