Monday, July 27, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince *** ½
Directed By: David Yates.
Written By: Steve Kloves based on the book by JK Rowling.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Jim Broadbent (Professor Horace Slughorn), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Freddie Stroma (Cormac McLaggen), Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Tom Riddle - Age 11), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Dave Legeno (Fenrir Greyback), Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Timothy Spall (Wormtail), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Frank Dillane (Tom Riddle - Age 16).

The Harry Potter series, in book form, got darker and more complex as the series went along. Out of all seven books, I think that book six, The Half Blood Prince, was my favorite. It had the best structure, flashing back in time between Lord Voldemort’s past, and Harry’s present. It brought to mind The Godfather Part II, where we saw the rise and fall of the Corleone family in one movie. It was the best book by far I thought, and although I still highly enjoyed it, book Seven was somewhat disappointing coming on the heels of six.

In movie form, Harry Potter has had a somewhat rougher ride. The first two movies were able to be extremely faithful to the source material, because the books were much shorter. Although I enjoyed both of those movies, they never have seemed all that cinematic to me. Director Chris Columbus was perhaps TOO faithful. When Alfonso Cuaron took the reins for the third movie, he had to cut more out from the book, but succeeded brilliantly in making Harry Potter a more cinematic experience. The film was more alive visually than ever before, and the performances seemed richer. Director Mike Newell continued this is movie 4, which is perhaps my favorite of the movies, cutting more, but brilliantly bringing the spirit of the book to life. TV veteran David Yates took over for film 5, and although I enjoyed the movie, he seemed to struggle at times with the material. That book was SO big and so much had to be cut, that at times he seemed to be rushing from plot point to plot point, and the movie never really got a chance to breathe.

Which brings us to film number 6, also directed by Yates. It is a definite improvement over the last film, which felt more like a TV movie (with high production values) than a feature film. Here, Yates has improved the visual look and feel of the film – bringing it more in line with films 3 and 4. As an adaptation of the book, I was slightly disappointed. The flashbacks, which enriched the narrative of the book, and made Voldemort into more than just a snarling villain, and into a truly evil, menacing creation, have all but been eliminated. And as was the case with the rest of the series, many of the character details about the teachers have been discarded in favor of making room for more details about the students.

And yet, I am a realist. This movie is already two and half hours long, and had they included the flashbacks and the teacher details, then the easily could have run four hours or more – a realistically no one really wanted that. Once I got past my reservations and disappointment over the decisions to cut certain details, and focuses on the movie itself, I found that I highly enjoyed the film.

Once again, they have made excellent casting choices. In addition to the three stars – Daniel Radcliffe as Potter, Emma Watson as Hermonie and Rupert Grint as Ron who just keep improving in each and every film (I especially like Radcliffe’s flair for comedy he shows at a few points in this film) – and the old cast members like Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and especially Alan Rickman as Snape, the characters introduced in this book are excellent. Jim Broadbent is the major addition, as old potions master Horace Slughorn, brought out of retirement by Dumbledore with ulterior motives. Broadbent is a remarkable addition to the cast. He captures Slughorn just about perfectly, mixing his bumbling humor, with a slightly darker, egomaniacal side as well. In the entire series they have never seemed to step wrong in the casting department.

The movie still does jump from one plot point to another with perhaps too much speed, just like in number 5, but this time the pacing seemed more natural. It was not just rushing through with little care or patience. The tone of the movie is darker than perhaps it has ever been, but that is appropriate given the material. This is after all perhaps the darkest novel of the entire series (and don’t hand me the line that book seven is darker – just because more people die, does not make it darker). I enjoyed the interplay between the main actors, as the series continues to deepen their relationships, and fill them with heartbreak and sorrow. Director David Yates has grown, and seems to have a firmer grasp on the material. While I would have preferred bringing back Cuaron or Newell for the final film, I think he’ll do a fine job. I cannot wait to see the finale of the series in movie form.

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