Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)
I feel forced to admit straight away that I am not the biggest HP fan. I have nothing against the franchise per say, it has just never grabbed me in the way that it has many others. I have to applaud J.K. Rowling as she has built a phenomenon that has not only engaged children with reading again but spawned a whole subculture which is allow people of all ages to mix and connect with media on an emotional level arguably lacking before.
So, my relationship with Potter? I originally was forced to read the first book by a girl (surprise!) whom I fancied at the time (bigger surprise!) while I was in high school. Since then I haven’t read any more, but have seen movies 1 and 2. This allowed me to be familiar enough with the franchise to not be coming in cold but not enough to be completely wrapped up in its unique universe.
I knew snippets of story from movies 3,4 & 5 to have the gist of what was going one coming into this tale but having not see them I was immediately stuck by the tone of this movie. I have been informed this tonal shift occurred much earlier in the series, but immediately I could tell the story had moved on from the first two films and indeed had grown up along with it’s main characters. The mood was somber and bordering on depressive which actually balanced well with the youthful cast and general exciting subject matter. We were smack bang in the middle of a mystical battle between the forces of good and evil magic. Almost the entire film was awash with grays and blues save for a few lighter moments at parties etc where the pallet reminded me more of the initial films reds and mahoganies. The colour helped tell the story and gave an instant feeling of where you were about to go next.
This was one of the more subtle aspects of the movie. Initially I found the movie jarred quite badly moving from scene to scene and more importantly from tone to tone. The pace of the first 15 minutes I personally thought was terrible but this thankfully subsided fairly early on as we got past the ‘set up’ moments. The direction was obvious as the different aspects of the story were set up for us in order for the film to then really flow and move on. Part of me wonders if this wasn’t a symptom of being based on a book the majority of the films viewers will know cover to cover backwards. The short sharp nature of the set ups suggested a director not wanting to dwell on something most already know but more to get to the action and essence of the story in order to “tell” it and allow the viewers to live the stories they love so much through the big screen. A movie like this is always going to be picked at, so ultimately you just want to do a good job of capturing the feeling and connection with your audience so they leave believing that connection is stronger than ever.
The characters are all fairly interesting, fulfilling their various roles and stereotypes as well as you can expect. In this movie Harry appears the same brash and excitable boy he once was but with an air of impending doomed responsibility. I get the impression he is ever more ready to die for those around him if that is what fulfilling his destiny entails. The fear I saw in previous films has given away a little and he readily jumps into the action and takes on board the gravitas of his situations with a deeper maturity. He is more of an equal to Dumbledore here, and while he still obeys his father figures every command, you sense he is ready for the responsibility he takes on at the end of the movie.
Hermione was a definitely support character for me in this film. She really had nothing other that a fumbling love story to chew on and could have been missed out without much impact to the films overall feeling. In the younger films she was the smart one who always solved puzzles for the group while they were very much still learning their magical ways, but even this is robbed from her here as Harry uses a ‘cheat sheet’ book to put him at the top of the class. I’ve no doubt in the final pieces she will have a bigger role to play in the finale but here she is a little flat playing your standard love lorn teenage girl.
The final of the triptych is Ron very ably played by Rupert Grint. He has only slightly more to go on than Emma Watson does with Hermione but did much much more with it. He really showed that to me, he has the brightest future of the three. While Radcliff is ok, I fear he will be ‘Harry Potter’ for the rest of his life and Watson is a bit of a Keira Knightly clone whose accent is destined to find her spending half her acting career in a corset. Grint however I felt showed good range here moving from serious tonal burden to romantic teen comedy with rather assured ease. His mid-Potter choices of movie are interesting and he has done more work than the others combined as well. With the right choices I think he could appear in some really good films in the future if he continues his understated indie path. If he can be a leading blockbuster man remains to be seen, but if Radcliff can, then I don’t see why not.
The other characters are all well played with some typically excellent turns by Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. Another decent performance can be found in Tom Felton‘s Malfoy character, who manages to be suspicious and dark while still showing the character hasn’t lost all his humanity. Some of it is a little cut and paste simple cry here cause I’m upset-ish but over all I thought he pulled off some decent brooding. I really enjoyed the almost cameoesque character of Luna, who was funny and quirky in a sort of Cassie from Skins kind of way.
Overall the films sits firmly in the decent with potential category. Potter fans I’m sure will be firmly wrapped up in the story and characters making this a strong work for them that sets up the epic two parter that’s to come. The mixture of rom-com teen angst and action isn’t very balanced with the action firmly in the backseat for this outing. The comedy ranges from cute and subtle to obviously growing sexual undertones (no one should go down to their knees that suggestively to tie someones shoelace!). It’s a long movie that does feel like it’s dragging a little in places but when it does get going it’s pretty good. The death eater chase scene is well done and I particularly found the segment where Harry and Dumbledore go to find one of the Horcrux’s especially excellent, full of tension and fear as well as having a spectacular climax. Sadly it’s all a little fleeting and ultimately ends in the tame death of a main character which should have been the films finale but they tacked on this hopeful ‘friends together through it’ ending that for me kind of summed things up. Showing hallowed potential, but edging too far towards nice.