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James’s Spoilery Harry Potter Review

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”Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” serves up a majestic, confident epic that is by far the darkest entry in the franchise to date. Keeping David Yates at the helm, has released the franchise from the usual ‘finding their feet in an established world’ feeling that beset so many of the previous directors and whilst it would be unfair to say that the prior films suffered because of this, as we enter the final stretch for this franchise it is only fitting that the films take some bold self assured steps. This is the first entry that doesn’t even attempt to be a standalone story and it has the confidence to not attempt to make new friends, frankly if you havent watched previous installments then what are you doing here? The franchise seems to have realized that its mission now is to cut a path towards concluding the story in the most thrilling possible way. Its a pleasure to say that ”The Half Blood Prince” does so with gusto.

We join our young heroes in their penultimate year at Hogwarts and finally the world has accepted that Lord Voldermort has returned and must be stopped, and that young Harry Potter seems to have had some experience in this matter. Rather oddly, a fully powered Voldermort isnt actually in this film at all, instead we have Tom Riddle shown in various flashbacks as he embarks on a quest for power. Power in this film not being the flashy displays of magic that we saw in the the previous film, but rather information. Much of this story is about what the characters will do to obtain information, the price that they are willing to pay for it, and the ramifications of trading it too freely. We spend time looking back at how Voldermort was created from a disturbed young boy as well as transitioning our young heroes into something more recognizable as young adults. The overall effect being that we now understand the characters on both sides as fully formed human beings and this film is the period of quiet before the final showdown.

Of course, being a summer blockbuster even the quiet periods have to entertain and to this end the plot has multiple threads: 1) the return of Hogwarts teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to the school because Headmaster Dumbledore needs Harry to interrogate him. 2) A mission placed on the too young shoulders of Draco Malfoy. 3) Teen Romance. The actual ‘Half Blood Prince’ (a mysterious ex pupil that Harry finds an affinity with, and gains power through his scrawled notes in text books) doesnt really rank as a major plot point at all. It has been whittled away so much that one gets the impression that if it wasn’t for the title of this film, the ”Half Blood Prince” would have been ejected entirely. What we have left in this film is minimal, but such are the choices when adapting a immense novel into a single film. Thankfully this kind of editing (a sore point amongst fans throughout the adaptations) will not be repeated as the final book is to be released as two films, which will hopefully give Yates the scope to fashion an ending that pleases everybody.

In the tradition of the previous films, Hogwarts new teacher is perfectly cast and brings delight to the degree that you almost expect a ‘Special Guest Star’ credit in the manner of your favorite sitcom. Jim Broadbent is no stunt casting however, and handles the role superbly, walking a fine line between a lovable eccentric uncle and a pompous elitist whose vanity might have a hand in starting a magical world war. Its a sobering realization that if it wasnt for one conversation the past 6 years would have been remarkably different and countless deaths would have been averted, including those that turned Harry into an orphan. Words have power in this film and none of them are in the casting of spells. That Broadbent actually manages to cut such a sympathetic and understandable character from such broad strokes shows particular skill. And whilst we are on the subject lets dispence with the formalities; everyone in the film is perfectly fine in their roles, our three young leads dont pull any shifts of character and seem to understand that their job is to be retain personalities that we know and love. In fact the main surprise in this film is the realization how much you care for them as an audience member, how much currency they have built with you throughout the years. Its hard not to feel something for them as they’ve grown up in front of our eyes and thus (for example) Ron’s every little successes bring pleasure as we’ve followed him as the underdog for so many years. Once again its to the advantage of this film that it has built that relationship with us before we walk into the cinema, its using the franchise as a strength where so many films weaken on repetition.

The adult cast are the professionals that we expect them to be and we finally get marginally more screen time with the superb Alan Rickman. Its my longtime wish that we see a film made just of the staff room, where the teachers escape these tiresome kids and their dramas and settle in for a gossip and sparring match about teacups and playground duty in a Marchant Ivory kind of way. With this bunch of thespians, the creme de la creme of the english stage it could even be a play perhaps? Get Christopher Hampton to write it. The menace that Alan Rickman could bring to the coffee percolator as he turns to Maggie Smith and asks “One lump or two?” would be worth the admission alone. Anyway, I digress, and the point that I’m trying to make is once again it is almost embarrassing to attach this much acting talent to a film and then turn the camera to point at the youngsters.

