Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon
Rated: PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality
Running time: 153 minutes
Bottom line: Crucial viewing for Potter fans
Harry Potter comes to our rescue this week. The sixth installment of the Potter series will undoubtedly banish all gay caricatures and obnoxious robots to the bottom of the box office top 10, even though the movie doesn’t offer the pyrotechnics we usually expect during summer.
Times have been dark in Harry’s world for some time, but the tone of “Half-Blood Prince” is decidedly somber.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) still grieves for his godfather Sirius Black and tries to cope with the trauma of his showdown with He Who Must Not Be Named in the previous installment. Meanwhile, the Dark Lord’s army of minions, the Death Eaters, have struck fear into wizards and muggles alike.
The opening sequence shows the Death Eaters destroying the Millenium Bridge in London, then blasting out windows in Diagon Alley. The alley once served as our introduction to the society of magicians that populate all the Potter tales but is now a bombed-out neighborhood made vacant by the Death Eaters’ terrorism.
The Death Eaters do all the dirty work in “Half-Blood Prince,” especially Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter).
But the Dark Lord has a man working inside Hogwarts, too. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been Harry’s nemesis ever since their first year, but we have mocked him more than feared him. Now, though, Draco’s father has been publically disgraced and sent to prison, stirring Draco’s lust for revenge. Draco is still not the cold-hearted villain he pretends to be, but he has most certainly become dangerous, if only because he is unable to ward off the pressure his father and the Death Eaters place on him.
We’re already headed toward the ultimate battle against the Dark Lord, and Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) must lure Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) back to Hogwarts because the Slughorn knows a crucial secret about the Dark Lord’s power. The central goal of the film is for Harry to persuade Slughorn to share this key piece of information.
The other running theme of “Half-Blood Prince,” however, is love. Harry and his classmates have reached an amorous age, and the hormones careen around the screen nearly as chaotically as the Death Eaters.
Throw in the need to discover just who is this “half-blood prince,” a subplot here which will become all-important in the next two films, and we have another dense, intricate J.K. Rowling plot writ dazzlingly onto the screen.
Only, the writ isn’t always dazzling.
Rowling’s writing must be as much of a hindrance as a help for screenwriter Steve Kloves. Rowling’s books give Kloves ample material to work with, but cramming it all into a movie surely presents an almost insurmountable task. Even at 153 minutes, “Half-Blood Prince” leaves a lot out. Devotees of the book are likely to be miffed by the details lost in the translation to a movie.
“Half-Blood Prince” also accentuates the somber tone of the story by giving the entire film a drab, sepia tint that becomes cumbersome and melancholy. No matter whether the moment is comedically light or threateningly dark, the movie looks like an aged copy of The Daily Prophet.
Finally, there is the story itself. The book ends in a way that offers no chance for a final, optimistic note and gives the filmmakers no choice but to leave everything hanging off the cliff. In other words, if you aren’t already a Potter fan, this is a real downer for a July release.
However, these are only imperfections if we separate “Half-Blood Prince” from the story that develops throughout the entire series. This film is clearly not intended to stand on its own but rather to serve the ongoing Harry Potter saga. The final two movies will be the climactic endgame of the Potter series, and more than anything, “Half-Blood Prince” sets us up for that final act (which in this case, will be delivered in two parts!).
Placed in its proper context, “Half-Blood Prince” is yet another brilliant entry in the Harry Potter canon.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.