Six films into the Harry Potter series, it seems like Harry, Ron and Hermione are old friends and family members. Between the books and the films, it seems that they’ve been part of contemporary culture for decades, certainly in my household.
Turning the books into films has been a tricky task, however, and each film has had its own distinctive personality. It’s no coincidence that a number of different directors have been involved too, from Chris Columbus (HP1 and HP2) to Alfonso Cuarón (HP3), Mike Newell (HP4) and David Yates (HP5 and HP6).
The overall story has flowed beautifully from discovery to recognition of danger to the desire – and growing ability – to fight the growing darkness in author J.K. Rowling’s fictional world. The ultimate struggle is about good versus evil, good as embodied in Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe) and his two pals Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Evil is personified by the undead dark wizard Voldemort and his followers, known collectively as the Death Eaters.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry finds himself in Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent)’s potions class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and auspiciously finding an old potions textbook with extensive corrections and additional scribbled notes that help him become a star pupil. The book is inscribed “Property of the Half-Blood Prince” and the question that the film explores is the identity of this prince.
I really enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince and found that the look and style of the film was true to the previous entries in the series: lush, complex, at times astonishing, and overall a world that had as much fun and whimsy as terrifying dark magic. While there’s lots of magic, most of the story focuses on the magic of the adolescent heart, however, and much of what unfolds seems to be about boy longs for girl, girl likes other boy, boy doesn’t notice girl, etc etc. You know, adolescence.
In fact, one of the challenges with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is that perhaps too much of its 153 minute running time is taken up with adolescent love and romance, to the point where at some points it seems like the dramatic events are almost incidental to, say, Lavender Brown (played entertainingly by Jessie Cave) getting all lovey-dovey over Ron.
Right from the get-go, Yates gives us a sense of the roller-coaster of this film, with a remarkable opening sequence of the Death Eaters wreaking havoc in contemporary “muggle” London. The scene when we’re flying at very high speed down the streets of London are terrific and almost gave me a sense of vertigo. Very powerful. Then that cuts to Harry having a cup of tea at a very non-magical café in an underground train station and being picked up by a lovely girl who works there, just to have Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) show up to whisk him off to really get the story started.
When they find themselves in Slughorn’s potions class rather against their wills, Harry and Ron wrestle over a new copy of the Potions book in a scene that I think was a more touching demonstration of the depth of their camaraderie than almost any other in the movie. Ron, of course, gets the new book and Harry ends up with the marked-up used copy that’s from the mysterious half-blood prince.
The special effects in this movie are worth highlighting. While the entire film has a beautiful, polished look, there were a few scenes that were quite literally amazing. The best? When Harry plunges his head into Dumbledore’s Pensieve and the black trails of the memory that’d been poured in come together to form the next scene.
I also want to mention two particularly good performances: Helena Bonham Carter is already an accomplished actor, but she outdoes herself as the unhinged, dangerous, death eater Bellatrix Lestrange. She’s wacked and every time she shows up, you know that trouble’s not far behind. I’ve also been a long-time fan of Evanna Lynch’s portrayal of the weird and spacey Luna Lovegood, who proves time and again to be a faithful friend to Harry, even if everyone else in the film thinks she’s odd and makes fun of her.
Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane (playing Tom Riddle/Voldemort at age 11 and 16, respectively) also give us a Damien-like image of a boy who is not only troubled, but mysterious and clearly out of his depths in a world of light and love. The entire series hinges on us believing that the young Tom Riddle will grow up to be the darkest, most evil wizard the world’s ever known, and they both contribute significantly to that goal.
I didn’t love Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but I did really enjoy it. I wish they’d have opted to have more of the action sequences and a bit less of the romance, but on the other hand, I think this will play very well for their key demographic of teens. The PG rating (the previous two Harry Potter films were PG13) will help in that regard too.
On the other hand, is it appropriate for children under 10? Most of it is, but there are definitely a few scenes of great drama, frightening imagery and loud sound effects that might well overwhelm a younger child. Definitely less so once it’s on DVD, of course, but I would definitely counsel that unless your younger children are battle hardened that this one might be a pass for them, however disappointed they may be.
The last book in Rowling’s epic series is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it’s going to be split into two films, not one, the first to come out in 2010 and the second in 2011. That’s a long time, considering the first film was released back in 2002. But I’ll wait, and I’ll watch them too, and look forward to meeting our friends Harry, Ron and Hermione one last time.