Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter 6


  • Released Internationally on 15/07/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 15/07/09


In a nutshell

If you’ve never heard of Harry Potter, yet you’re reading this review, then it looks like you’ve got Wi-Fi in your cave. Harry and friends are now in their sixth and supposedly penultimate scholastic year at Hogwarts, and the threat to the world posed by the rising dark wizards is growing.

So where were we?

If you’ve never read the books or if, like yours truly, you read it on release four years ago and have forgotten most of the details, there are some major plot points in store for you during this sixth year. The new potions teacher, Professor Slughorn, allows Harry into his class despite his results of the previous year, and during the first lesson Harry comes across an old potions textbook full of annotations and scribbling. The comments help him whiz through his potions classes and even learn a few new spells, but he wonders who the ‘Half-Blood Prince’ that the book once belonged to, was or is.

The Horcrux of the matter

Dumbledore, in the meantime, is busy collecting distant memories which once belonged to Tom Riddle, or Voldemort as it now seems permissible to call him. He shares these memories with Harry and together they set out to locate and destroy the numerous horcruxes – significant trinkets in which the dark lord appears to have stored parts of himself. By destroying the parts they hope to weaken the whole, but the objects prove to be extremely well-guarded and dangerous to one’s health.

High school magical

On a much lighter note, the students of Hogwarts are growing steadily and, as happens, hormones start to fly. The crushing interests of the main trio continue to provide amusement without becoming too frivolous, but Professor Slughorn concocts some love potion which adds to the emotional chaos. It’s a much needed break from the dark clouds gathering outside the castle walls.

Chance of rain

This is undoubtedly the darkest film of the franchise so far, both thematically and literally. From the cloudy skies that frame the main title, and the opening Death Eater attack on London, the gloom and doom rarely lifts, and the film rushes towards its poignant ending, and onto the next film. Things have changed since the magical, colourful fun of the first film, and some scenes are vicious and terrifying, but wonderfully done. The antics of Draco Malfoy take centre stage, and his rivalry with Potter reaches boiling point in bloody fashion.

Cast a spell

The cast continues to grow from film to film, as more characters join the fray, and more respected British actors add their names to the list. The main new face this time is Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge!, the latest Indiana Jones) as the eccentric Horace Slughorn. Michael Gambon (Layer Cake) and Alan Rickman (Die Hard, Love Actually) continue to excel as Dumbledore and Snape, respectively, while recent addition Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) adds her unique zany touch to the role of Bellatrix Lestrange. The main trio of ‘child’ actors (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) are now in their late teens or early twenties, and have grown into the roles of Harry, Hermione and Ron to make them their own. Radcliffe still suffers from frequent wooden acting, but he fits the part of troubled Harry well, and is now indelibly associated with the character. Everyone else (who survived the last film) is also back, mostly in minor parts, except for Ralph Fiennes, since Voldemort only appears fleetingly this time around. His ominous presence is everywhere, however, and the chilling flashbacks are brought to life by Fiennes’ nephew, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin.

Still in the hot-seat

After switching between various directors, composers and other crew for the first few films, the producers have now settled on a fixed team for the home stretch, to bring continuity to the conclusion of this epic franchise. Director David Yates (The Girl in the Café) returns after directing the fifth film, and is already at work on the next one. Writer Steve Kloves, who adapted the first four novels, is also back, after sitting-out the fifth, and is responsible for the mammoth task of adapting the climactic seventh book into a two-part finale. Yates’ own choice of composer, Nicholas Hooper, builds on a couple of the themes he introduced in the last film, and also adds a lot of dark new material for the film’s unsettling confrontation scenes and gothic finale. He has totally done away with the well-known Potter themes which John Williams established in the first three outings, and the instantly-recognizable Hedwig’s Theme is notable by its absence. This is unfortunate, and one hopes that the musical motifs return in the finale, since they are an essential part of the franchise’s identity.

What doesn’t work

Like the fourth and fifth films before it, the main complaint this time around is one of omission. From Goblet of Fire onwards, the books were thick, chunky sagas packed with detail, yet highly readable. Compressing so much into a film without reaching Gone with the Wind proportions inevitably leads to many plot points being left out or merely hinted at, and many parts being rushed. Only two of the Voldemort flashbacks are seen, for example, but it’s a credit to the adaptation that the omissions are merely noted, not detrimental to the film’s plot. The film also suffers from the lack of a proper opening or ending, since this is very much an ongoing saga, and this part merely a chapter. Some sort of coda is fashioned out of the last scenes, but the cliff-hanger ending is inevitable, and makes the wait until next year seem all the longer.

What does

These minor gripes aside, the film impresses on numerous levels. The dark, menacing look adds greatly to the current state of affairs, and the attacks on central London and on the Weasley residence have a terrifying urgency which keeps one wary of what tragedy is coming next. A simple, bloodless curse on a student in the snowy surroundings of Hogwarts is turned into a petrifying spectacle, and even the dazzling Quidditch scenes (it’s a wizard sport) are shrouded in inclement weather. The visual effects are uniformly brilliant, but always secondary to the story. Most importantly, there’s a great feeling of familiarity and nostalgia about the whole school and the characters we have followed for nearly a decade – something which makes the attack on their safety all the more sinister.

In the end?

There isn’t much end to speak of, and the end titles are merely a weighted pause until the adventures resume. It’s hard to say that this is the best Potter yet, since the bar was raised so high by Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix, but this is very much the top-shelf filmmaking we have come to expect of the franchise. As we head towards the climactic duel between good and very evil, the film adaptations seem to be in good hands, and despite the time limitations they do the books ample justice.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


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