Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ***1/2

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
***1/2 out of ****

Surely to be the biggest movie of the summer, the sixth Harry Potter film is finally out, after an eight-month delay that infuriated millions of fans worldwide. Well, now they can finally rest easy because not only has the film been released, it's everything they would hope for and more. Of course, some fans aren't so happy about the way the film turned out, but more on that later.
Everyone planning on seeing this movie has undoubtedly already read the book and is familiar with the plot, but here it is anyway: our favorite characters Harry, Ron, and Hermione return to Hogwarts for their sixth year of magical education, where they encounter difficulties not only with their studies but with Voldemort's dark forces on the move. A new character, Professor Slughorn, comes to Hogwarts to teach Potions and immediately becomes fascinated by Harry. Harry finds an old Potions textbook with the instructions scratched out, rewritten, and with random text scribbled in the margins. With this improved text, Harry moves to the front of the class. The book claims to be the property of the Half-Blood Prince, whoever that may be. (If you ask me, this subplot is not important enough to be part of the title.) Romance brews around every corner. Harry discovers he has feelings for Ron's sister Ginny, while Ron and Hermione realize their feelings for each other. But another girl, Lavender, is crazy for Ron (go figure), complicating things. Another subplot involves- fans rejoice!- the glorious return of Quidditch, which was cruelly cut out of the last film. Ron joins the team as the Keeper (basically the goalie) and there is a very impressive match sequence that lightens the mood. Dumbledore recruits Harry to retrieve a memory from Slughorn that is vital to their quest to defeat the Dark Lord. Draco Malfoy has been ordered by Voldemort himself to do something- and Professor Snape has taken a vow to help and protect him in doing it. The plot is thick, like the book and the rest of the films, but most everyone familiar with the literature can follow it.
The cast is absolutely superb. The three leads- Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Emma Watson as Hermione improve on their acting skills as they age, giving their beloved characters depth, humor, and a soul. Tom Felton is surprising as Malfoy; the character has changed, he's more malicious and yet more torn than ever. We actually see him cry in this film. Felton has truly embodied the character. Evanna Lynch returns as the wispy Luna Lovegood, once again providing comic relief. I had my doubts, but now I believe she is perfectly cast. The adult actors, mostly secondary characters, are also pitch perfect. They are led by Dumbledore, grandly played by Michael Gambon in the movie that will define his career. Alan Rickman gets much more screen time as Snape, and Maggie Smith is still grandmotherly yet fierce as Professor McGonagall. Jim Broadbent plays Slughorn as very funny but somewhat creepy, seemingly more interested in fame than education. Sadly, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid only appears in a couple of scenes. Newcomer Hero Fiennes-Tiffin becomes an instant star with just one scene, where he plays an 11-year-old Tom Riddle in a memory where Dumbledore meets him for the first time in an orphanage. His portrayal of a Damien-esque creepy kid is one of the best parts of the film. (Sadly, Ralph Fiennes does not appear as the adult Lord Voldemort.)
David Yates returns as director, but strangely, this film feels differently than the last one. The film is injected with several awkward pauses, mostly for comedic effect, but I was surprised at the number of unintentional awkward pauses, breaks between dialogue that just seem unnatural. For another thing, its rating has moved back down to PG, when the last two films were PG-13. I was afraid this would mean the film was more tame. Well, it is more tame than the last couple of films, but in many ways, it is much more mature. The rating is due to the fact that the film mostly focuses on the humor of classes and young romance, and leaves the fantasy action stuff for the last quarter of the film. There are simply less exciting moments in this film, but that's the way it was in the book as well. There are probably too many sexual innuendos for a PG film, but it's all in good taste. And of course, the film ends with such a devastating cataclysmic event that it changes Harry's world forever, and leaves the viewer thirsty for the next installment.
While the Half-Blood Prince isn't the best in the series (I give the Order of the Phoenix that honor), it delivers an exceptionally well-made summer film, complete with humor, thrills, and amazing special effects that don't overwhelm the story. Hardcore fans of the books- of which there are many- may be disappointed with the amount of stuff taken out, modified, and added. A good example is the first five minutes, of which I'm pretty sure none of the material originated from the novel. While it's true the book is better- it's nearly impossible to make the movies better- this movie is still very aware of the book and owes it a great deal. Movies and books are two totally different mediums; scenes in literature that aren't very cinematic should be changed for the benefit of the film.
I would recommend this film to all fans of the books and movies, and fans of fantasy in general. If you have not seen all of the previous films, it is unlikely you will understand the plot.

You can watch the trailer here:

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