Saturday, August 01, 2009

Another BYDLS review, posted here for now.... 

Thought I'd post this before it gets too outdated. I submitted it to But You Don't Look Sick, but I don't think the webmistress is up to adding it at the moment....

Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

Although I skipped the massive opening week showings, I did get in to see "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" the following weekend with two friends, one who had read the book and one who hadn't. All three of us had viewed the previous five films in the series. Some of the following information may be considered spoilers with those who have not already read the books.

This movie is based on the book of the same name, the sixth in the seven book series. But it begins in a setting that doesn't appear in the book: Harry sitting in a cafe, attempting to flirt with an attractive waitress. His efforts are thwarted when Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Harry's school for wizards, appears and recruits him to help convince a retired teacher, a man named Slughorn, to return as professor of the Potions class.

As with the previous film, because the book upon which it was based was so detailed and lengthy, the story was shortened enormously, characters were omitted, and some elements of the plot never explained. But the most important focus of the story, that of Harry and Professor Dumbledore's quest to find out what happened in Lord Voldemort's past that helped the evil wizard gain seeming immortality, is portrayed in a visually arresting fashion.

As with most of the other Harry Potter stories, our hero's arrival at the Hogwart's school for wizards for his sixth year is not a smooth one. This time, having seen his reviled classmate, Draco Malfoy, acting suspiciously in a shop that deals in dark magic related artifacts, Harry decides to spy on him on the train ride to school. But Malfoy find Harry out, paralyzes him with a spell, breaks his nose and hides him under his invisibility cloak.

Harry becomes convinced that Malfoy has become a Death Eater, a servant of Lord Voldemort, but no one believes a mere boy of 16 would be recruited for such evil work. Yet, Draco is paler and thinner than usual, and spends a great deal of time alone, brooding and looking like he might jump out of his own skin at the slightest provocation.The only time he really seems to perk up is during the first day of Potions class, where the students compete to win a vial of Felix Felicis, a substance that provides luck to whomever consumes it.

Harry, who is given a last minute schedule change to the same Potions class, arrives without the necessary textbook and grabs an old one from a cabinet. Inside the book, he finds handwritten notes all over the margins, most of which are improvements to standard potion instructions. The book has an inscription saying it is the property of someone called "The Half-Blood Prince". Harry tries some of the suggestions in the book and wins that day's contest and the vial of liquid luck which does come in handy later.

Harry's old textbook also has written in the margins the names of spells of which he has never heard. When Harry gets into a confrontation with Malfoy, he blurts out one of those spells, which has ghastly consequences. Professor Snape saves Malfoy from death, and Harry hides the book in the Room of Requirement, where, ironically, Malfoy had been lurking several times.

Because Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione are all 16 now, they and their classmates have become interested in dating. The girls begin scheming about sending love potions to the hapless boys of their fancy. Harry finds himself attracted to Ginny, Ron's younger sister, but because Ron disapproves of everyone Ginny dates, Harry keeps his thoughts to himself (although Hermione is perceptive enough to notice). Ron, who hasn't figured out that Hermione might be interested in a love relationship, allows a girl named Lavender Brown to fawn all over him. This complicated web is not unlike the typical high school situation, with one exception.

At one point, a girl Harry barely knows sends him chocolates laced with love potion. But Ron, who is always hungry, helps himself to about 20 chocolates before Harry finds him, utterly intoxicated and obsessed about meeting the new object of his desire. This hilarious scene takes a shocking twist when the antidote goes horribly wrong.

During various intervals during the school year, headmaster Dumbledore summons Harry to visit the past by means of a device called a Pensieve. It is a basin in which you deposit the memory of an event, and then you can visit that event as a silent observer. They are using it to see a young Tom Riddle, the boy who later became Lord Voldemort, what shaped him and how he became so very powerful. But one of the memories came from Professor Slughorn, who edited it to protect himself. To find out the truth, Harry must convince the professor to provide the true memory so that they can find a clue to defeating Voldemort somehow.

Fairly early on in the film, the Death Eaters who had managed to escape capture after their battle in the Ministry of Magic against Harry and his friends return for even greater mischief, inflicting harm on the general public. In a scene that does not appear in the book, they descend upon Ron's family home, and the results are fairly harrowing. And worse yet, Draco Malfoy is attempting to devise a way for the Death Eaters to break into Hogwart's.

When Harry finally gets the crucial bit of information he needs from the Potions professor, he and Dumbledore embark on a mission to obtain and destroy a magical object which holds a portion of Voldemort's soul. Though the location and its importance are never explained in the movie, the headmaster and his student go to a cave guarded by unsavory creatures and poisoned water. They retrieve the object and return to Hogwart's, where there is a confrontation that changes everything.

The teen romance scenes in "Half-Blood Prince" are amusing if a bit over-emphasized. Rupert Grint, who plays Ron, shows a real gift for comedy, and it was nice to see him get a bit more to say than in some of the previous films. Emma Watson, Hermione in the series, strikes just the right balance of exasperation and intelligence. And Daniel Radcliffe as Harry does an excellent job portraying the transition from youth to man, realizing that his destiny is unique and the the ultimate guidance will have to be his own.

As with the previous film, I wish more scenes from the book had been included. But even in this truncated version, it is a most worthy set up for the final two chapter in the Harry Potter saga. The last book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", will be released as two films, one to be released in 2010 and the other in 2011.

I am looking forward to seeing "Half-Blood Prince" again.

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