Monday, July 20, 2009

'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' Movie Review

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe in 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'

The battle between good and evil almost takes a backseat to the angst of young love in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film of the Harry Potter series. These are dark times in the wizarding world, but for our young heroes it's also a time for flirting, a little romance, and some harmless snogging. Everyone knows the ultimate showdown between Harry Potter and Voldemort is fast approaching. The face-off between The Chosen One and The Dark Lord is no longer just something whispered about in dark corners or argued about over a butterbeer or two.
The air is thick and foreboding as Voldemort's an unseen, menacing presence hovering over Hogwarts. The Dark Lord's minions are no longer hiding out and instead are openly displaying their hatred for Muggles and those who follow Dumbledore. Much of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince takes place in the calm before the storm, excepting the last whirlwind half hour when events take place that forever alter the lives of our young wizard friends.

Yet even in these sinister days, time must be taken for teens to do what teens do – they explore relationship possibilities. And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince devotes a good portion of its running time to fleshing out Harry, Ron, and Hermione's burgeoning love lives.

The Story

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince starts off with a rush of activity as the citizens of London come under attack by Death Eaters. Though they can't see the creatures wreaking havoc on the city, they feel the affects of each attack. Millennium Bridge collapses killing untold numbers, however no one outside of the wizarding world understands this is just the beginning of destruction should Voldemort fully return.

Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) knows time is running out and so he seeks out Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to accompany him on an extremely important visit with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a retired Hogwarts potions professor. Buried in Slughorn's memory is a conversation that took place with a teenaged Tom Riddle, a pivotal conversation in young Riddle's life and one that's vitally important to Dumbledore.

Jim Broadbent and Michael Gambon
im Broadbent as Horace Slughorn and Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore in 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'

Dumbledore plays on Slughorn's vanity, dangling the opportunity to get close to Hogwarts' most famous student as a means to get Slughorn back on staff. Slughorn 'collects' students from prestigious families or ones who've earned their own sort of fame, and the prospect of adding Harry to his elite Slug Club is too much for Slughorn to pass up. With Slughorn installed as the new potions teacher, Dumbledore tasks Harry with getting close to the professor and getting him to reveal the secret he's kept hidden for these long years.

While the forces of good are busy on their quest for knowledge, Voldemort's recruited Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) for a very special mission, a mission Draco's mother, Narcissa (Helen McCrory), and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) make Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) commit to an unbreakable pledge to assist with. Draco spends his days skulking about, sneaking off into the Room of Requirement and experimenting with a vanishing cabinet, looking nauseated, scared to death, and pissed off at the world all at the same time. It's not a task Draco relishes, but one he has no option but to carry out.

Meanwhile, the romantic yearnings of our favorite threesome of teen wizards provides welcome moments of comic relief. Harry's hot for Ron's younger sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but Ginny's got a boyfriend. Ron's gotten himself involved in a relationship with Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) and this is driving poor Hermione (Emma Watson) absolutely mad. She's miserable, but Ron either can't or chooses not to see what's so obvious to everyone else.

The relationship between Dumbledore and Harry Potter, built up over the course of five years together at Hogwarts, has reached a point in which the 150+ year old professor has come to rely heavily on his young student. Dumbledore confides more in Harry, sharing the memories he's collected over the years, and even takes Harry on a secret and perilous journey to collect an item hidden away by Voldemort. But when it comes time for a pivotal event in the battle between good and evil, Dumbledore orders Harry to hide and not intervene, leaving Harry to witness a devastating act that sets up the events in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which Warner Bros smartly chose to break into two films).

The Acting

The acting skills of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint get better with each successive Harry Potter film. It's surreal to go back and watch Sorcerer's Stone and see just how young these guys were when the franchise kicked off back in 2001. It doesn't feel like it was all that long ago that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint first donned the red and gold of Gryffindor house. Now the three will, no matter what they go on to do, forever be associated with one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. Hopefully they'll come out of it in better shape than some actors who've headlined franchises...
Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe
Bonnie Wright and Daniel Radcliffe share a quiet moment.

The rest of the cast is top notch, from Michael Gambon to Jim Broadbent to Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange (I love her in this role - perfect casting). Bonnie Wright and Tom Felton have expanded roles in this franchise entry, and are thoroughly up to the challenge. And as always Alan Rickman makes Snape someone you love to watch onscreen, despite how you actually feel about the character.

The Bottom Line

This is David Yates' second Harry Potter film and he's obviously comfortable in this world of wizards and Death Eaters and magical creatures created by J.K. Rowling. I'm anxious to see what Yates and returning screenwriter Steve Kloves (he only missed Order of the Phoenix) are able to do with Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince isn't the most action-packed Harry Potter film, but what it lacks in thrilling scenes of magical maneuverings, it makes up for in character development and emotional depth. The visual effects, while stunning, do not overwhelm and slip unobtrusively into scenes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains my favorite Harry Potter film thus far. But Half-Blood Prince is a worthy addition to the Harry Potter franchise, one that will likely be loved more by those who've read the books than by those who only know the Harry PotterHalf-Blood Prince the book. universe from what they've seen onscreen. There are major chunks of Rowling's sixth book that didn't make the transition to the big screen, but what's there is perfectly in keeping with the tone and themes expressed in the Half-Blood Prince the book.

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