16
Jul
2009
Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Jordan
It feels only proper for me to preface my review of the newest Harry potter film by admitting that (while Muggle born) I am a total Potter-head. I have read the books countless times, been at the midnight showings for every movie since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and generally just love all things Harry Potter. This is also important because my view of the films is invariably colored by how they relate to the book"”i.e. what did they cut out this time? Azkaban angered me to no end as I watched a director I greatly admire (Alfonso Cuaron of Children of Men) follow birds around the grounds of Hogwarts at the expense of one of the greatest third acts of any novel I have ever read. I felt Order of the Phoenix (which in theory angered me being that it was the shortest film based on the longest book) was the best of the series so far in that, while the cuts it made were substantial, all of the biggest plot elements seemed to be present. And it had a killer battle sequence at the end. All of this is by way of giving you, gentle reader (I use the singular purposefully) an idea of my mindset when I went into Half Blood Prince.
That being said, I will attempt to judge the movie for its merits before I geek out on all of the cuts that were made. Director David Yates (who also helmed Order and is on tap for the two-part adaptation of Deathly Hallows coming over the next two years) has made a film that reeks of foreboding"”from the terrorist attack style opening sequence straight through the end credits it is clear that all is not well in the wizarding world. Even the film's happier moments (which I will address momentarily) feel weighted down by the paranoia and fear that affects every move these characters are making. The score and the cinematography back this feeling up and give the movie an overall eerie feel. I also found myself amazed at just how well the 11 year old kids that were picked to headline one of the biggest franchises of all time have grown into their roles. Daniel Radcliffe's Harry is a lived in role, weighed down by the decisions he has had to make and those that were made for him. Emma Watson, though still prone to occasional bits of overacting has created a Hermione that is simultaneously fierce and adorable, a girl you want on your side and at your side. Rupert Grint's Ron is still a blast, just as the character should be, even while he tackles some of the heavier material with aplomb. And particular kudos have to go to Tom Felton who has gone from simple schoolyard bully to full on terrorist conspirator and made us feel all of his anger, fear, and torment while never letting us forget that we hate Draco Malfoy.

The adults in the cast also continue to be excellent. Newcomer Jim Broadbent plays Horace Slughorn as a humorous eccentric, yet has the chops to carry out some of his more tragic moments. And Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and pretty much every other British actor alive continue to do well in the roles they were all perfectly cast in.

So what's not to love? For one thing, the film may feel laden with foreboding, but it never shows much of what everyone has to fear. For all of its posturing, the story is much more focused on the romantic pitfalls of its teenage cast than on the apocalyptic atmosphere in which they are falling into love (and occasionally lust). To be fair, the romances shown in the film are giggle inducing in just the way they should be"”filled with awkwardness, innuendo, jealousy and the occasional snog, yet as enjoyable as they are, they are not really the point the movie should be focused on. Additionally, the identity of the titular Prince seems poised to be the "mystery" that lies at the center of every Potter story"”that thing which will keep our gang up in the library scheming until late into the night"”but it is dispensed with fairly quickly and largely forgotten until a throw away explanation in the film's conclusion.

When the climax finally arrives, it feels incredibly rushed; as if screenwriter Steve Kloves got so caught up in the romances he was (re)creating that he forgot there was an actual over arcing purpose to the film. When Dumbledore whisks Harry on a secret quest, the film forgets to ramp up the excitement, and it's inevitable conclusion lacks the emotional punch it needs because of this.

Fans of the book (and beware, as SPOILERS are heavy in this paragraph) will notice that due to the abundant focus on the romance aspect of the story, all but two of Voldemort's memories are cut, which leaves the villain at the series center still feeling underdeveloped. Additionally (and in my opinion more importantly) the flashback involving Snape and his relationship with Harry's parents is excised, robbing the character of his most emotional moment, and leaving audiences who haven't read the book craving a more satisfactory motive behind Snape's cruelty. And lastly, the death of Dumbledore did not crush your heart the way it did in the books because his role in the film had been cut, his sacrifice was undermined by an abbreviated conversation and his funeral is done away with entirely.

Overall, though, it's a Harry Potter movie. If that is enough to get you excited, you will probably enjoy yourself. If you haven't read the book (as Sam has not, and I am curious to hear your thoughts on all of this) you may miss some of the subtleties that make the series great, but there are still wizard battles, romance and adventure aplenty throughout. And the film never lets you forget that it is simply a place holder before the epic ending yet to come when Deathly Hallows hits theaters. It is a dark movie, and at times a tragic one, but more than anything else, it is a primer on the finale that is yet to come.

Grade: B
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