15 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman
written by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
directed by David Yates
Warner Bros., 153 mins., Rated PG

Pretty Frakkin' Good

"Why is it that whenever someone's in trouble, it is always you three?"

Wow. $22.2 million just for a midnight (and 3 AM) release. That's just mind-boggling. Guess abstinence does make the heart grow fonder, eh? (nudge, nudge) Oh, I crack myself up. On one hand, as a Potter fan, I'm glad, but on the other hand, I'm a little sad that The Dark Knight's midnight screening record got demolished. But anywho, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has finally made its way to cinemas, after being bumped from its 20 November 2008 release date in favor for a summer release to get some more mullah. Since that bump, I admit the anticipation for this installment has been a tad shaky - sometimes it's 'eh' and other times it's 'O.M.G. I can't wait any longer!' And plus, there's the fact that Yates & Co. would have to top themselves after their outstandingly awesome Order of the Phoenix. Could they accomplish this with this PG rating and emphasis on the snogging woes of teenage life?

Well, I'm still a little shaky on whether or not I really, really, really like it, or am just 'eh, it was alright.' So, I've thus devised a BRILLIANT pro and con list, because that's all I could really find myself doing: writing points. Hopefully, with each successive viewing I'll be able to suss out my feelings on it better. But, any who, here's the list:

Happy Harry

- The first five minutes are the best scenes in the entire motion picture in my mind. Brilliant; simply brilliant. Opening at (presumably) the Ministry, with Harry and Dumbeldore being bombarded with photographs from wizard journals minutes after their fight against Voldemort outside the Department of Mysteries, the beauty of these sixty seconds is the gut-wrenching emotional heartache one feels as you’re stuck on Harry’s bloodied face. Having just lost the only person he could call ‘family’, Harry is completely and utterly torn up inside, having not the foggiest reason why to keep on going other than to kill Bellatrix Lestrange, Sirius’ murderer, in the most horrific fashion (a plot that is lovingly brought up in an extra scene that I will discuss later). Sorrow, emotional and physical pain, and carelessness of everyone else in the world, the death of Sirus replaying in his mind over and over; a gripping sixty seconds that captivates you and doesn’t let up.

Another nifty part is when the Death Eaters invade the Muggle world of London, breaking down and sinking bridges, and making their way into Diagon Alley and causing havoc, which is actually a distraction from them stealing the wand seller Olivander, a plot that is crucial to the final book. However, I was surprised this plot point was presented in Half-Blood Prince, because memory tells me that that didn’t occur in the book, but I could be wrong.

- Qudditch has never looked better. Beautifully filmed and completely realistic, this was truly the first time I ever found myself feeling like I was watching a camera crew capture the game live. The visual effects and composition was seamless and all around perfect. Ginormous kudos to the folks over at Industrial Lights & Magic who accomplished quite a task; it sort of reminds me of the promotional materials for Superman, when they claimed you could believe a man could fly – well, here, you can believe people can play games on broomsticks in the air! That was fun; and Rupert Grint’s hilarious facial expressions of sheer terror and then giddiness sells the scenes entirely.

- The big scene that was added the movie but never written in the book is the attack on the Burrow, the Weasely House. It’s just terrific, honestly. Moody, powerful, and romantic. Romantic in the sense that they’re furthering the tension between Harry and Ginny, moody in the sheer freakyness of the field, being out there all alone with Bellatrix and Greyback out there, and powerful with Harry’s sprint to confront Bellatrix, running solely on pure rage. My only concern is the fact they blew up the Weasely house, which is sorta important for Deathly Hallows, but not enough that Kloves can’t write out some brilliant alternate place to hold the wedding at. But any toot – this is an amazing scene that really is a true character moment, and not only that, but it builds tension. As Hermione states when they get back to school, they can get to Harry anywhere.

- Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd) was terrifically out-of-her-mind s Bellatrix Lestrange. Her facial expressions and absolute joy as she’s causes havoc is exciting and rather humorous to watch. I would be one freaked out wizard to have to confront her in battle. Absolutely, totally nutters, Bellatrix Lestrange is a force to be reckoned with.

- As Dumbeldore roasts the Inferi, I leaned over to my girlfriend, who is a major Lord of the Rings fanatic, and said: “Watch Gandalf do that!” That scene was simply awesome. Awesome, awesome, and even more awesome. And I don’t even care about the comparisons with Gollum, I think the Inferi and their subsequent fire is absolutely stunning. I wish I could do that…Dumbeldore was finally badass, ladies and gentlemen.

