Daniel Radcliffe (seen here with Michael Gambon as Dumbledore) and company return in their darkest adventure yet
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
7-17-09 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Almost two years to the day since the last installment, the movie wizardry and epic yet heartfelt storytelling that has become the
cornerstone of the Harry Potter series is back to enthrall audiences anew. And HP 6 otherwise known as Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince is finally, finally the popcorn action blockbuster summer ’09 has needed. But like last year’s big summer
masterpiece, The Dark Knight, this is one action spectacular that adds an undercurrent of unease to the witches brew as its delivering
one thrilling sequence after another. Audiences will have a great, entertaining time at HP 6 but the darkness, which has pushed
further forward with each movie is now front and center and the film, which alternates the magical set pieces with scenes of teenage
romantic angst, is cloaked in melancholy and regret.
This last is not just in service to the plot – which essentially focuses on the backstory of the supremely talented Tom Riddle,
Hogwarts most brilliant student, who morphed into Lord Voldemort, evil incarnate as well as Dumbledore and Voldemort’s former
Hogwarts instructor Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) – but also of what apparently is the foregone conclusion that ties these three
inextricably together. Harry, naturally, is the fourth component of this quartet of incomparable wizards and he’s also the wild card in
the bunch. So while Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are nearing the end of their studies at Hogwarts and
sorting out their sticky late adolescent and mostly chaste love lives, forces are at work that will draw everyone into battle. Like
Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dumbledore (Gandalf’s gay doppelganger) knows what horrors lay ahead if he doesn’t try and
change things and at least prepare Harry for what lies ahead.
The relationship between Harry and his headmaster is finally the paternal one that the series has been building to and though
Dumbledore’s gay sexuality isn’t mentioned it makes the events that unfold with the character resonate much more for audiences of
a similar persuasion. The veneer of regret in Dumbledore’s eyes (Gambon is tremendous) is heightened when one imagines an
untold personal backstory for the character. The regret and tenderness in the character – and Gambon’s performance – makes
events toward the end of the film that much more somber.
Good and evil wizards and witches, played by the usual batch of dazzling English supporting actors appear aiding or throwing up
roadblocks for our now quickly maturing hero. A major subplot involves Harry’s blond nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) who is
charged with completing some hideous task for Voldemort to prove his manhood (read: prove he’s not gay) and is unknown to the
others at Hogwarts, under the protection of the cryptic Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). As secrets are uncovered and a mystery
pointing to what promises to be a slam bang finish to the series (in two parts no less) is uncovered director David Yates, returning
for his second outing, working with Steve Kloves tightly woven script (his fifth of the series) keeps things moving.
The richly detailed sets and costumes – a hallmark of the series – do not disappoint and as with all the Potter movies the camera
simply records the fantastic world created before our eyes as a given. You find yourself gasping with delight and awe at the movie
magic conjured up – the colorfully inventive joke shop operated by the Weasley twins on Diagon Alley, a journey across an
underground grotto filled with Tolkien-type monsters, the glittering cabinet filled with glass vials of Dumbledore’s memories and the
swirling camera that pulls the audience back into them, a rain swept quidditch match, a trio of Voldemort’s baddies zooming around
London wreaking havoc, etc. - and like the best Potter movies, want to see it again to take in details missed on the first go round.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, like the other five Potter movies once again speaks vividly to the power of the movies to
transport audiences away. The series ostensibly whetted audiences appetites for fantasy films and a slew of other movies in the
same realm have appeared to try and satisfy that urge. But though Hollywood expert craftsmen seem to have had no problem
crafting these other fantasy worlds, it’s much harder to combine the craft with the creative elements. I have watched Lemony
Snickett's, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, The Golden Compass, and other recent examples of big budget fantasy many times
simply to revel in their eye popping visuals but none of these has come close to matching the powerful spell that each of the Harry
Potter films has cast on audiences. And that’s what audiences truly want, whether they’re conscious of it or not – the stunning visuals
are a delight to encounter but it’s the shared experience that trumps everything else. Only the Lord of the Rings trilogy – fantasy for
adults – has matched the Potter series in its ability to give an audience of strangers this feeling of a shared experience – the
greatest compliment any movie can hope to have.
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