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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

REVIEW - "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (2009)

As I sat through “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” I released what an incredible uphill struggle this series has been. Lets face it, it is/is going to continue to be hard to make eight good movies. (Although it should just be seven.) After series highs with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” and, my favorite entry, “The Order of the Phoenix,” one becomes to expect certain greatness from these films. Anything less is simply unacceptable. With this in mind, as “The Half-Blood Prince” struggled to remain relevant halfway through, I began to feel cheated by this latest entry in the series.

Voldemort’s power is finally seeping in to the muggle world and Harry must work with Dumbledore to find the secret to Voldemort’s power. Harry’s sixth school year invites a new potions teacher that may hold the truth behind Voldemort, but first he must battle something far more dangerous: Teenage hormones.

At first “The Half-Blood Prince” really comes out of the blocks. The first third of the film lends the audience to the idea that Hogwarts is more dangerous than ever and Voldemort’s presence is becoming more and more threatening to the world. Furthermore, Draco Malfoy has been welcomed by Death Eater ranks to fulfill a mission for Voldemort-- This plot device is evident even throughout the film’s weaker moments and is a welcomed reminder when things start to resemble One Tree Hill.

I’m rather vocal about my dislike for “The Goblet of Fire;” while its not a terrible movie it’s one that spends too much time with current trends and teenage hormonal banter. While I don’t think “The Half-Blood Prince” sinks quite that low, there’s certainly an amount of awkward tension among these characters’ love lives. On the one hand it has lent to some of the more comical moments in the Harry Potter series. A personal favorite of mine is Harry’s reaction to Ron’s over-the-top girlfriend Lavender. On a train ride she spends a great deal of time drawing a heart around her and Ron’s name on a window. Harry, fittingly, can only say so much.

On the other hand, these romantic squabbles and comedic elements begin to distract from the larger problem: Voldemort is out there and the danger level is rising. The more we dive in to Harry’s love life with Ginny, or Hermione’s feelings for Ron, the less fear I have for Hogwarts and its school of wizards. The poor pacing between romance/comedy to mystery/fear makes it hard to enjoy the films’ more serious elements, thus making me wish much of the hormonal jousting was toned down.

Surprisingly, The Half-Blood Prince’s stronger moments come back to Tom Felton’s performance as Draco. Finally, the school bully has more on his mind than antagonizing Harry’s friends. One of the film’s absolute highlights includes a brief wand battle between him and Harry. Draco’s presence has newfound meaning in this film, and therefore invites a level of pity for him. Truly, Draco seems like an unfortunate pawn.

Another strong highlight is Dumbledore’s journey to a seaside cave with Harry. The following sequence results in director David Yates’ finest work since “The Order of the Phoenix” finale. Although the cave sequence, for all its suspense, doesn’t follow through the film’s peak. In what is perhaps the most anti-climatic ending in the entire Harry Potter franchise, Yates drops the ball in delivering what should have been the movie’s most important moment. Rather, the finale is dull and utterly disappointing.

Despite these shortcomings it’s inspiring to know that these actors give their all in these films. Radcliff, Grint, and the severely talented Emma Watson, simply get better with every installment. Alan Rickman stuck out particularly well in this sequel. If I haven’t said it before, I need to document it now: Rickman is Snape. He completely embodies the character with finite precision and is never upstaged at any point. It’s simply a shame these talents are tossed in less interesting conundrums this time around.

I write this review with a somber attitude. After the incredible fifth film, I was hoping Yates would keep the Potter fire burning bright— But I had a bad feeling before this movie was released, and as much as I wanted to love it, I can only see it as one of the series’ weaker entries. According to Yates, the outcome of the seventh book severely impacted the script for the sixth film. If that’s true, when all is said and done, I hope I can look back on “The Half-Blood Prince” with more fondness. Otherwise, I’d say it’s time to let screenwriter Steve Kloves go for good. Here’s a tip: Get Michael Goldenberg back immediately.

** out of ****

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