Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Watching the latest installment of the enormously popular Hary Potter series, I was amazed to see how far they have progressed. The first couple of J.K. Rowling’s books were considered strictly kids fare, until adults started reading them. A decade later, it’s hard to imagine that anyone of any age isn’t a fan of the young, orphaned wizard, and his friends Ron and Hermione.
To the great credit of Ms. Rowling, the success of the series is that she has allowed Harry and friends to grow a year with each book. So have the young actors who portray them on screen. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emily Watson have grown into their roles so well, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing them. In Half Blood Prince, it seems so right to see them on the verge of adulthood. They’ve grown up before our eyes.
When I read Half Blood Prince a few years ago, I thought that this would be the most difficult book yet to adapt to the screen. It’s very long, and has far less action than the previous books. Basically, it’s all a long set up to the final shocking chapter, then the final book with its inevitable standoff between Harry and the evil Voldemort.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have done an admirable job with the adaptation. I think this is the best film of the series so far, even though, like the book, it basically sets the stage for the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which will be released in two parts, in 2010 and 2011. Half Blood Prince reminds me of the first trilogy of Star Wars, in which the middle episode, The Empire Strikes Back, is clearly the best. Like Empire, Half-Blood Prince is rich in detail and character and very, very dark. The excellent cinematography and art direction add tremendously to the overall dark tone of the film.
On one level, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and his sister Ginny, are typical teens, with raging hormones and mad crushes. On another level, there is an ominous undertone to the entire film, beginning with Death Eaters invading the Muggle world. No one is safe. A student comes under a frightening spell. Ron is almost poisoned. The Weasley house burns to the ground. Even though the special effects are, as expected, state of the art, there are less of them. This is much more a film about characters and their actions.
The plot involves Dumbledore’s bringing Horace Slughorn, former professor, back to Hogwarts. Dumbledore enlists Harry’s aid to determine Slughorn’s past relationship with young Tom Riddle, the gifted, troubled young orphan who grows up to be the Dark Lord Voldemort himself. The scenes with young Riddle are great: I felt pity for him, yet, at the same time, a sense of fear. He’s exactly the kind of deeply disturbed child who grows up to perform horrible deeds.
A subplot involves Hogwarts student Draco Malfoy who becomes “The Chosen One” to do the evil work of Voldemort. Draco is contrasted to the other “Chosen One”, who is Harry himself. Of course, they are chosen for opposite tasks: Draco to carry out the deeds of evil; Harry to combat evil. The sneering Professor Severus Snape promises to protect Draco.
Even with its 153 minute running time, I was never bored with the film, up to its shocking conclusion, which must be the most emotionally wrenching moment so far in the series. There’s no happy ending here.
Once again, themes of courage, heroism, and self-sacrifice are prominent in the film. Even the Vatican, once uncomfortable with the world of witchcraft and wizards that Harry and friends inhabit, has endorsed this fine film and the values it holds.
I’d love to see this film get some recognition at award time next year. Other than some minor technical nominations, the series has been shut out. Jim Broadbent is great as Slughorn, the eccentric potions teacher with a secret, and Alan Rickman continues to steal every scene as the sinister Snape. Continuing her role as the very evil Bellatrix, Helena Bonham Carter sends a shiver down my spine every time she gleefully shrieks in victory.
Despite all the wonderful supporting actors, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince would not succeed without its three leads, who have become such fine actors. I can’t wait to see them in the final two episodes, and, hopefully, many other films in the future.
Tom Condon, OP