The major surprise on the acting front in this film is Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who steps up to the challenge that Voldermort has set for him. It’s rather rewarding to see a character that has always been a background annoyance be forced into some major league evildoing. Draco in previous films seemed to relish his status in the school as its foremost bully with family connections and a burning jealousy of Harry as ‘The Chosen One’. In ”The Half Blood Prince”, those same family connections push him in a darker direction and its to Felton’s credit that he portrays this in the opposite manner; his performance contains no glee, but rather a reluctant, tortured Anti-Chosen One that has run out of options.

Amidst all this dark material we have comedic moments brought about by teen romance. It’s clearly needed to add balance and make this a family friendly film, as well as to set up the pairings in the final films, but it sits uneasy with the tone as established at the beginning of the film. Thankfully Yates and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel are clever enough to create a colour palette that follows the seasons. The 1st half of the film has an autumn/ winter setting and looks like joy has been sucked from the world, which is perfect for where the characters find themselves in the story. These are indeed dark times, and its a bold visual statement for a summer blockbuster ‘kids’ film (or anything mainstream film for that matter). The look of the film changes in the 2nd half as we travel through the calender year, and with the brightness of spring, our heroes thoughts turn to love, or dare I say it, sex? The burgeoning uneasy attraction between Hermonie and Ron is predictable but the actors handle it well, making it funny, sweet and at times painful to watch. Newcomer Jessie Cave manages to be very convincing as Lavender Brown, Ron’s main love interest, and brings an annoying, cloying, obsessive element to the film, and Evanna Lynch returns as Luna Lovegood and makes you wish that she had more screen time.

If you wish to remain spoiler free I will end the review by saying that whilst being perhaps the most confident and visually impressive of the Harry Potter films to date, it feels very much like a starter to enjoy before we get to the main course of the final storyline. This film is mostly set-up and whilst an indispensable entry in terms of character development has a negabile plot and doesn’t leave the audience with the feeling of ‘Mission Accomplished’ that previous chapters had. This however is how it should be, and I’m predicting that when the franchise is finished in a couple of years, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince will sit well with the final films as the concluding arc of the story.

Spoiler Alert:

The only element of the entire film that comes as a disappointment is how the ending is handled, and unfortunately its one of the biggest moments in the entire Harry Potter franchise. As readers of the novel will remember, Dumbledore dies, killed by Professor Snape in the bell tower with the Avada Kedavra killing spell. The film has all the right elements in place for the scene, but none of the nuance. The book presents Draco as the unsure murderer to be confronting a Dumbledore weakened almost to the point of unconsciousness by a proceeding scene. Snape rushes in and the Headmaster pleads with the words “Severus…please”, a moment of ‘revulsion and hatred’ passes over Snape’s face and he delivers the killing blow. The betrayal has the emotional punch of killing a sickly dog and it leaves the reader with a feeling of outrage.

The genius of J.K.Rowling’s words let you believe that Snape has always been waiting for this moment. However {SPOILER FOR THE NEXT FILM ALERT} in the next installment we learn that Dumbledore’s wasnt pleading for mercy, rather it was a request for Snape to do the deed, letting Draco’s soul go untarnished with murder that would undoubtably destroy the poor boy or send him down the dark path for good. Not only is it the ultimate sacrifice of a kindly Headmaster towards his pupil, but its a wonderful piece of writing which adds weight to all the characters involved and makes the reader re-read the confrontation with a new perspective at a later date. Frankly, its the literacy equivalent of ‘The Usual Suspects’.

This film however doesn’t have the pleading by Dumbledore and he doesnt even appear that weakened. His line of “…Please” could have been answering the question “would you like sugar in your tea?”, such is the total absence of emotion. Rickman never drops the (usually welcome) look of disdain that makes up the impenetrable Snape face. Harry himself offers up the observation later in the film that Malfoy wouldn’t have followed through and fired the killing blow, that he was instead lowering his wand. It’s a terrible fumble or series of mis-fires on the part of all concerned, and dulls the emotional impact that we should have been left with. If Snape and Dumbledore’s heroism is explained in the next film, it will have to be by character dialogue, we wont have the pleasure of re-watching the scene in flashback and reinterpreting it. The ambiguity just isnt there for multiple readings. But in reviewing a film its currish to make comparisons to its source material and taken on this merits alone, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and should be seen on the biggest screen available to appreciate its beauty and state of the art effects.

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Author: James Kennett
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