Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Spoilerific Review

harry_potter_and_the_half_blood_prince_potter-_poster2WARNING: If you hate spoilers, do not read this review. If you want to see the new HARRY POTTER film without knowing what happens, do not read this review. If you do not want the entire plot, from beginning to end, totally revealed before you even buy your ticket, do not read this review. In fact, don’t even glance at this review or ask your friend to read it for you and tell you about it. Much as we hate to risk ruining your enjoyment of the fantasy film blockbuster, due to the intricate – indeed, one might say, labyrinthine – plotting (or is that plodding?) of  its scenario, there is no way to discuss HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE without delving into a detailed discussion of the various plot developments, twists, and revelations. We will address these points beneath a microscope, examining them with minute attention and teasing out all their subtle implications. So, having been fully warned, you may now proceed – but only at your own risk.
Here, then, is our full-blown, no-holds-barred, spoilerific examination of every significant plot point made in the new POTTER film:
Voldemort hid a piece of his soul in a locket, and Severus Snape kills Dumbledore.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen – this marks the end of our full-blown, no-holds-barred, spoilerific examination of every significant plot point in the new POTTER film. Thank you and good night!
What…? You’re still here? Why, what’s wrong? Oh, you have questions. You, in the back – yes, you with your hand up – what did you want to ask? … Okay, I’ll repeat the question for those who couldn’t hear it:

Is that all?

Yes, believe it or not, that is all there is to HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. I suppose one might include the revelation of the Half-Blood Prince’s identity, but it has so little significance to the outcome of events that it feels more like an after-throught than a plot point.
Anybody else? Yes, you in the front…. Again, I’ll repeat the question for the benefit of the rest of the audience.

How did they stretch that out to over two-and-a-half hours?

Good question. Unfortunately, the only precise and accurate answer requires a grasp of higher mathematics involving the space-time continuum, illuminating an as-yet controversial theory positing that infinitesimally small bits of information can, under the right circumstances, expand to occupy infinitely large swaths of time, at a ratio approximately equal to Einstein’s famous E=MC2.
Any more questions? You, on the side, in the shadows. What was HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE about, you say?
Well, it was about two-and-a-half hours too long. Sorry about using that old joke, I couldn’t resist.
Seriously, folks, the new HARRY PLODDER picks up where the old one left off. Which is to say that, although the Voldemort has definitely hit the fan – extending its reach even to the Muggles world – everyone pretty much goes about their business as usual. Sure, Harry may worry a bit, but his friends are more concerned with sorting out their romantic entanglements.
Even the faculty at Hogwarts seems barely engaged by the looming storm on the horizon. You’d think Dumbledore would be battening down the hatches and raising an army; instead, he takes Harry Potter on an extended field trip to track down that missing piece of Voldemort’s soul.
Why Harry instead of a crack team of ninja-assassin magicians trained for the challenge of facing whatever evil may be encountered? Well, you see it’s because Harry Potter is special. We know this because people have told him he is special and he is now telling everyone else that he is the chosen one. We never see any evidence of this; it is simply assumed, because he is the title character and all.
Anyway, Harry Potter is not really special enough to accomplish anything important in THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, but he does give his friend some badly needed confidence by fooling him into thinking he’s taken a “lucky” potion. Ironically, it is these little character bits that are the main joy of the film. As the cast has grown older, they have matured into their roles. The tug of their heartstrings as they try to sort out their changing feelings toward each other, which include confusing stirrings of romance, are nicely rendered, in a way that would do justice to any mainstream drama.
Unfortunately, this is not enough to fill a feature-length fantasy film, which turns out to be surprisingly short on the most essential ingredient: a Sense of Wonder. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, like its filmic predecessors, is all about playing it safe – and more important, playing to the base. Take the novels, put on scream with as much craftsmanship as money can buy, and leave the artistry to low-budget independent films. From a box office standpoint, one can hardly argue with Warner Brothers’ strategy, but it is leaving us with some big, bloated, pretty, but very empty confectionary.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
With Hogwarts at her mercy, Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) confnes herself to inflicting minor fire damage.

Forget about art. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE can’t even deliver an engaging story with some exciting narrative momentum. It’s not about satisfying the audience; it’s about stringing them along, giving them just enough to keep them coming back for the next film. If anything were to actually happen, that might upset the applecart. (As one of my astute movie-going companions said after the screening, “It was okay, but it didn’t go anywhere!”) Thus we have a third act in which a group of villains breach the security of Hogwarts and, after Dumbledore’s death, instead of launching into a full-blown climactic battle, they break some stained glass, burn down an out building, and then leave, so that our heroes can regroup for the next movie. It’s amazing that a film that so carelessly disregards the dictates of good storytelling can be so successful; I guess one must never under-estimate the significance of a pre-sold audience.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009). Directed by David yates. Screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J. K. Rowling. Cast: Daniel Radcliff, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Helana Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall, Dave Legeno, Elarica Gallagher.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Darkest Hour TV Spot

