IT MUST be hard to be David Yates. The poor director has been entrusted with an enormous task: pleasing everyone. And now that the long-delayed thing is finally being seen, he can enjoy a moment of relief. From the Potter-philes who will clutch their brick-thick novels at midnight showings to families with small children who’ve never read the books at all, everyone will be pleased. At least pleased enough.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) is very much like the book of the same name: foreboding, illuminating and stunning. Unfortunately, unlike the book, it’s also anticlimactic and not at all emotionally arresting. Still, the film does what it must—set up the two-part finale—and does it well. Unlike the previous outings, this is not an adventure story. Instead, it’s a kiddie version of an old-school British horror film. Pale Brits chase paler Brits around, wands held aloft, until something gets burned or someone gets killed. This time, there’s no mystery to unravel, just a feeling that everything that goes bump in the film will eventually bump into something important.
Half-Blood Prince heightens the suspense around its most important relationships. Voldemort is back, although his presence is always off-camera, and the Death Eaters are wreaking havoc on the Muggle and wizarding worlds alike. The strings of Dumbledore’s scheming finally show as he manipulates an old colleague into returning to Hogwarts and persuades Harry to manipulate a very important secret out of him. Meanwhile, Harry is following around a newly ominous Draco Malfoy, convinced he’s up to something. (Of course he is.) All along, it’s wrapped up in a charming bundle of teenage romance. In the end, an unexpected someone accomplishes the most alarming of Harry Potter feats by finishing off a beloved character.
There are, of course, a slew of page-to-screen inconsistencies that will send the now-aging Harry Potter purists into hysterics. The Dursleys and Rufus Scrimgeour never appear in the film, and neither does a single house elf. Entire new sequences are added to the film that would never belong in the book. Most notably, a horror sequence finds Harry fighting his way through a field of tall grass, in flight from some Death Eaters intent on … something. (I’m not sure what they were doing, really, since they left as quickly as they’d arrived.)
But adaptation nitpicks are probably not what you’ll notice. Yates chose to focus on the characters’ humanity, and selects a single theme to develop crisply: Harry and his pals’ development of hormones. Some of it is sweet, some of it is cheesy, but all of it is fun, even though it’s usually cut short by a jolt, a reminder that we’re in a “scary movie” and this is all supposed to be foreboding. Even the relationship that the forms the book’s core—the one between Dumbledore and Harry—here feels spare and curt. Thus, the ending that made me cry reading the novel seemed clumsy on the screen.
Of course, all of this doesn’t matter much in the end. It’s exciting, it’s charming, and it’s Harry Potter. Besides, the movie’s overall composition is wondrous. The shots are well-composed and well-filmed, the young actors rise to their new challenge, and the magic of the animation will make you gasp. Visually, Half-Blood Prince is easily the most exciting Harry Potter movie to date. A cave sequence near the end of the film, for example, is as breathtaking as the trailer makes it look, from cinematography to set design to computer animation. That’s the main reason you should go see this movie while it’s in theaters. Or wait for IMAX. It’s like the Grand Canyon—worth seeing once, and the bigger the view, the better.
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