by Mel Valentin
Directed by David Yates ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "State of Play"), "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth entry in the Harry Potter, arrives in movie theaters in a summer crowded with sequels, prequels, reboots, and reimaginings, instead of the usual, more family-friendly month of November. With "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" already past the $300 million mark in North America alone, the best "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" can aim for is second place, ahead of "Up," Pixar’s latest triumph, and "Star Trek," J.J. Abrams’ prequel-reboot of the moribund franchise. Regardless of its box-office prospects, minus some missteps and some miscues, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" delivers a satisfying combination of humor (sometimes dark, sometimes not), (teen) drama, and action (but not as much as we'd expect) over the course of its two hour and 33-minute running time.Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) begin their sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under a dark cloud. Lord Voldemort (Joseph Fiennes, seen briefly here in a flashback) and his acolytes, the Death Eaters, continue to wreak havoc on the wizard world, but as they’ve grown stronger, they’ve also grown bolder, attacking the Millennium Bridge in the Muggle, non-wizard world. Harry’s longtime mentor and friend, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), asks Harry to accompany him to the home of Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a retired professor who once, long ago, taught Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane), the troubled wizard who would become Voldemort. Slughorn holds the key to one of Riddle’s secrets, and with it, Voldemort’s weakness. With Harry as bait, Dumbledore convinces Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as the Potions instructor.
"A (mostly) satisfying entry in the Harry Potter franchise."
Voldemort’s allies, Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno), hide in the shadows, emerging only on occasion to make mischief or in the case of Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), to plead with Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Harry’s longtime antagonist but Dumbledore’s supposed ally, to protect her son, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), as he attempts to fulfill a task for Voldemort within the walls of the hallowed Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, however, have other concerns on their minds. Ron and Hermione move toward a romantic relationship in fits and starts. Harry begins to realize that he has more than brotherly feelings for Ron’s younger sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). And there’s Quidditch, back onscreen after a noticeable absence, back again to keep the students at Hogwarts occupied again.
Over the course of six books and now six films, Harry Potter has traveled the classic hero’s journey outlined in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. Each step forward toward maturity and adulthood has come at a price, sometimes something intangible, like innocence, and sometimes tangible, like the loss of Harry’s surrogate father and protector, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues the long (very long, as in seven films long), hard road Harry Potter must travel to become an independent, self-sufficient adult without the help of a mentor (or in his case, two), ultimately facing his dark mirror image, Lord Voldemort.
Defeating Voldemort and his plans for domination of the magical and the non-magical world, of course, can’t happen yet; it doesn’t and couldn't happen until the adaptation of the seventh and last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, which Warner Bros. is splitting into two films, ostensibly out of a desire to be faithful to Rowling’s sprawling last novel, but there's no denying that Warner Bros. doesn't want to let the Harry Potter franchise go just yet, not where hundreds of millions of dollars are concerned. Not surprisingly then, the conflict between Harry (and Dumbledore) and Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets minimal screen time. Instead, screenwriter Steve Kloves, back again after a one-film hiatus, focuses on the teen angst between Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione to the exclusion of the larger conflict that threatens to engulf the wizard and non-wizard worlds.
The “Half-Blood Prince,” an inscription in a potions manual Harry obtains, apparently by accident, has marginal importance. The “Half-Blood Prince’s” reveals himself late in the film, but it has little dramatic consequence or emotional weight. Characters introduced in the first six films appear and disappear, usually without explanation, leaving non-fans or even casual fans of the films (as opposed to the books) repeatedly lost. Even more importantly, the elusive object that both Dumbledore and Voldemort want, a Horcrux created by dark magic, is introduced at a run, pushing the tangled romantic subplots into the background, if only temporarily. Worse, the result is a rushed, maybe even bungled climax that undercuts what should have been one of the emotional highlights of the entire series.
Fans and non-fans consider the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the first “real” film in the franchise. Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama También, The Little Princess) was the first to truly unlock the franchise’s cinematic potential. Directed by Cuarón Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke away from merely duplicating or replicating scenes straight from Rowling’s novel, but shaping and molding them into visually oriented scenes where the camera and not the dialogue or the production design decided where and what to emphasize. Cuarón was the first to truly unlock the franchise’s cinematic potential. After the middling Mike Newell-directed fourth entry, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Yates stepped in to reinvigorate the franchise.
Yates, a television veteran relatively unknown on North American shores, seemed like an odd choice to direct an effects- and set piece-heavy entry in the Harry Potter franchise, but he proved with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that he could handle the big, effects-driven sequences with the smaller, character- and actor-driven moments, all of which he does here with relative ease. Where Yates doesn’t succeed, however, is in striking an appropriate balance between action and romance, spending too little time on the former and not enough on the latter. Yates also includes several awkward transitions between scenes, transitions that should have been smoothed out during the screenwriting or the editing (where Yates had an extra nine months than originally planned).While "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" has its flaws, it has its strengths too. The talented young cast has matured along with their characters; the world building is just as impeccable as ever; the cinematography (by Bruno Delbonnel), retains its epic sweep; the score by Nicholas Hooper conveys emotion without bombast; and the pieces have been finally moved into place, for the long-awaited confrontation between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort in the final, two-part entry, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." There’s not much more Harry Potter fans can or will ask for.
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originally posted: 07/15/09 03:51:22