I’m not a big fan of the HARRY POTTER film franchise, but this television commercial, which emphasizes the darker tone of the upcoming episode, has actually piqued my interest – which has been waning since PRISONER OF AZKABAN.
According to the official plot summary from Warner Brothers: Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Together they work to find the key to unlock Voldemort’s defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, the well-connected and unsuspecting bon vivant Professor Horace Slughorn, whom he believes holds crucial information.
Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Harry finds himself increasingly drawn to Ginny, and so is Dean Thomas. Lavender Brown has decided that Ron is the one for her, only she hasn’t counted on Romilda Vane’s chocolates. Then there’s Hermione, simmering with jealousy but determined not to show her feelings. As romance blossoms, one student remains aloof. He is determined to make his mark, albeit a dark one. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead, and Hogwarts may never be the same again.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) – Retrospective Fantasy Film Review

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE – the fourth in the film franchise – is decently entertaining, albeit uneven and frustrating – which is saying a lot, when you consider that the series is basically a soulless Hollywood moneymaking franchise that has little to do with making great movies and everything to do with slavishly pleasing the fan base.
The debut film in the series, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, was at best an adequate time-waster. Without an ounce of inspiration, the filmmakers slogged through the plot of the book with all the sterile professionalism that money can buy, treating a pop novel with the reverence that a PBS Masterpiece Theatre adaptation normally reserves for the literary works of Jane Austen or Herman Melville. Nobody seemed to realize that simply “Filming The Book” doesn’t qualify as great film-making; the film itself needs some kind of life of its own, some spark of inspiration that makes the story work in the new medium
The first sequel, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, made the leap from dull professionalism to outright awfulness in one single stride, creating a film almost without any redeeming qualities. It’s the ultimate insider experience: “I’m a fan of the book; I wanted to see the book on the big screen; now it is and that’s enough to please me.” The rest of the audience (those who like good movies, anyway) were just left scratching their heads, wondering why anyone would waste time on this junk.
Fortunately, things picked up with HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, the first Potter film that actually works as a film. The tone was a bit darker, and the reality of watching the cast grow up, while the characters wrestled with problems of advancing maturity, resulted in a worthwhile viewing experience.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE continues in the direction of PRISONER OF AZKABAN without really advancing very far. The darker tone remains; the cast is still getting older, and the characters are still awkwardly adapting to the facts that they are not children anymore and that they live in a world that can be a dangerous place.
Director Mike Newell (whose best work has been in romantic comedies like ENCHANTED APRIL and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) brings a nice, mature approach to the proceedings. One of the strengths of the Potter series has been that, despite the magical trappings, much of the setting seems grounded in reality: Hogwarts is a magical school that none of us have ever attended, yet we recognize the inter-class rivalries and pecking orders, the pressure to excell, the fear of being away from home, and the comfort derived from having friends who sympathize with you. All of this plays to Newell’s strengths, and he manages to make those sequences feel as if they carry some dramatic weight — as if what’s happening has actual consequences — so that we identify with the characters and care about what’s happening to them.
Unfortunately, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE succumbs to the problems that plagued its earlier predecessor, especially CHAMBER OF SECRETS: excess of computer-generated razzle that generates little genuine dazzle. From time to time, the film grinds to a halt to show off some new image that has all the beauty and all the dramatic sincerity of a Hallmark greeting card — pretty, but unconvincing and often unnecessary.
If this were the only problem, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE would merely be hampered in its pacing by the occasional need for the characters to stand around slack-jawed while looking off-screen at the tedious effects added in post-production. But there is a bigger problem afoot: bad story-telling, which takes the form of strained or non-existent continuity.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE has several startling and exciting visual set pieces that set up the mood of danger underlying the events that unfold. Too often, however, these scenes exist in a vacuum: they happen; the characters get alarmed; but then they go on about their business as if nothing had occurred. The result undermines the allegedly darker tone of this episode: how sinister can things be, when no one seems concerned enough to take action in response?
In particular, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE starts with Harry’s dream that the evil Valdemort is soon to make a comeback; this is quickly followed by an all-out attack on a gathering of magicians in a pastoral setting that quickly turns to a blasted landscape of destruction. It’s a great way to open the film, and it’s impact is fairly impressive — until it comes time to pick up the pieces and decide what to do next. What does everyone do? They go on with their studies as if nothing had happened, of course! They even go on with a Tri-Wizard tournament, the winner of which will earn a place of glory.
Say what? After being attacked, you might imagine that someone would be declaring a state of war and circling the wagons in defense, not just going about with business as usual. Harry has more dreams, but his superiors tell him not to obsess over them, even though they are clearly premonitions of things that will come to pass if no one moves to prevent them.
In the end, the characters’ lack of initiative pays off for Valdemort, who is revived in all his ugly, evil glory. This takes place in a reasonably scary sequence (sort of like one of those resurrection scenes from the Hammer Dracula series, wherein the Count was brought back from the dead), which leads to a decently tense duel of magic that not every character survives.
So what happens after this devastating development? Do the brass at Hogwarts finally get a clue and take action? No, they just send the kids home for summer and expect them all to show up again next semester, the same as always. What a bunch of morons! They should be assembling the magical equivalent of a search-and-destroy team to go after Valdemort, not just sitting around and hoping for the best. But that would require telling a story that works logically in filmic terms, instead of slavishly sticking to the conceit that each installment portray one school term at Hogwarts. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE can’t have its characters do anything believable, because that might threaten to bring the story to a climax on a much faster time table than the books are using. Instead, the filmmakers opt to stick to the arbitrary structure, stretching the films out to match the books, drama be damned.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005). Directed by Mike Newell. Screenplay by Steven Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Timothy Spall, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Retrospective Fantasy Film Review

