Posted by: Dr P | July 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Film 6 in the epic JK Rowling franchise has arrived with a bang and a mass of publicity. The film was set back from its initial November release in order to give Warner Bros a massive summer blockbuster. Will they look back and consider it a good decision? Read on and find out what I think!

Anticipation has been building for months, and it was with some measure of excitement that Mum and I set out for the flicks. Of course Number 1 fan Kate, hubby Craig, and Ian and Nat had been there since 2pm for an 8.45 showing and so were in prime position at the head of the enormous queue – we were just grateful we’d bought tickets in advance, and yet still found ourselves queuing out the door! The wait in line was somewhat enhanced by laughing at people turning up at 8.30 without a ticket, having then to spend ages snaking out the door, and upon getting their tickets, realising they then had to go halfway down the carpark to frankie and Bennys to join the queue for screen 6! LOL!

The wait was also enlivened by Mum’s thoughful purchase of a box of minty Tic Tacs, which were guzzled with abandon throughout the evening. No wonder my tummy’s rough today. There was also a most random moment as I looked back down the line to see none other than Chris “HP is my Hero” Murray and company! If you know Chris and read Muzza’s wall and status posts, you’ll know he hated every second … or so he says. And yet oddly I watched him drive off with a Gryffindor scarf flying form his car window and making noises like Dobby the House Elf. So not all bad then.

Having got in the screen, there were fotunately two seats right in front of Number 1 and clan. Kate was perched on several boxes in order to see over our heads, and the insane laugh was already in full swing …

Cue the grand moment, a hush fell, the lights dimmed … and the screen lit up with the picture massively skewed down towards the bottom. Clearly they can’t get it up for Harry Potter … unlike the geeky cinema usher dressed in thick round glasses. he definitely loves it. In fact I think him and Muzza Murray are Harry’s number 1 and 2 fans.

Having horizontally aligned things, there then followed about an hour of adverts and trailers – by the time the film commenced we’d already been at the cinema longer than the speeches at Jacko’s funeral.

And from that moment on, I was transfixed, spellbound, captivated into the world of Potter, a magical, sinister dark world of chaos, ruin and horror. Indeed, folks, this is not the happy Harry Potter of the first couple of movies. David Yates (aided slightly of course by JK Rowling) has taken these characters to a very dark place indeed. A washed out, bleak world where the Death Eaters are growing bolder and invading the “real” world brazenly. The destruction of London’s Millennium Bridge so early in the film sets the tone for all manner of dark deeds.

But what of our heroes?

Harry has seemingly spent the summer following his godfather’s death in a bad way. We see him at a sleazy underrground cafe making a date with the serving girl, but before he can follow it up, Dumbledore appears and apparates him away to a quiet village in search of an old colleague Horace Slughorn. This character is believed to hold the key to unlocking the secrets of Voldemort, for Slughorn allowed the young Tom Riddle into his confidences and spoke to him of dark deeds … Slughorn is discovered disguised as an armchair, in a particularly neat effect. The casting of veteran actor Jim Broadbent is an inspired one – he plays Slughorn both light and flippant, but also with a worried and melancholy undercurrent, which comes out much later.

Having achieved his wish to get Slughorn back to Hogwarts, Dumbledore sends Harry to reunite with Ron and Herione, who are holed up at Weasley towers. Harry is met by Ron’s sister Ginny, who has developed beyond words both as a character and as a potential love interest. She is beautifully played in this movie.

The trio pay a visit to Diagon Alley, scene of a recent Death Eater invasion. Olivander the wandmaker has been captured, and his shop destroyed. After a brief stop in Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes (the joke shop owned by the twins), the trio spot Draco Malfoy skulking about and follow him to Borgin and Burke’s, a place of dark magics, where they witness Malfoy meet with known agents of Voldemort.

Oh and while this is happening, our old friend Professor Snape – who to my mind remains the best cast Potter character EVER – has made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco and carry out a mysterious task, should the young Malfoy prove unable to do so. If you’ve read the books, you know full well what’s coming! This also allows us a lovely few moments enjoying Helen Bonham Carter at her best as the insance Bellatrix Lestrange, who as we know murdered Sirius and is totally and utterly mental. Not to mention sexy, gorgeous, overflowing in the cleavage department and irresistible. If you like a bad girl. 😉

The film’s new edgier tone is already apparent, and this is reinforced when Malfoy catches Potter spying on him on the Hogwart’s Express, and brutally stamps on his face, leaving him injured and unable to move from the train. Tom Felton has turned Draco from a common bully iinto a character torn apart by angst, menace and complete vulnerability. His instruction by Voldemort to carry out a secret mission clearly has him torn in two, and it is to Felton’s credit that he puts in a sterling performance here. Thankfully, Harry is rescued and cleaned up by Luna Lovegood, making a welcome return as another mental (though just in the “loooook, it’s a flowerrrrrr” sense, not the nasty kind).

