Monday, July 20, 2009
Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I actually caught Potter 6 (as we will call it for brevity's sake) on Thursday after my flight from Orlando landed. i have just had so many other entries this week its been tough to squeeze it in. Now my brother, not the most active of readers mind you, devoured the books like I did and is hugely into the Potter franchise. He wanted to see it with me, so in agreement he picked me up from the airport and took me to the film, where we also met Jason and Autumn late Thursday night.
It should be said that The Half Blood Prince is probably my second favorite book, after The Prisoner of Azkaban, as I felt both of these books ratcheted up the tone for the following books (or movies even). The Prisoner of Azkaban showed how author JK Rowling could tell a really complex tale where everything isn't as it appears, but keep it on the level of her readers. It also took the franchise in the next step towards the much more darker and adult books (or movies) that followed. While Potter 1 and 2 are great books, it was Potter 3 that set you up for the darker tidings in books 4 and 5. Potter 6 does that again in the books, setting the stage as the penultimate chapter and preparing us for the darkness that the final Potter will surely hold.
Potter 6 starts off with Dumbledore recruiting Harry to help him convince a new teacher to return to Hogwarts School, Professor Slughorn. Initially reticent, he agrees knowing that he will have the opportunity to teach the famous Harry Potter, and he convents influencing famous people. After he agrees, Dumbledore tells Harry that he must get close to Slughorn, for he has a memory that Dumbledore wants to obtain concerning Voldemorte's time as a student at Hogwart's.
Throughout the school year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore continues to show Harry memories he has obtained about Voldemorte and his origins, while Harry also deals with his best friend Ron and his annoying girlfriend and the pains of unrequited love between both Hermione and Ron as well as between himself and Ron's sister Ginny. Harry also has to figure out what machinations that his arch nemesis Draco Malfoy is up to as Harry is convinced he has been branded a Death Eater. In the end, Dumbledore and Harry learn that Voldemorte cannot be killed as he has split his soul into pieces, trapping them in a Horcrux, a powerfully dark piece of magic. Dumbledore and Harry must capture these items if they have any chance of stopping Voldemorte. There is also one last challenge the duo must face, the true reason Draco Malfoy is at Hogwarts this year.
To be honest, the film falls short. There are things that indelibly get cut from prose to film adaptation, but I feel that they lost to much out of this one for it to be great. It wasn't terrible mind you, just unfulfilling. The changed the beginning a bit and that was understandable simply keeping the films run time down and moving scenes together. What hurt where two key elements that I feel they missed out on. One was adapting Harry's relationship with the people he was teaching in Potter 5, The Order of The Phoenix. Anyone who has read the books knows how much they influence the final fight in book 7, and not taking the time to establish Harry as the leader of the school in this book I feel ultimately robs the character.
The second scene that really hurt to lose was the final battle at the end of book 7, Voldemorte's Death Eaters against Dumbledore's Order of The Phoenix and Potter's classmates. It was a great and epic battle that culminating in Harry fighting the one person he has never liked or trusted. While they kept that fight, to deny everyone else the fight once again failed to establish in the world of Harry Potter, he really isn't alone. He has friends and people that believe in him that are there to help him. It also robbed the film of what I thought should have been a more climatic ending.
That is not to say that the movie is all bad. Casting is still one of the strongest bits in the Potter franchise. Harry (played by Daniel Radcliff) is the perfect Potter, able to blend the dark undertones of his character, anger and fear, while balancing the role to remind us why Harry is the Chosen One. Hermione, played by Emma Watson, and Ron (played by Rupert Grint) have really developed into thier own characters and bring a great level of both comic relief to a very dark movie. The Hogwarts staff, Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and the wonderful addition of Jim Broadbent as Slughorn is superb and they all lend legitimacy to a film that could easily spin off into silly fantasy.
Voldemorte's crew, led by Ralph Finnes as Voldemorte himself is just as impeccable. Helena Bonham Carter as Belltrix Lestrange is maybe one of the best bits of casting ever, as well as the excellent casting of Alan Rickman as the double or perhaps triple agent Severus Snape is just as good. Rickman weaves a character so thoroughly hateful and malicious but adds just the right undertone so that you never know just what side he is really on.
Overall the film was average, though personally I would qualify it as the weakest of the 6 Potter films. It is the one that strays most form the source material without changing something for the better. I know that sometimes (okay a lot of the time) I fall into the purist role, not wanting things changed that do not need to be, but in terms of movies I can usually go with the flow if a change makes sense. I understood changes in the first 5 Potters, even more recently in Watchmen, but here I thought they just made some poor script and directing choices. A few simple expansions and maybe cut a bit of subplot and you could have a far tighter film, one where even somebody not immersed in Potter lore could have an easier time understanding. It didn't seem like they tried to make this film accessible to anyone who hasn't watched the previous 5. While you don't have to explain everything, fleshing out a story is not a bad thing.
In the end, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is only average. The production values and effects are top notch as well as the casting. A little more effort into the story and you could have had a great film. This is one of those movies I really want to love, I just can't bring myself to look past its faults, especially with the strong track record of this franchise and its history of being so good. I figure between not liking this film and Transformers 2, I pretty much am no longer the target demographic of most movie makers now. Anyway, I will try to catch another flick this week, either Bruno or Public Enemies and get that review in. Thanks for reading!
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