In the third HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKBAN, the titular young wizard must watch out for an escaped prisoner and avoid the spooky guards sent to recapture him, rescue a gryphon sentenced to death, and deal with a professor who turns out to be a werewolf. In other words, it’s much the same formula as before; and yet, thanks to director Alfonso Cuaron, this third film in the series is better than the previous two combined. In fact, this is the first POTTER film that can stand on its own as a piece of worthwhile cinema, regardless of the popularity of the source material. The previous POTTER films suffered from that Masterpiece Theatre-type malaise, in which filming the book is considered enough to justify the project — without providing any real imaginative life on its own, in cinematic terms.
The cloying, precious, sentimentality that embalmed HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS’S’ STONE and HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS has been replaced by a more mature tone, in keeping with the visible aging of actor Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry now as more of a tortured adolescent instead of a privileged little boy. The storyline is smoother, unburdened with annoying distractions (like Dobby from CHAMBER OF SECRETS), and the visual scheme is much improved, with fewer obviously cartoony CGI effects.
More important, PRISONER OF AZKABAN is, the first POTTER film to generate some genuine emotions. The film jettisons the insipid psuedo-Disney sentimentality that embalmed the first two attempts at adapting J.K Rowling’s books into films. Harry gets to show some believable and justified anger, and there is a greater sense of dealing with difficult situations that may have unpleasant consequences.
Cuaron knows how to milk a scene to maximum effect, without letting the whole movie turn into an empty effects showcase, and much of it is genuinely suspenseful and even creepy. He also adds some sly touches that help spice up the blank Potter universe. It is particularly amusing, in the middle of this supposedly innocent family film, to see subtle sexual innuendo paraded right beneath the audience’s collective nose. For instance, the film begins with a scene of Harry in his bed at night, hiding beneath his sheets, and playing with his wand. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure that one out. (Hint: this is a case where a cigar is not a cigar.)
There is even a fairly obvious homosexual subtext. Two male characters, including Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), are insulted by begin compared to an “old married couple.” Lupin, as his name suggests, turns out to be a werewolf; in other words, he has an embarrassing secret in his private life involving disreputable activities at night, which he hides by day while maintaining his respectable demeanor as a teacher. The film’s conclusion sees Lupin leaving his post because his secret has come out, and he knows that parents don’t want their children taught be (heavy dramatic pause) “…someone like me.” Tellingly, he doesn’t say “by a werewolf.” The script leaves it up to us to fill in the blank, making it easier to interpret the character as a closeted gay man.
None of this is meant to imply the Cuaron is out to undermine the Potter franchise; the director is simply inserting some badly needed zing to the material. The result is a film that is more believable; while still being completely fantastic and imaginative, it doesn’t float away like an inconsequential trifle. Not a perfect film by any means, PRISONER OF AZKABAN is nonetheless good enough to balance out the cinematic mistakes of its predecessors.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004). Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Screenplay by Steve Kloves, from the novel by J.K. Rowling. Cast: Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane.

Last Potter Book Becomes 2 Potter Films

Harry Potter fans throughout the world are rejoicing. After years of complaints that the film adaptations left out too much of the books, Hollywood has responded. The Associated Press recycles a report from the Los Angeles Times, telling us that J. K. Rowlings’ ultimate Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will become the penultimate and the ultimate Potter films. The first installment should hit screens in November 2010, followed by the conclusion in May 2011.

“It was born out of purely creative reasons,” producer David Heyman told the Times. “Unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book.”

Yeah, I’ll buy that for a dollar! Call me cynical, but this sure seems like a good way to keep a film franchise going for another installment when there are no new books looming on the horizon.
The two films will be shot concurrently, like the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Oh well, splitting the final Potter book into two films will give cinema audiences a chance to recuperate, instead of subjecting them to a four-hour marathon, a la RETURN OF THE KING.
The article briefly mentions that the sixth film HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE began filming in September:

“It’s been brilliant,” said star Daniel Radcliffe. “It’s also, I think, the funniest of the films so far.”