The early days at Hogwarts are filled with hormones. The characters may have a dark war on their doorstep, but the war raging inside their heads and hearts is no less strong. Ginny is presently dating Dean Thomas, which causes Ron to issue dire threats – perhaps not the most encouraging for Harry, who really quite fancies her. Meanwhile Hermione is making it clear to everyone except the dim one himself that she has the hots for Ron. He of course is cheerfully unaware, instead seeking the attentions of Lavender Brown, a proper airhead, who shackles herself to “Won Won” instantly. Cue much snogging and some trmendously good innuendos, not least the one involving shoelaces … which I won’t spoil. For one moment, you really think Ginny is going to …

And also some quite superbly shot and acted scenes, in which Hermione breaks down and is consoled by Harry. The heartache they share is all too real, and when Ron and Lavender stumble giggling upon the pair, Hermione’s fury knows no bounds. Her subsequent meltdown after Ron flees like a scalded kitten is probably Emma Watson’s best moment of the series to date.

Dumbledore meanwhile is sharing some of the memories he has captured over the years – we see how the young Tom Riddle came to be at Hogwarts and how even as a child he was sinister and capable of causing much hurt. Yet the one memory that has been distorted is of a secret meeting between Riddle and Slughorn; the conversation has been wiped, and it is to this end that Dumbledore instructs Harry to befriend Slughorn and try to get him to reveal the true nature of the memory.

Harry has already started to gain favour with the old Professor. Not only because of his fame, and because his mother was a favourite of Slughorn, but also because he has started to excel in his potions class. The reason for this is mainly due to his discovery of a battered old potions textbook … mysteriously belonging to “the Half Blood Prince”. Of course the novel itself spends a long time describing Harry’s infatuation with this book and his search to uncover who the HBP is, but the film skirts over this, chiefly using the book as a device for Harry to get close to Slughorn.

At this point it’s probably wise to stop with the spoilers. The film is beautifully paced, and the sense of menace grows throughout. The interplay betwen the lead characters is easy and natural, and the sort of brilliant c
hemistry that can only come form spending years togethr growing up through these films. Dan Radcliffe has come in for much stick over the years, yet he IS Harry Potter, and in this film he finally nails down the angst and also the increasing confidence the young Harry is developing. Rupert Grint is magnificent in this, his comic timing is exceptional (“Pie?” “Pie?”) and his scenes with Lavender and Hermione are both touching and hilarious. Emma Watson truly is developing into a stunning girl, but finally she plays Hermione with a whole slice of vulnerability and inner torment over her feelings for Ron. The aforementioned scene where she needs Harry to console her is excellent.

Yates and co get this absolutely spot on. The palettes are washed out, this is not a happy Hogwarts. Even the quidditch scenes (thankfully making a return) are shot in windswept and wet conditions, and with a hard edge never before seen. The film is almost grey in parts, mirroring the conflicting black and white emotions runnign through every character in turn – no-one escapes this movie without emotional, and in some cases physical, damage.

Much will be said about the end of this film, both for how it is filmed and also for what it leaves out from the book – there may be a reason for that, we could see certain events depicted in the first part of Book 7’s adaptation. However, for me, it is spot on, and while I had hoped for a more climactic and stretched out battle scene once the death eaters finally invade Hogwarts, the key scenes involving Harry, Dumbledore and Snape are excellent. Indeed the scene in which Harry and Dumbledore desperately try to find a missing artefact they believe may hold some of Voldemort’s power is terrific, atmospheric and moody.

The film is bleak, adult and ultimately upsetting. Though the comic touch is also excellent, as the cackling from behind me attested throughout. Another wonderful highlight was the burgeoning Harry-Ginny relationship; Ginny’s character is vital to book 7 and she was played really well in this film, proving to be the grounding which Harry needs in order to finally make his way forward to confront Voldemort and the forces of evil.

Yes, people will grumble that scenes are missing from the book, and yes much more could have happened, but for me this was a triumph, and possibly the best of the HP films yet. it is certainly the most atmospheric, the moodiest and one which provokes the most sombre realisation tat the world we live in can be harsh and cruel and unkind. Bravo the actors, bravo JK Rowling and bravo director David Yates. Enjoy.


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