Monday, 20 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Review: Half-Baked?

The Harry Potter series grows darker with each consecutive entry as its ambition and scale widens. However, despite the foreboding atmosphere and gothic vibe created by both the sets and cinematography, the events of the film all feel a bit hollow... a simple prelude to the events of the final entry, the two part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An atmosphere is created but the plot doesn’t have any real momentum. This is one of the fundamental problems of the film. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince ends with the death of one of the most beloved characters of the series and shouldn’t feel like mere set up for the grand finale. It should pack a punch, not only for killing a major character but for killing the only character the series villain, Voldemort, is afraid of sending it spiralling toward the epic conclusion. Instead this death feels as empty as the death of Sirius in the previous film, an important event only because of knowledge of the books.

Some of the problems with the character’s death lie with Michael Gambon’s performance; he remains even in this entry a little too measured, too detached from the loveable Wizard of the books, you can’t really imagine his Dumbledore being delighted to stumble upon a room full of toilets. It doesn’t help that he shares the majority of his scenes with Daniel Radcliffe who delivers the same stuttering performance, seeming constantly constipated beyond relief. But for the most part the blame lies with the writing. Dumbledore of the movies seemingly only drops in and out to drop some handy exposition and a perfunctory wrap up at the end of each film, like the annoying voiceover man from Big Brother who informs of you precisely what you can see is happening on screen. The films needn’t rely on this; the majority of the audience already knows the plot of this series inside out anyway.
Bizarre narrative choices drag the film further down. This entry should revolve around the mystery of the "Half Blood Prince" and despite some half-baked relevance this aspect is barely explored. The question of who the author of the mystery potions book leading Harry astray isn’t even asked rendering the reveal of this in the climax utterly without punch. It was much more important to devote time to Harry’s raging erection every time Ginny entered the room. Further, a great deal of time is spent creating a tense atmosphere, the film even opening with an attack upon a well known London landmark. However the rest of the film fails to deliver on this initial promise of a palpable threat, focusing instead on the romantic entanglements of the characters much as the previous film did. Indeed, even a set piece in the middle of the film against the villainous Death Eaters is more about further establishing a romantic pairing than the fact the characters could die. This is truly at the expense of the more interesting character developments in the book, such as the increased focus on Malfoy and Snape. Malfoy could be a fantastic, tragic character, the anti-Harry Potter, a chosen one himself but for much more sinister purpose. But he is wasted, barely shown to be struggling with the burden upon him. It is a major blunder that Rickman gets so little screen time as Snape, more so that what he does get he spends glowering sternly yet silently (which admittedly Rickman is master of). It seems to have been forgotten that it isn’t only the climax of this film intricately tied to Rickman’s character and the events at the end of this film, but the climax of the Harry Potter series as a whole, rendering this probably the most glaring omission from the films to date.

Of course, there are many things I do like about the film. The sets are fantastic, with a great gothic influence; although there are a high number of scenes based at one balcony for no discernable reason other than it looks cool. The cinematography is accomplished and fits perfectly with the tone of the film if never being particularly ambitious. The special effects are, as always, quite spectacular and the young actors for the most part do a good job aside the veteran British actors. In fact the only particularly awful acting moment I can pinpoint is when Harry, under the influence of a luck potion, is played as though Radcliffe blazed a joint before arriving on set. It’s a bizarre choice that, while funny, makes absolutely no sense. But the humour of the film overall is spot on and really helps to make the friendship between the young characters believable, in particular the core three.

It wasn’t a terrible film. But the blatant disregard of the title rendering this aspect of the film not so much as beside the point as more or less missed entirely renders the whole thing a placeholder until the final two films. Unless of course you really give a damn who the characters end up with at the end of the series. And if you still care about that after the god-awful epilogue at the end of the final book, you are an idiot.


(Feel free to tweet how wrong I am at or in the comments here. I'm happy to elaborate on any points. And tell people that they are wrong and/or stupid.)