Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) Review

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
You’re just going to have to go with some things

When you watch a book-to-film adaptation, you go in knowing that not everything will make it in the translation to the screen. The Harry Potter films have been pretty good about cutting out large bits of information, but still keeping the focus on the central plot and crafting its own, slightly skewed, version of the story. Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix were the most successful in these terms, and Half-Blood Prince is the one that truly shows that the movies do not need to follow the books exactly. As we all know though, change can be both a blessing and a curse. Not necessarily a major curse, but still one that can create an air of mild disappointment.

Plot Synopsis: For Harry Potter and friends, returning to Hogwarts in their sixth year is much more dangerous than the previous five. The Death Eaters have been wrecking havoc on both the wizard and muggle worlds, even going so far as to destroy a bridge in the process. Harry is asked by Headmaster Dumbledore to help him retrieve a memory from an old friend Horace Slughorn, a returning Potions teachers who may hold the key to Voldemort’s power. But Slughorn will not give up the memory so easily, as he thinks it will put a huge amount of shame on his reputation. In addition to this important task, Harry, Ron, and Hermione also have their fair share of personal problems (i.e. relationships). Harry’s label as “The Chosen One” has gotten the attention of many of the school's girls that want to be associated with him just for that, even though he really pines for Ron’s sister Ginny. But of course he doesn’t want to make it obvious because of his friendship to Ron, who has been “snogging” with the clingy Lavender Brown, much to the dismay of a jealous Hermione. As if things couldn’t get worse, Harry discovers the possibility that Draco Malfoy may or may not be a Death Eater at this point.


In case you couldn’t tell, most of that plot synopsis was dedicated to the characters relations, which has essentially become the main focus here. This means that there are a lot of scenes that expand the characters and their feelings with some snippets of an advancing plot strewn throughout. And after his first two shots at the franchise, it has become apparent that David Yates has made his own, distinct spin on the stories. Chris Columbus had warmth, Alfonso Cuaron had style and energy, Mike Newell had epic scale, and now Yates gives us character-driven action, and I’ll be damned if Phoenix and Prince (and hopefully Deathly Hallows 1 and 2 also) aren’t becoming my favorites of the lot. This is because now major events and twists have much more depth and emotional investment than they had before (not that the others neglected character development). But that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t filled with impressive special effects and visual work. The visual work is some of the most dynamic in recent years, as almost every frame teems with detail, depth, and distinctively dark color hues.

For this doom and gloom that continues to get darker and darker with each installment though, Half-Blood Prince is surprisingly one of the funnier, if not the funniest, movies in the series. All these raging hormones are infinitely more tolerable simply because of how funny most of these situations are. Ron’s encounter with a love potion had me in stitches, Hermione hilariously puts Harry down when all the "Chosen One" stuff goes to his head, and Lavender Brown’s intense blind love towards Ron becomes deliriously more absurd the more he sees her. Of course, half of it wouldn’t nearly be as funny if the actors weren’t game for it, and everyone turns in their series best performances. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in particular, as Harry and Ron, both turn in natural and nuanced shows, but the real scene-stealer is Jim Broadbent as Slughorn. In the hands of Broadbent, Slughorn becomes the walking embodiment of the fun, but slightly odd teacher that we all had in school, and his quirky personality is backed up thanks to Broadbent’s injection of strong poignancy to the character. Another pleasant surprise in the cast, very surprising in fact, is Tom Felton (Malfoy). Although Felton still has familiar moments of overacting, his emotional range has vastly widened and because of that, Draco now truly feels like a fully formed character and not an annoying caricature.


Going back to what I mentioned in the intro though, Half-Blood Prince is probably the least faithful overall to the book it is based on. On the plus side, we have a few minor expansions and alterations that work well within the context of the path that the movies are taking. The danger that the Death Eaters are creating is much more apparent and clear than the somewhat murky implications in the novel, as evidenced in the bridge collapse (only hinted at before) and the destruction of the Burrow (an entirely new scene). A few minor details in the characters relationships have been altered, notably between Harry and Ginny, but they work in their own way. The good thing is that most of these changes help the story flow better as a movie. One rather large cutback, which can’t go unmentioned given that it is in the title, is that of the Half-Blood Prince’s significance. Many of the scenes and details that added much more depth to the character have been omitted, and as a result the final payoff to this storyline is rather flat.

I can see why writer Steve Kloves (who has written every entry except for Phoenix) decided to tone down this plot thread, as it doesn’t have that large of an impact on the overall story, but it is still a sad omission. Anyway, enough of my blabbering. If you are a movie-only Potter fan, then most of my criticism won’t affect you. But for all you book fans out there, I feel your pain because of the changes, but at least accept the fact that the movie series wants to become its own version that still stays to the spirit of the books. It is easily one of the series' best.

Initial Rating: 3.5/4    Revised Rating: 3/4

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