Written by Alan Jones Wednesday, 08 July 2009 11:29
I gave up reading the Harry Potter books just before The Half-Blood Prince got published. Frankly, I was bored with the same old story of 'boy wizard going up against yet another annoying Hogwarts teacher wanting to stop him fulfilling his Voldemort-killing destiny'. Plus the fact that the books really are just kids-lit, even with all the titter-some adolescent sexual problems. So is it because I was unfamiliar with the plot line of the sixth in the JK Rowling series that I preferred Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the rest of the variable film adaptations? Because this David Yates directed episode is truly outstanding, and everything I had hoped the others would be from a mature and magical standpoint.Beginning with a dizzying Death Eater attack on central London resulting in the Millennium Bridge crashing into the Thames, the main plot focus is Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) luring former potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, an eccentric blast) back to Hogwarts so Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, looking older and wiser) can dislodge a key clue regarding the Dark Lord from the teacher’s resistant mind. Because Slughorn taught Tom Riddle, who transformed into Voldemort, and only he knows critical information crucial to unlocking the Dark Lord’s defences. Meanwhile Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is experimenting with a Vanishing Cabinet in Hogwarts’ attic as Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, slimier than ever) makes an unbreakable vow leading to the shock demise of one of Rowling’s beloved characters.
A difficult book to adapt because it’s more about setting up The Deathly Hallows finale (which Warner Bros, in their financial wisdom, have split into two movies), returning scripter Steve Kloves (he took a break from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) does an admirable plot condensation without losing the engrossingly emotional depth or darker tone of the surprisingly adult narrative. The result of this accent is that the romantic entanglements (between Harry and Ginny Weasley) and rampaging hormonal comic relief (the Ron Weasley, Lavender Brown, Hermione Granger triangle) gets somewhat overshadowed. So does the inevitable Quidditch match, hooray!
Yet returning Order of the Phoenix director Yates dazzles with an evocatively brooding style and conjuring up of deliciously demonic atmospheres. Especially the scary wonder of the underground cavern centrepiece where Dumbledore turns into a wizard Moses parting a red sea of flame in truly awesome Ten Commandments mode. Seamless throughout its lengthy running time, top-drawer in terms of production value and with its murky morality play vigorously conveyed, this satisfyingly grown-up segment raises the story-telling and technically superior visual effects bar for the entire series.
Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Director David Yates
Screenplay Steve Kloves
Distributor Warner Bros
Running Time 2hrs 33mins
Opens July 15
All images © 2009 Warner Bros. Ent.
Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R.
Harry Potter characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.