Saturday, July 25, 2009
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince **
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith
Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright
"Are you confused?" asks a concerned Albus Dumbledore (Gambon) to Harry Potter (Radcliffe) as they uncover yet another dark mystery halfway throughout the film. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were" he continues without waiting for Harry's reply.
Dumbledore, as it seems, may not only be speaking to Potter, but to an entire audience, who have never read J.K. Rowling's famous books and will have a hard time following, or even being interested, in a movie that contains as many plot holes, discrepancies, lack of character subtext and coherence as there are tastes in Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
Since there is no re-introduction needed the film throws us back into Hogwarts where Harry and his friends Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger (Watson) return for another year of misadventures.
This time around Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters, who have seemingly recruited Draco Malfoy (Felton) as an inside agent, have been attacking the Muggle world and are, as usual, trying to infiltrate Hogwarts and help their master take over the world.
After almost reaching a decade of movies, the Harry Potter series has become formulaic and by now everyone knows that all of the films will at some point have all of the following: Christmas vacations, a Quidditch match, a sudden attack from Voldemort and a new professor in the school.
Said professor now comes in the shape of Horace Slughorn (Broadbent) who is reluctant to return to Hogwarts, but does so after insistence from Dumbledore.
Slughorn may possess valuable information about Tom Riddle (A.K.A Voldemort) which might help the good guys get rid of him before long.
Dumbledore of course recruits Potter to carry out this mission and most of the film consists of the execution of said plan.
The problem with such a thing is that the films have fallen also into a state of disconnect from any sort of "realism".
Why are we supposed to believe that things go wrong only when the kids are back in Hogwarts? Does evil also take a summer break? None of the films in the saga so far have been able to create believable links between each installment.
It's ironic when Professor Minerva McGonagall (Smith) tells Harry, Ron and Hermione "why is it that whenever something happens, you three are always involved?".
It's obvious that they're the stars, but it should be only obvious for the audience, not the characters themselves.
Most of the ensemble does a good work; people like Smith, Gambon, Carter (who is a wicked tease!) and Rickman can do no wrong (he is a particularly sinister scene stealer) and the delightful Broadbent brings freshness to what was feeling like a stale staff.
The kids on the other side are obviously still learning their craft. Most of the time they act like actors acting.
This problem is more obvious with Radcliffe, who movie after movie, manages to turn Potter into an uninterestingly smug kid playing humble and nice.
It comes as no wonder however that they act this way, when the film constantly neglects their "human" side. They are forced fed with dialogues and quips that have no verosimilitude and because of this the film loses its most important ally.
There are several subplots involving their sexual self awareness. Harry begins to fall for Ron's sister Ginny (Wright) while Hermione puts aside her pride and accepts that she might have feelings for Ron. They all of course spend most of the film denying such things and date other students to get over their actual feelings.
And it's not so surprising that these are the most involving scenes in the movie, where the kids get to act like kids and saving the world is something that comes second after finding who they really are.
The film is filled with sexual innuendos (that seem accidental) but actually make the whole thing feel alive for once. There is a particular Quidditch match where the position of Ron's broomstick only rises more as he becomes more satisfied.
But then the director comes and completely de-sexualizes the characters turning them into words straight out of a screenplay.
One, that isn't even that good to begin with. Writer Steve Kloves' delivers his most uneven script of the series yet. Many things in this installment seem incomplete; several key characters disappear for long periods of time and some are featured just for the sake of filling a billing.
Even if you haven't read the book it's easy to detect that a lot of material has been ignored because the plot advances in a bizarre way, it stalls more than it flows.
Fans of the book will probably dislike this feeling, but those who go to the theater expecting to see a movie will also have much to wish for.
Both Kloves and Yates seem to have forgotten that they are crafting a movie and unlike in literature there are things that can't be found by turning back a page at your desire.
"The Half-Blood Prince" feels more like a work in progress than an ultimate adaptation and very few scenes evoke a pinch of emotion out of the viewer.
It's a shame because with the magnificent work of the tech department (the costumes and art direction are stunning) the look of the saga has finally matured.
Particularly with the achievement of director of photography Bruno Delbonnel, who does actual magic with the light and his camera.
Several scenes in the film will take your breath away just from the sheer beauty they possess. Delbonnel transports his sunny French take into Hogwarts which is a more macabre environment.
His aesthetic sometimes recall nineteenth century fairy tale engravings which had both the mystery and the humanity that fascinated and attracted people so much to these stories.
Through his lens for the first time the things inside a "Potter" movie feel less like props and more like actual lived-in heirlooms.