Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (***)

Directed by David Yates


Can I correctly comment on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince without ever reading any of the books and ignoring all except one of the films (Sorcerer's Stone)? Probably not, but I'm going to anyway. With a franchise as immensely popular as Potter it is almost impossible to come across a part of the story without at least some of the context and back story, and even if you do, it certainly isn't very comprehensible or interesting. Luckily for me, Half-Blood Prince was a beautifully-made, wonderfully-told story that indulges in its own imagination to the fullest.

In this installment of the series, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is escorted back to Hogwarts by the ethereal Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), personally. Before they even return to the wizard's school, though, they visit a trashed and abandoned home, where they find Prof. Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) disguised as an armchair. A former Hogwart's teacher, Slughorn is now retired, but Dumbledore uses his wit and cleverness to convince him to return. Of coarse, the main reason Slughorn chooses to come back is because he wants an opportunity to work with "The Chosen One" Harry Potter.

Why does Dumbledore covet Slughorn's return so desperately? He feels that Slughorn may hold to the secret as to the evil Voldemort's nonstanding, amoral existence. Once upon a time, when Voldemort was just a student, he admired Prof. Slughorn, and Dumbledore supposes that there was a moment where Slughorn influenced the move to the dark side. Using Harry as the main grift, Dumbledore hopes to pierce Slughorn's iron shield, and possibly find the cause of Voldemort's seeming immortality.

On the way to Hogwart's, Harry is reunited with his best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Ron, sporting a red mop-top hairdo, and Hermione, constantly countering her know-it-all attitude with her dainty & modest beauty, are always in a peripheral battle of the heart, never willing to admit their true feelings. Harry slips in and out of the drama, never feeling like much of a third wheel, because he has his eyes set on a beauty of his own: Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright).

There is quite a bit going on in Half-Blood Prince, which makes it rather hard to compartmentalize and summarize efficiently. The usual suspects appear, such as the melevolent Prof. Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the crazed Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), and the dark, but cowardly Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). They come in and out casually, and with such ease, that even someone who has never seen the films before (like me) is never left scratching their heads, pondering their apperances.

I became sufficiently sucked in by this film, and its story, even though I am not necessarily a fan of the franchise, or the genre for that matter. I'm not sure why, though I can say that I found the characters surprisingly empathetic and vibrant. Each person is fleshed out to the fullest, and never are we able to predict their behavior, but they never do things which seem off-course. Whether it's discovering the meaning of love, or debating the darkness of betrayal, they always seem to find answers to their problems that are organic to the story.

Surely, Radcliffe is the main force behind this film, but the main strength comes from two undeniably strong supporting performances. Jim Broadbent as the gregarious potion-maker Slughorn is a dream of humor and sincerity. Always a pleasure to watch on the screen, Broadbent takes a rather narrow character and turns him into a very sizable personality which steals almost every scene he appears in. Also, Michael Gambon as the wise, humored Dumbledore is great, with his rumbling voice always dispersing pearls to Harry and his other pupils.

I'm sure there were plenty of references and sub-plots that I would have understood better if I wasn't so completely ignorant of Potter, but I believe it's a testament to Half-Blood Prince that I greatly enjoyed myself, despite having little to no context.

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