Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Surprising Than Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Being Good Is That It's PG!

The Good: Good character development, Generally good acting, Special Effects, Plot
The Bad: A few moments of acting, Light plot
The Basics: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is a surprisingly good film and progresses the franchise well!

I have not, traditionally, been a fan of the Harry Potter Saga films and I have never read any of the books. But when my wife and I attended our IMAX screening of Watchmen (click here for that review!) last year, I found her trembling and squeezing my hand during the entirety of the Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince preview. It was then that I knew that if our relationship was going to last, I would at the very least find myself watching the Harry Potter films at some point. Having spent the weeks leading up to the premiere of the new installment catching up on the franchise, my wife and I are once again watching Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, which I purchased on Blu-Ray for her last year.

I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince. While my wife is a big fan of the books and nudged me occasionally to note "that wasn't in the book" or "they're leaving so much out here" the cinematic version of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince stands up, though there are a few troubling aspects that make no real sense. Moreover, like the serials of days of yore, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is most dependent upon seeing the prior installments. Given how Voldemort is only alluded to - save a single shot in a flashback - in this film and several other details about the movie, it is germane to viewers to have seen the prior installments. In fact, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince begins literally at the moment Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix ends. For primers on the rest of the Harry Potter movies, please see the links at the bottom.

As Harry Potter basks in the accolades of being both correct about Lord Voldemort's return and the disgrace of Lucius Malfoy as an outed Deatheater, Bellatrix Lestrange and Narcissa Malfoy meet with Severus Snape. Malfoy and Snape make an unbreakable bond wherein Snape agrees to carry out the Dark Lord's mission, should Draco Malfoy fail to. Harry, in the meantime, is taken by Dumbledore to the hiding place of former professor Horace Slughorn, who is another former professor of Potter's parents . . . and Tom Riddle. Upon returning to Hogwart's for the school year - with an obviously interested Ginny Weasley occasionally tagging along - Harry is charged by Dumbledore with discovering the truth behind a memory involving Slughorn and Tom Riddle.

Harry Potter begins to work advanced potions, with the help of the text used by "the half-blood prince," quickly discovering that the notations within the text are rapidly advancing his abilities. Ron begins to gain great popularity as a quidditch player now that Harry is the team captain and he begins dating a girl, which breaks Hermione's heart. Soon, though, through a series of mishaps, Ron and Hermione are headed down a romantic path and Harry learns the truth about the influence Slughorn had on Tom Riddle. This puts Dumbledore and Harry on a mission into darkness and leads to a climactic battle that puts Draco Malfoy in the hands of the most evil wizard to grace the world.

The problems with Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince are negligible and the real surprise here is how much is advanced in a long movie that feels anything but. Few things in the film are made unclear; most notably the opening shot, of a blonde's eyelashes. Because Lucius Malfoy does not appear in the rest of the film, only those who had seen - and clearly remembered - the final moments of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix would realize this and understand the weight of the moment. Similarly, the Quidditch match serves little purpose other than to advance Ron's social standing and hook him up with a girl that only the dimmest viewers will not realize he will not end up with.

The only real problem with the overall plot of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is something that only those who have seen the other movies would catch as well. The identity of the Half-Blood Prince, when it is ultimately revealed, makes no real sense within the storyline of Harry Potter. The forces of Lord Voldemort have a social agenda; they want only pureblood wizards in the ranks of magic users and that idea is conveniently absent from this film. The absence is troubling to fans of the films because the Half-Blood Prince whose magic Harry Potter is using throughout the movie has a strong relationship to the Dark Lord. Voldemort having as one of his closest allies someone who is not pure like he wants is analogous to Hitler having a Jew in his inner circle of advisors. This is more baffling to those who have watched the other movies than Dumbledore mentioning how Harry lived in a cupboard would be to those who have not watched the prior installments.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is pretty solid, despite a lot of exposition and it is a decent bridge piece which sets up the next installments (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows is being made as two movies) quite well. The film develops the primary characters of Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron and Ginny remarkably well. In addition, Snape, Dumbledore, and even McGonagall are all given more to do in this round. Slughorn's part is more of a plot device, though it does lead to decent conflict between Hermione and Ron which works quite well for the story. Draco Malfoy has a significant role as well and his role is not simply one of a rising villain. Malfoy has a real struggle as he tries to fix the tools needed - the Disappearing Closet - to fulfill the Dark Lord's request. Malfoy has a subtle, but very real struggle throughout the film that is well-presented by director David Yates.

In fact, the only characters in the film who have less-than desirable parts are Neville and Bellatrix. Neville is largely neglected after having such an important role in the prior film. Bellatrix appears as one of the most monolithic villains to hit the screen in quite some time. She essentially runs around on screen shouting and bugging out her eyes and actress Helena Bonham Carter seems uninvested in the role, as if the over-the-top nature of Bellatrix troubles her and saps the energy from her performance.

That said, the rest of the acting is almost homogeneously excellent. While I usually find myself praising Emma Watson, she blows her big emotional scene - which, oddly enough, they put in the film's trailers - as she has Hermione smirking as she begins to break into tears. Everyone else, though, is exceptional and even Watson has only the one bad moment. Rupert Grint finally comes into his own and he is able to portray Ron in ways that are both funny - requiring Grint to loosen up his body language and play some physical comedy beyond bugging out his eyes, as the early Harry Potter films had him do - and engaging. While the hospital scene after Ron is wounded might have been plot predictable, Grint sells the moment beautifully with his delivery.

Tom Felton also reaches his potential in ways that were only hinted at before when he was assigned to simply stand and sneer at Radcliffe's Potter. Felton plays Draco Malfoy and he portrays the sinking snob like a heroin addict, slipping under the influence of something he cannot control and does not even know if he wants anymore. Felton has a great sense of body language and the scenes he has playing opposite only himself are some of the film's most emotionally resonant.

They are not, however, the most disturbing. Given that there is a possession scene (much like in virtually every horror movie with a bodily possession), a significant death and an army of well-made CG zombies, there is plenty that is more disturbing than Malfoy cradling a dead bird. Similarly, Malfoy bleeding out onto the floor after he is attacked is not as troubling as Ron foaming at the mouth after being poisoned. The important note here is that amid a number of one-liners and pratfalls for humor are scenes that are surprisingly graphic for a PG film and are likely to make parents a little uneasy about sending their younger children to the film. Those who follow my reviews might know I seldom care about what the MPAA thinks, but in this case, they may have underrated Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.

On DVD and Blu-Ray, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is loaded with extras. In addition to deleted scenes, this offers the earliest chance for fans to see new scenes from the final movies. As well, there are featurettes on the cast, author J.K. Rowling and how she wrote the final book, and a preview of the Universal Studios (Orlando) Harry Potter ride. There is certainly enough here to keep fans absolutely thrilled, though some might just want a commentary track, too.

I underestimated the film going in; given the other movies, I figured it would be average at best, but it was quite impressive, though not visually overwhelming.

For other films in the Harry Potter franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix


For other film reviews, please visit my index page for an organized list by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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