- The Potter franchise hasn't looked this beautiful and stylistic in a while, not since 2004's Prisoner of Azkaban. Working with cinematographer Bruno Belbonnel (Across the Universe), Half-Blood Prince looks marvelous. Within the first five minutes, we're treated to a really awesome descent through London and then into Diagon Alley, all from the perspective of the Death Eaters. Order of the Phoenix merely hinted at David Yates' fantastic ability as director, but this installment really solidifies the deal. Another thing that I really liked was the color scheme, which I read through the recent Entertainment Weekly issue that is went through multiple schemes to please the Warner execs. This scheme looks fairly faded out, relying on dark colors to seap in even into bright sequences; dark brown, blue, and green are prevelent throughout. And the wide shot of Harry and Dumbeldore inside the cave, lights out - it's so very pretty. Half-Blood Prince may be one of the most visually pleasing Potter films to date.

- Basically a side character who made snide remarks to Harry but never having the balls to actually engage him, Malfoy has never been given his proper go in the franchise, save perhaps Chamber of Secrets. But now all that has changed, and finally actor Tom Felton has been given the opportunity to explore Malfoy in a way he never was able to before. Assigned a mission of great importance to Voldemort and his Death Eaters, it weighs on him throughout the entire year, bringing him down mentally and physically in concealed areas, but maintains his manly, 'I don't give a shit' demeanor out in public. Watching Malfoy crumble throughout the picture is heartbreaking and absolutely captivating. I loved, loved, LOVED the moments when you see Harry as happy and optimistic as can be, and the camera moves a little to the left or right and you see Malfoy sitting down with the look of absolute dread on his face. Fan-flippin'-tastic. Even Felton's confrontation with Dumbeldore near the movie's conclusion is terrifically played, as Felton is able to hold his own against a far more seasoned actor. This is truly Felton's movie.

- While I'm talking about performances, I might as well bring up the actor I feared most would frak up this movie: Michael Gambon. As Dumbeldore, Gambon has never embodied the character to a satisfactory degree for me; hell, in Goblet of Fire, he was downright unpleasant and just came across as a nutty, mean headmaster. Since Richard Harris passed away, I never felt a bond between Gambon or Radcliffe, something that would indicate that these two were something more than student and pupil, that there was a father/son vibe - but there was nadda. But anyway, Gambon really had to sell that relationship with this installment, as basically everything that happens in this movie and the next rests on it. And kudos to Gambon, he actually pulls it off quite well - he's as close to Dumbeldore as he'll ever get. Funny, verbose, gentle, intelligent, and powerful, Gambon kicks major ass as Dumbeldore.

- Additionally, Daniel Radcliffe gives yet another very fine performance, especially under the influence of Felix Felicious (his hand and mouth movement when showcasing Aragog's pinters left me laughing out loud a good sixty seconds after the joke), but I feel he was far more outstanding in Order of the Phoenix. Good performance, nonetheless. Sadly, Emma Watson is rather wasted, though it's great to see her get back to her classroom nerdy vibe. And Rupert Grint fully embraces his role as a comedy device, supplying many of Half-Blood's many laughs.

- And let's not forget Professor Slughorn, brought to life by Jim Broadbent. I'm not too familiar with Slughorn in the novel, as he never much interested me, but Broadbent is absolutely marvelous in the role. His constant raising of his eyebrows is hilarious to behold, and can turn from funny to downright dark. A man filled with regret, but lives his life in association with individuals of greatness, Slughorn is an interesting character that is justly presented to the screen.

- Alan Rickman has suffered the same fate as Tom Felton through the previous movies, and luckily, he gets more screentime, but sadly, not enough, I fear. Although I do wish there was a bit more emphasis on Snape, and his dealings on both sides, Rickman's fantastic performance is undeniable. I love Alan Rickman!

- One last thing: the sequence with Katie Bell being cursed by the necklace: FREAKY! I can honestly say those few seconds of her up in the air, silently screaming, was far more scary than any of those American remakes of Japanese horror movies ever achieved. Just...damn, frakkin' freaky, dude.

Voldey Naughty

- Logic: aside from being quite pretty to look at and a damn good trailer introduction, I can’t really see the logic in Apparating on a rock surrounded by the ocean, miles away from your destination, when it would be so much simpler if they just Apparated inside the cave.

