Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Terrifically Entertaining

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, an adaption from JK Rowling’s book, is horrific entertainment in its own right, claims Sukhdev Sandhu in the 2009 review.

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The first film adapted from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as the three leading characters, was released in 2001. The fifth installment in the saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released in July 2009.

Even hardcore Hogwarts fans would admit that the Harry Potter films to date, though box-office hits, have not been a patch on the original novels by JK Rowling. In fact, they’ve been stuttering and gauche. The last one, 2007’s The Order of the Phoenix, was an especially tepid affair.

News that its director David Yates had signed on to complete the series didn’t augur well: wouldn’t the movies, now that all seven books have been published, feel dated and irrelevant? Haven’t they have been superseded in the hearts and minds of younger viewers by the success of the vampire series Twilight?

It’s with some incredulity then that I must tell you that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince not only stands head and shoulders above the previous five films, but that it’s terrific entertainment in its own right.

The actors, who are getting on a bit and have been planning their careers post-Harry Potter (Rupert Grint has starred in a couple of indie flicks, while Daniel Radcliffe has been taking off his clothes in a Broadway production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus), come across as newly-liberated and energized, eager to give all they have to what’s left of the franchise. Yates also has had a reconsideration and a reboot.

Every new Harry Potter movie tends to be heralded as the darkest entry to date. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie really is heavy and gloomy. Right from the beginning, when sooty-black Death Eaters soar across the skies and upon London, laying waste to the Millennium Bridge in the process, it’s obvious that Yates, alongside director of photography Bruno Delbonnel, wants to steer the action away from its English boarding-school story roots and come closer towards eerier, more grown-up stuffs like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

The train-station platform from which Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) jettisons Harry (Radcliffe), who had been chatting up a café waitress, is less quaint than before. So is the creepy suburban home which they march into: it is in possession of Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a sad-eyed former Potions Professor at Hogwarts whom they hope to lure out of retirement in order to help them in their enduring showdown against dark lord Voldemort.

The school itself is less of the fairy-tale playground than it used to be. There are security checks for concealed weapons at its front gates. Inside, the pupils have suddenly grown up into lanky, hormonal young adults who drink ale, get high on magic potions, and are eager to snog members of the opposite sex.

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Harry himself is keen on Ginnie Weasley (Bonnie Wright), while Ron, much to the dismay of Hermione (Emma Watson), is getting cosy with Lavender Brown (a deliciously over-the-top turn by Jessie Cave).

The movie is packed with tricks and conceits that will definitely delight Potter aficionados: the Pensieve through which Harry dips his head so as to be able to gaze at crucial episodes from Voldemort’s youth; a Horcrux in which fragment of the soul can be hidden.

Oddly enough, it’s the less elaborate and more workaday sequences in which the kids of Hogwarts flirt and pout, just as ordinary teenagers spend their adolescences flirting and pouting, that are the most engaging and endearing.

That’s because many of us have grown up and grown older with these characters. They resemble friends and relatives as much as they do fictional creatures. It’s hard not to feel captivated and a sort of parental concern for Hermione, when, as someone so forceful in most aspects of her life, she becomes timid and nervous at the thought of confessing to Ron how much she likes him.

It wouldn’t do to over-stress the courting and cuteness in the Half-Blood Prince. Rumor has is that Warner Brothers asked Yates to spark up the action. As it is, Helena Bonham Carter as demented Bellatrix Lestrange comes across like a female version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), more vicious than ever, stamps on Harry’s face.

The sequence in which Harry and friends are under attack in a field by Death Eaters is as horrifying as M. Night Shymalam’s early work. Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape enunciates every syllable of every word with the coiled precision of an anaconda.

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Working from such a lengthy book, it’s unavoidable that writer Steve Kloves won’t be able to give some of the characters enough screen time. Still, I do wish he could have provided more space to Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall: her Scottish accent, and the boarding-school setting, bring back such happy memories of her performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969).

The difficulty of delivering so much detail into a short time – the movie clocks in at 150 minutes, but races by – meaning that the editing can veer towards the jerky and abrupt. What’s more, the banter between Harry, Hermione and Ron, here as in previous movies, often feels stiff and awkward.

Still, what an odd situation  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  creates. Four directors and six films into the series, it finally seems to have found its stride. It’s as confident, muscular and comic as its predecessors were puny and timid. And, for the first time, it has a genuine emotional tug.

Part of that sadness comes from its story. But it also stems from the likelihood that no printed book will ever generate the same fervour again. We have flocked in hope and in far to the Harry Potter films to check on how the novels we adore have been transformed from page to screen.

In the future, more and more books, especially those aimed at younger readers, will begin life on a digital screen. As a result, the promise of cinematic alchemy will surely wane. I find myself looking forward, with an unusually deep sense of imminent bereavement, to the final two films in Harry Potter series.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Terrifically Entertaining
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