July 20, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

harrypotter619_largeSix movies in and the popular franchise does not feel like it is losing any steam. It sort of makes me wonder what will happen once the final movie has played. I cannot believe the studio would let the lucrative franchise languish following such a great run. You know how studios think, milk it until it is dry. Will we see continuing adventures as adults? Perhaps a spin off featuring minor characters? Maybe in this remake/prequel driven market we will see the adventures of Harry's parents or the series restarted with a younger cast and a darker/edgier take on the material? Then again,perhaps not. Until something like that happens, I will choose to just enjoy the movies as they come. The Half-Blood Prince proves to be a good follow up to Order of the Phoenix, although not quite its equal.

I sat there enjoying the story as it played out in front of me, the spells and potions flashing, angsty, emotion filled youth struggling with the weight of reality and the onset of young adulthood, while the adults pondered weighty issues and that will have n effect on all of them. All things considered, it is rather melodramatic, but it plays well as a compelling and well-rounded story that adds much texture to the bigger picture of the film series at large.

harrypotter62However, as much as is packed into these stories, I wonder just how much more is in the book. This thought is buoyed by the faces of disappointed Potter-heads I witnessed on my way out of the theater. They were complaining about all the stuff that was in the book that failed to make it to the movie. You would think that with six movies down, they would realize by now that the movies are going to be different than the books. They will generally be accurate, but changes are inevitable. People really need to stop comparing the two mediums so strictly, different things work in different places and you will never see a complete, word for word adaptation of anything.

With that out of my system, let's take a look at the movie.

The movie begins with an attack by the Death Eaters on the muggle world. They take out a bridge filled with people on their out of town, which also features the kidnapping of, who I presume to be, a shop owner. It was the shop in that magic alley where Harry got his first wand in the The Sorceror's Stone. The scene then shifts to the London Underground where Harry is in a cafe reading a newspaper. His reading is interrupted by a little flirting with the cute waitress. Unfortunately, this fun is not to last or turn into anything more as Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) appears across the way on the train platform. Duty calls.

The movie has two primary threads. One concerns Harry and Dumbledore seeking to stop the return of Voldemort to power. Harry is the "Chosen One" after all, he needs to be there on the front line when he makes his ultimate move on Hogwarts. That is the serious underpinning of this film and the series as a whole. As this film builds towards its climax, it is easy to see that darker, more dire events are still to come in the two film conclusion.

harrypotter633The other thread is a bit more traditional and in line with teen coming of age dramas. One of the most interesting facets of this series is watching the characters grow up. Each successive film brings them to the next level. They began as wide-eyed kids, filled with wonder at the new magical world that was unfolding before them, reflected by the way Hogwarts was presented. Over the course of the series, the home away from home for student wizards has gradually become a more ominous place, possibly most prominent by the gothic halls of The Half-Blood Prince.

Besides the darker look the film sports, the kids themselves are having typical teen related issues. They are getting into the dating scene, becoming the elder class of the school, having changing relationships with the teaching staff, and are looked up to by the incoming students. We have literally watched them grow up over the course of six movies. I cannot think of any other series of films that have given us this unprecedented opportunity. Where else can you track the maturing of fictional characters through the eyes of the actors who are growing up with them? If nothing else, this is a reason to celebrate the series.

I am not even going to attempt to dig into the story, I will leave that to the true Potter fans. I will, however, say that the story is engrossing, buoyed by the relationships that have grown and changed over the series. The relationships are very good in this film, although they are occasionally let down by mediocre acting and script.

harrypotter623The acting of The Half-Blood Prince is a little odd in places. There are moments where the line delivery feels like an outtake, or at the very least, lines written for someone else. This is most evident with Dumbledore and Potter, they seem rather awkward. At other times, I am quite intrigued by the duo's interaction, the respected mentor/prized student relationship does pay off wonderfully in the end. As for the remaining cast members, Emma Watson's Hermione and Rupert Grint's Ron do decent jobs, steady as always. When it comes to the real star of the show, look no further than Alan Rickman. His performance of Severus Snape is fantastic. He has a way of turning a line, injecting such delicious character into each line. He is just great to watch.

David Yates, who also directed The Order of the Phoenix, will be at the helm for the remainder of the series. Yates may not be the best director to tackle the series (that would go to Alfonso Cuaron), but he does seem to have a grasp on how to approach the series and has done a good job through the two film so far. There is something to be said for consistency of vision as we steam towards the end and they could have done a lot worse than Yates in what has been the first real test of his skills as a big screen director.

Steve Kloves returns to the series as screenwriter after not working on Order of the Phoenix. It is decent screenplay, although some of the lines do not ring true. Perhaps he just needs to get back in the groove as his work has generally been solid. It gets the job done, but I cannot help but feel it could have had a more natural feel.

The Half-Blood Prince has some great visual moments, such as the Death Eater segment at the start of the film, Harry and Dumbledore in the cavern, Harry and Draco in the washroom, and Bellatrix in the Great Hall all stand out as being memorable.

Bottomline. Overall, the series has been solid, if not quite as spectacular as many would like them to be or believe them to be. It is a series to be celebrated for what it is doing and more often than not succeeding at. This entry probably falls somewhere in the middle in terms of quality, although all of them fall pretty close to the other. This definitely something to experience on the big screen, just keep your expectations in check.



LarryBann said...

Final book is supposed to be split into 2 movies. Heard it from my Library!

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