- Half-Blood Prince concludes on the least energetic ending of the series. In fact, I much prefer the freeze frame at the end of Azkaban over this film’s final scene, which has Harry, Ron, and Hermione on Astronomy Tower, looking solemn, and pretty much saying their big plan in barely whispers. Now I’m sure actually showing Dumbeldore’s funeral would even add to the movie’s budget, but there is something very powerful with Harry getting up and choosing to leave everything behind. Given what we have with the movie, I appreciate that the final scene takes place at the last sight of Dumbeldore’s life, but at least make this a strong moment when Harry says definitively, ‘I’m going to find these Horcruxes, and I’m going to destroy Voldemort.’ As it stands, the ending concludes without the drive and anticipation to see the next chapter.

- Explanations. As the movie unfolded, there were several things that came across as just ‘because’, without any form of explanation. The one example currently stuck in my head relates to Severus Snape and his reveal that he is, in fact, the Half-Blood Prince. Well, congratulations, Snape. You only have the movie’s title named after you and you’re prominently featured throughout the movie, but no need to actually reveal why you wrote your name that way instead of saying ‘Property of Severus.’ I believe in the book, Hermione tells Harry about Snape’s mother (?), something about a mud-blood, and thus Snape christening himself that name. I would have appreciated an explanation.

- Having yet to purchase the soundtrack and give it its own isolated listen, I am yet unimpressed with this movie’s score once again provided by Nicholas Hooper. Near the final 30 minutes is when the score becomes actually audible, whereas I felt everything preceding that was nearly nonexistent. Hooper also reused music from his previous outing, which made me disappointed, but I did like the combination of scores from the Williams era. At least John Williams spiced things up with his three contributions to the franchise. Based solely on the movie experience and without listening to it as a soundtrack, I’m saddened to say this may be the least satisfying score for Harry Potter yet.

- Moments after Voldemort’s return in Goblet of Fire, Dumbeldore reestablishes the Order of the Phoenix, a group of individuals who have banded together to permanently destroy Voldemort. A proactive front by anyone’s calculations, but this movement is seemingly entirely forgotten in Half-Blood Prince. In fact, the very point that Voldemort is alive and kicking, gathering all sorts of magical creatures to his cause and preparing an all-out war is far away from anyone’s mind, even Dumbeldore himself, let alone Harry Potter. I do understand the need for a lighter tone, a “light before the dark” kind of thing, but I would have appreciated a hint of Voldemort’s continued presence and the war that is raging outside Hogwarts borders.

- I would have liked a little bit more chemistry between Ginny and Harry. Now I'm a huge Ginny/Harry shipper, always thought they would be great together, and I was hoping that it would be the best part of the movie, or at least make me really giddy. It's a tad sad to say that I didn't really feel the affection between the two of them, and Harry's attitude throughout the movie with being attracted to other women sorta makes going out with Ginny just a 'well, she's the only one who'll have me' feel. Oh well, the moments between them were still cute, and I still wish I was Daniel Radcliffe in their few scenes together.

- And post-Astronomy Tower, I would have appreciated a small scene that had Harry with McGonagell or some of the other teachers finding out what truly happened with Dumbeldore and Snape and Malfoy up their, to be completely surprised at the news and taken aback. I guess it's just another emotional beat that I would have liked, and I feel the movie would have benefitted from...

Considering I have no problem with the other installments [er, okay, that's not true. After reading Nick's piece about Azkaban, I now have some issues with the story, and Goblet of Fire feels off no matter how I think about it], I find it strange that I have so may little nitpicks about Half-Blood. Though, I wager it could be, perhaps, that I am particularly fond of the last three Potter books moreso than any others. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no denying I enjoyed every second of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and with the growth of Yates as director and the expansion of Deathly Hallows as two films, I have very little doubt these last two pictures will be the defining achievements of the Potter franchise.

Obviously, I got my little nitpicks, but as you can plainly see, the positives far outweigh anything negative I have to say about the movie.

Half-Blood Prince is a very, very, very, very good movie, and is extremely faithful to Rowling's original novel. Of course, there are some things cut for one reason or another, but there's not too much missed nor omitted without a relatively understandable reason. The actors are at their top game, 100%, the script is tight, the music relatively decent, the cinematography breathtaking, and Qudditch finally looked cool - overall, I'd say it's a successful outing, eh?

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