Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, and Jim Broadbent
written by Steve Kloves & directed by David Yates
Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality.

Harry Potter returns for his 6th year at Hogwarts, where a new professor, Horace Slughorn (Broadbent), has taken a position as the Potions master, allowing Professor Snape to take on the ill-fated job of teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry finds unexpected academic success in Slughorn’s class thanks to a mysterious textbook that once belonged to someone called “the half-blood prince.” Meanwhile, Dumbledore reluctantly enlists Harry’s help in his quest to uncover the secrets of Voldemort’s past in the hope of discovering some weakness that could lead to the Dark Lord’s defeat.

After six films, I believe that Harry Potter is the longest-running franchise of directly-adapted literary material (although perhaps James Bond holds that honor). In any case, by now everyone knows exactly what they are getting when a new Harry Potter film comes out. Fans of the books and movies will be compelled to see it, people who haven’t kept up probably won’t bother. There’s really no point in reviewing the movie at all, at least for the purposes of offering guidance to a potential audience. However, there are some things about Harry Potter 6 that need to be said, and questions that need to be asked.

The most pressing question is of direct concern to what this franchise has become: Who is this movie for, exactly? That is the one thing I cannot figure out. Certainly it cannot be for fans of the books, as this latest outing leaves out so much of its source (as usual) that at times it can only be said to vaguely resemble it. The funeral of a major character which took up the entire last chapter of the book is here reduced to a terse, shocked memorial around his lifeless body. The constant attacks on good witches and wizards referred to in newspaper reports throughout the book (creating a palpable feeling of dread and of omnipresent evil) are reduced to a tepid on-screen assault on the main characters which claims no casualties. Condensation is of paramount importance to any adaptation, but coherence and meaning should never be sacrificed so cavalierly and consistently in favor of computer-generated pyrotechnics (a hallmark of the last few films).

Then again, Half-Blood Prince cannot be for anyone who has not read the books, as (here more than in any previous episode) the filmmakers have given up on any pretense of catering to an audience that has not memorized the original story. The film begins abruptly, in medias res, with no explanation or introduction (I struggled, disoriented, for some minutes to recall to mind where the end of the last book/film had left our heroes). Characters fly through scenes with bewildering rapidity and no introduction (Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, for instance, appear in a single scene and their names are not mentioned). Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, whose death at the end of the last film devastated Harry, is never referred to directly. Bellatrix Lestrange, the witch who killed him (as you may remember, or not), does seem to be taunting Harry about it at one point (we can only assume, as the dialog doesn’t say).

So, if this film does not function as a reasonable adaptation of its source, and cannot function as a coherent, independent cinematic experience, what is its function? With all that I have said about it thus far, I ought now to be able to dismiss it as an inferior and unpleasant venture, but that would be dishonest. I did have a very good time visiting Hogwarts on the big screen once more, and for all that it got wrong, the movie did get a few very important things right. For starters, Broadbent steals every scene that he appears in. He delivers such a delightfully-broad comic rendition of the pompous, dithering British academic that one almost cannot help but revel in it with him. And, of course, the rest of the supporting cast continues to be brilliant. I would watch a far worse film than this for the pleasure of seeing Alan Rickman’s Snape in action once again.

Harry Potter movies are all about atmosphere, and Yates continues to lay it on thick. Rowling’s wizarding world is just a fun place to visit, even if nothing that’s going on in it makes a lot of sense. And, as the stakes in these films continue to rise, the battles grow more intense, and the special effects seem to have no trouble keeping up. Perhaps when all seven (no, eight . . . but that’s a different rant) films are finally released to DVD, I’ll go back and watch them all to see how they hold up, both on their own and over the life of the series. I rather doubt that the added perspective will do Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince any favors, but in the meantime, I’ll take the Potter-fix that I can get and go home happy.


~ by Jared on July 16, 2009.

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