Thursday, July 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry is content at home knowing that the wizarding world is in search of Voldemort, but Dumbledore has other plans. He begins Harry’s 6th year at Hogwarts by having him accompany him on his way to sway former Professor Slughorn to come back to Hogwarts and begins to bode to Harry that there are bigger things than classes that Harry will need to concentrate on this year, and one of the most important is befriending Slughorn. Thus begins Harry’s apprenticeship to Dumbledore as they begin the secret work of collecting memories, people’s memories of Tom Riddle before he became known as Lord Voldemort. Meanwhile, Ron discovers the bliss of the opposite sex and Harry and Hermione reel over what it feels like when the person they each like pursues someone else as Ron goes after Lavender Brown and Ginny dates another boy. Life and love continue at Hogwarts while Harry suspects Draco Malfoy of becoming a Death Eater and thanks to the mysterious Half-Blood Prince becomes a master at potion making.

While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is not a happy tale, it is probably the single best Potter film to date. David Yates has completely captured the spirit of the book series in a way that no film has yet; while a few events may have changed the look and tone of the film is masterful and pitch-perfect, not only the best Potter film to date but one of the best films of the year. The special effects, acting, directing style and every element of the film tells of a director who took the time to craft an excellent, character driven piece and to fold the world around them, not fold the characters into the world. Yates manages to weave past and present together in an interesting way so that the flashbacks (memories) never seem stale, and he somehow manages to use these flashbacks to develop Voldemort into an even darker villain than he was before.

What makes The Half-Blood Prince the most engaging film so far is that it spends the most time developing our lead three into full fledged beings with feelings, crushes, desires, ambitions and pain. When Hermione realizes Ron is denying feelings for her the audience feels it to, when Harry & Hermione call each other their best friends we realize there is nothing sexualized in this, just a pure familial love for one another, and when Ron gains victory on the Quidditch field you cheer with him. Luna and Ginny are even developed further though both have only small roles in the film.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint have truly grown into fine actors and were able to sell a script like this. This Harry Potter was far more character than action and the leads were captivating enough that no one I know has even realized this.

For those that want no spoilers you might want to skip this paragraph because I have to talk about this plot point. What makes The Half-Blood Prince so sad is the ending – the death of Dumbledore. It is heroic and tragic in the book and the film, even if the film omits his funeral, the single saddest scene in the series. What made this so tragic for me in the film is that this is the film that finally got Dumbledore right. Dumbledore is the hardest character to capture; he is whimsy, brilliance and sternness wrapped into one incredibly powerful man and while Richard Harris & Michael Gambon have both been excellent Dumbledore’s the character has never been that perfect melding on screen until this film, which is what made it so sad for me that I knew he had to die. About half way through the film the realization that Dumbledore was the Dumbledore from my imagination hit me, and as they walked through Voldemort’s youth together I realized that Dumbledore’s life was about to come to his inevitable conclusion and I was not going to see this Dumbledore in the next film.

Though the film’s ending strays from the book I have to say that it ends in the perfect place. Ending at the funeral with the new Minister of Magic approaching Harry while perfect in the book would have seemed artificial and tacked on in film; the characters would have seemed forced into making decisions that were far beyond them. Instead, The Half-Blood Prince ends almost like The Empire Strikes Back, it sets the characters on the precipice of what comes next as Harry, Ron & Hermione realize they need to find the horcruxes and finish what Dumbledore started.

Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves
Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Professor Dumbledore: Michael Gambon
Professor Slughorn: Jim Broadbent
Draco Malfoy: Tom Felton
Professor Snape: Alan Rickman
Ginny Weasley: Bonnie Wright
Hagrid: Robbie Coltrane
Professor McGonagall: Maggie Smith

Harry Potter: Did you know, sir? Then?
Albus Dumbledore: Did I know that I just met the most dangerous dark wizard of all time? No.

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