Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Hmmm, Katie Bell doesn't usually spin eerily 30 feet above the ground, does she?

The stormy skies of London grow darker as He Who Shall Not Be Named’s Death Eaters plague the Wizarding world and even wreak havoc on a still clueless Muggle world. Mysterious accidents litter Muggle and Magic media outlets alike as the death toll rises and speculation swirls around a certain teenager's destiny. Voldemort is back and quietly regrouping, preparing for something...something really big and totally evil. Amidst a magical Orange Alert, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) begins his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he faces hormonal high school drama, a special task from the Headmaster involving the new Potions Master Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) and the sneaking suspicion that one Draco Malfoy is up to no good. On top of all this, Harry, despite hardly being the Chosen One in Potions class greatly improves his performance by following the peculiar annotations found in a used textbook on which the first page reads, “This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.”

Like you need me to tell you any of this.

The 6th film opens with a violent storm and mass destruction and quickly establishes the happenings of the previous film with one amazing shot. A battered Harry and Dumbledore stand side by side outside the Ministry of Magic in a blinding tempest of flashbulbs. Harry's eyes say it all - his claim of Voldemort's return finally vindicated but overshadowed by the murder of this Godfather. From this point on, the lyrical and elegiac nature of this Harry Potter installment sets it apart from the rest and brings much promise for the conclusion of the series presently in production. But, don't worry, it not all doom and gloom - there is life and love all over the damn place. They are horny teenagers after all.

It's the hat, isn't it?

Director David Yates continues his foray into the J.K. Rowling’s rich universe and once again brings us a film that is visually compelling, darkly textured and lovingly crafted. Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are our familiar anchors in a sometimes frightening often wondrous fantastical world and with each film their performances get better. While the film is sure to satisfy most fans’ expectations, there are some confusing choices and missed characters. Like Yates’ previous effort, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, many major plot points in Half-Blood Prince have been understandably altered on its journey from page to screen but so many other elements are so right, most changes are easy to forgive. Having worked on all 6 films, Steve Kloves has consistently shown his reverence for the source material. However, the addition of an attack on the Burrow and the absence of the climatic end battle at Hogwarts cannot be ignored. In all honestly, I'll have to save final judgment on that after a second viewing. I just don't presently "get" why those alterations were made. The terrifying events in the cave as Harry and Dumbledore attempt to retrieve a part of Voldemort’s soul make up for these few stumbles. Well, the cave and the look and tone of the film in general. The dark shadows, deep blues and even a few Wellesian camera moves - it's absolutely gorgeous.

Here's what you won't miss. House-elves. They're not there and frankly that's fine with me. I'm sure we'll get plenty of house-elf persecution in the next 2 flicks as the Fuhrer takes over the Ministry of Magic.

It ain't easy being mean.

Half-Blood Prince does a respectable job of balancing mortal peril with lighter fare. Radcliffe and Grint get to show off their comedic sides and often, and are especially hilarious while under the influence of luck potion and as Keeper on the Quidditch pitch, respectively. Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange is deliciously deranged and Allan Rickman as Professor Snape gives another impeccable performance that only makes me look forward to what is to come in the final two films. Broadbent is perfect as the conflicted and guilt-ridden celebrity collector, Professor Slughorn; a character that could be unsympathetic in another’s hands. And queue gigantic sigh of relief - Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, who plays a critical role this time around, is vastly improved compared to his brief and spotty performances of the past films.

The father/son relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is explored beautifully as well as the many budding romances in the Gryffindor House. These relationships are the linchpin of the film, not the direct fight against the Dark Lord, who is absent from both novel and film this time around. The details of this complex world are conveyed so well it almost looks easy, however those not familiar with the novel may need some help filling in the holes - they might also want to relocate from the cave that they've been living in. Like the novels, the films get a little more sophisticated as the characters age. There is a depth to Half-Blood Prince not seen in the previous films and a most welcome subtly and quietness. What makes the significant changes and departures from the novel stand out so much is the fact that they get everything else so spot on. A bit of slack must be given since the end result is still immensely satisfying. This latest Harry flick is well worth the $10 theater experience, but be warned it my also elicit a few sighs of anticipation from tweens (like the ones I sat next to on Monday) during the particularly angsty and mushy parts.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
opens today everywhere
153 min
Dir.: David Yates
Writ.: Steve Kloves (J.K. Rowling, novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent and like tons of other awesome English actors.
Rated: PG for scary images, some violence, language, and icky kissing parts.