Sunday, 19 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Review

Directed by David Yates, starring Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Michael Gambon, written by Steve Kloves.

Brimming with darkness and gloom but also a surprising amount of clever comedy, the story of a young boy thrust into an extraordinary world of magic is back this summer, prompting an army excited youths and secretly excited adults to descend upon their local cinema to watch the latest instalment in the escapades of Harry Potter.

The film of the sixth book in J.K. Rowling’s best-selling series of young-adult fiction, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince follows its protagonist’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where dark deeds are afoot that will change the lives of not only the students at the magical academy, but those of the entire wizarding world, while we muggles (non-magic folk) don’t suspect a thing. As well as struggling with the normal pressures of teenage life Harry (Daniel Radcliff) must discover what his arch-rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is up to in the upper regions of the castle, knowing that the schemes of the dark lord Voldemort must be involved.

It is not possible or sensible to go into too much detail involving the plot of The Half-Blood Prince, not just in the interest of avoiding spoiling the film for those not familiar with the story, but because so much happens throughout the narrative. Trimming the book’s mammoth story back to a more concise version seems to have been the focus of the film’s screenwriter Steve Kloves, making the plot rely heavily on the assumption that the viewer will have read the previous books in the series or at least watched the films. Although appearing slightly disjoined at points, I feel that the film’s plot rewards those who have invested themselves into the series, getting straight to the point and not covering old ground where possible.

As an adaptation of a novel it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between the original book and the film, the usual one being that the film ‘leaves too much out.’ It is rather short sighted to assume that the film should be completely faithful to the novel. David Yates’ task, which he excels at, was to identify the areas of the novel that were particularly cinematic and show them in a way that the book could not. It is an artistic obligation for the filmmakers involved to use their creative licence and knowledge of the Harry Potter universe to remould and add to the story, to heighten its effect as a piece of cinema. The scene in which Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno) attack the Weasley homestead is great example of Yates’ team putting their own touch to Rowling’s story in its conversion to film.

Much is often made of the Harry Potter books and films getting darker as the story progresses, maturing as its audience does. However The Half-Blood Prince achieves something more impressive than being a haunting tale for young adults; it is actually quite funny. The humour present in the film goes beyond the childish slapstick comedy that other films for youngsters would be content with (see the new Star Wars films for horrific examples), employing witty dialogue and perfect timing from the actors. The jokes and laughs work in unison with sinister elements of the story, enhancing the horror of the bloodthirsty curses and evil deeds within the story. However some punches are pulled in the regards to the inclusion of children in the audience, due to the film’s ‘12A’ certificate. For example, in the scene involving the destruction of a bridge in London by dark wizards, no one is visibly hurt, which seems quite unrealistic as the attack is proclaimed as causing a high death toll in the wizard newspaper ‘The Daily Prophet’. The harrowing finale of this section of the series has sparked controversy, being seen as downplayed and at worst unfaithful to the novel. These opinions aside, I see the close of The Half-Blood Prince as a way of sombrely setting the scene for the final two films, where there will be no shortage of battles and chaos.

After eight years working together on the Potter series, Radcliff, Watson and Grint have definitely gained a vast amount of experience as actors, demonstrated in this film. Possibly their strongest performance yet, the three young people playing Harry, Hermione and Ron work together excellently, showing genuine friendship and intense passion in their roles, although Radcliff still hasn’t learnt to smile without grimacing oddly. Also providing a sterling performance is Tom Felton, playing the troubled Draco Malfoy. Felton, who has a relatively small amount of screen time in the previous instalments, rises to the challenge of presenting us with an isolated youth tormented by the evil heritage he dare not disappoint. The all-star cast of British actors who make up the rest of the characters, including Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore and Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, all deliver strong performances, and no less would be expected from them.

As with the other films in the Potter franchise, The Half-Blood Prince looks spectacular. The costumes conjure the alternate wizard world adeptly, as do the fantastic locations, especially the chilling Victorian-style orphanage where Professor Dumbledore meets the young Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), the future dark lord. Special note has to be given in regards to the Hogwarts School, sorrowfully shown in a way that foreshadows its death as a place of freedom and happiness, as Harry and his comrades will not return as students again after this chapter of the tale. The visual and special effects flawlessly depict the magic and wonder of the series, in particular during the Quidditch match, a sorely-missed aspect of the Potter universe which returns after not featuring in the previous three films.

As well as stunning visuals Nicholas Hooper's score floods the viewer’s ears with aural pleasure. The main theme present in all the Potter films has changed for this instalment, no longer mystical and enchanting but taking on a dark warlike feel, prophesying the epic battles to come in the two final films of the series. Playing on the right emotions at the appropriate time, the music is irrefutably one of the key elements in the film's success.

Aside from a couple of small niggling flaws and the unavoidable issues with plot, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a charming film (no pun intended) that takes the audience to the darker places of J.K. Rowling’s imaginary world. It will make you laugh, cry and definitely jump out if your seat at least once, and will make rereading the final book an irresistible idea in preparation of the final thrilling chapters of the franchise.

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