18 July 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince


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Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
2009, 153mins, PG
Director: David Yates
Writer (s): Steven Kloves, J.K Rowling (novel)
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: 15th July 2009


The Harry Potter franchise is amongst the most successful in cinema history. Whenever the terms “Dumbledore”, “Quidditch” or “Muggle” are associated with a feature audiences’ flock to it with enthusiasm and reckless abandonment, quality is only a small factor in buying into high octane film frenzy with Harry and company. The previous five entries have been of variable value or worth, the early Chris Columbus helmed efforts where riddled with lush visuals but failed on the more subtle nuisances of performance and tight narrative yet the like of 2004’s “The Prisoner of Azkaban” have flown with storytelling authority and fantasy joy. Now the sixth instalment is in theatres directed by David Yates who oversaw 2007’s enjoyable but uneven “Order of the Phoenix” a film that perhaps suffered slightly from its helmers lack of blockbusting exposure. Thankfully it looks like the initial case of the shakes were all part of Yates growing into the mega budget process for with “Half Blood Prince” he has delivered what could very probably end up as the Summer’s most assured and gratifying high profile experience.

“Half Blood Prince” combines a plethora of subplots and themes into an exciting and highly rewarding whole, hitting the fantasy and human aspects that turned Rowling’s books into sensations with acute and skilled filmmaking prowess. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are now entering their sixth year at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry but much has changed since they first put foot in its spectacular halls. The Dark Lord Voldemort is growing ever stronger and his minions ever more numerous turning the world of magic into a dark and dangerous place. Harry now accepted as “The Chosen One” is entrusted by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to befriend new teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) so that a vital memory might be extracted from his mind. Slughorn it seems once had a conversation with the young Voldemort but the memory that contains said interfacing has seemingly been tampered with yet its recovery is vital in the battle against evil. Elsewhere Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is seeking revenge over Harry for his father’s imprisonment and Voldemort’s servants led by the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) are running rampant and causing death and chaos in both the Magical and Muggle communities. On a more personal note romance starts to brew between the young leads, Harry starts to feel for Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) whilst Hermione pines after an unwitting Ron.

Up to this point I had reservations concerning Radcliffe, Grint and Watson but their performances here show that all three have matured into accomplished young thespians. Radcliffe manages to really rack up the empathy and sense of intensity as Harry whilst also displaying for the first time a genuinely effective comedic bent. In previous instalments Radcliffe has been guilty of seeming a little removed and wooden but here he is always alert and believable; this is certainly his best turn in the saga to date. Grint and Watson are also giving their magnum opus Potter performances in “Half Blood Prince”, Grint not as irritating as usual and Watson managing to channel a remarkably high quality stream of emotional conviction throughout. The chemistry is now bubbly and realistic between the trio, they seem like good friends and it pays of in their close and endearing onscreen connection.

The Potter series is filled with talented actors and actresses the latest addition being Jim Broadbent as Slughorn. Broadbent is mostly deployed as comic relief but when “Half Blood Prince” requires it he amps up the acting to a heartfelt and deliciously serious level. Michael Gambon is once again excellent as Dumbledore as is Alan Rickman as the ever sinister teacher Snape. Tom Felton who has played Harry’s junior nemesis Malfoy in previous efforts with a cartoon smirk and cocksure acidity is finally rounded off as a proper character, the young actor proving his chops when being given something of substance to work with. Helena Bonham Carter is given only a few fleeting moment to strut her stuff but she positively steals every scene she’s in as the manic Bellatrix, a terrific Darth Vader style accomplice to Voldemort’s Emperor.

From a dramatic stand point “Half Blood Prince” is gripping from start to finish, the well played performances gelling superbly with Steve Kloves majestically layered and emotionally rewarding screenplay. Those expecting summer thrills certainly won’t be disappointed either, the CGI isn’t quite in summer 2009’s top tier but the way in which Yates attacks his set-pieces is joyous. Yates relies on good old fashioned suspense and character investment to keep his picture at a heart pounding rate of excitement, infusing generous dollops of magic and effects wizardry to keep the scale at a seasonal high. Summer movies are meant to be big and Yates understands that but what really makes “Half Blood Prince” such a fantastic popcorn venture is it’s ability to make us care for the characters in the moments of tension and digital laden chaos. Amidst the action we are also offered some genuinely touching characterizations and a slate of teen romances which enrapture rather than repel, Kloves clearly remembering with insight large chunks of his pubescent years.

Comic relief is applied to the perfect degree, enough to provide a chuckle when needed but not so much as to undermine the dark tone that engulfs proceedings. Of the Potter adventures this is surely a candidate for bleakest and most nihilistic; certainly the cheery idiocy of Columbus opening gambits feels distant and removed from this cruel and unrelenting universe. Yates uses cinematography wonderfully to sculpt the desperate mood and at times his eye for visual trickery is remarkable. It’s hard to believe that prior to directing “Order of the Phoenix” two years ago Yeats only credits where on TV, here he has the brash confidence and flair of a man twenty years in the big screen business. At times he also manages to wring the sort of high class PG terror one would associate with Steven Spielberg. A sequence involving a game of cat and mouse in a corn field is nail biting whilst several instances of twisted and demonic villainy are brutally effective in getting the blood pumping.

The movie is over two and half hours and thus requests a considerable time investment but one that is surely worth it. Some instances are a little slower than others but ultimately I was never bored whilst watching “Half Blood Prince”, indeed most of the running was spend in a daze of engrossed happiness and cinematic awe. It’s a rarity when a film can blend humanity and scale with fantastic results and ultimately it’s that which made “Half Blood Prince” such a delightful summer excursion.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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