Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Review: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
The Harry Potter saga is wrapping up, so one should think the next-to-last film would feel like it's building toward something monumental. (Well, next-to-next-to-last. They're splitting up the seventh and final book into two movies.)
Instead, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is disjointed and rambling. It finally gathers itself up for a powerful and tragic final act. But it dawdles excruciatingly along the way.
For a story in which this universe's version of the dark lord, Voldemort, is closing his black fist around the magical world, "Prince" seems awfully concerned with kissy-face. I realize Harry, Hermione and Ron are nearly grown now, and the various romantic entanglements hold a great deal of charm for the legions of fans. Still, it's hard to build a forbidding mood with so much snogging going on.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the gang seem to be a in a good place as their sixth year at Hogwarts begins. They fought off a usurpation of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic that Voldemort was secretly behind. Harry's relationship with headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is stronger than ever, and the elder wizard enlists Harry's aid in dealing with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), the newest Hogwarts professor.
It seems the doddering Slughorn has an important memory regarding Voldemort, who used to be a student of his, but refuses to share it. Harry's assignment is to get him to spill the beans -- or, in this case, the misty magic memories they can pull out of their heads.
Meanwhile, romance blooms unhindered among the student body. I won't belabor all the details -- mostly because I can't grasp them all myself. Suffice to say that Hermione (Emma Watson) loves Ron (Rupert Grint), who's too busy dealing with an overly aggressive admirer to notice. Harry in turn fancies Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but doesn't want to rock the boat with his best friend.
The villainous work is left to Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who seems more foul-tempered around Harry than ever, and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry's schoolyard nemesis since the day he arrived at Hogwarts. For the first time, Felton is given more to do than sneer and bully, and reveals Draco as a more layered character than we've seen before. It's clear that he's doing Voldemort's bidding, and keeps tinkering with a magical contraption in the Hogwarts attic, but his true motives are unclear.
The film's title comes from a mysterious potions textbook Harry acquires early in the school year. Its former owner, who calls himself the half-blood prince, has scribbled all sorts of helpful notes in the book that allow Harry to excel at brewing magic, thereby impressing Slughorn.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, both Potter veterans, work their magic as best they can, but this chapter of the saga written by J.K. Rowling simply lacks cohesion. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is the spell that fizzled.