Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Adolescent angst and darkening skies in the world of Hogwarts run parallel in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009; dir. David Yates), the latest installment in the series of film adaptations of the J. K. Rowling novels. For most films based on novels, I have always felt that the films need to stand alone—they should not require their audiences to have read or even know about their sources. I feel differently about the Potter novels and the films based on them. They form a symbiotic dyad. The films bring to life characters and events in the novels. We know how, even before the last two films are completed (they will premier in 2010) how things will come out. The points of interest lie in how the films will depict the events. One’s familiarity with the novels provides a context in which to view the films, which may change events, reinterpret characters and scenes, leave characters out or add new ones, but which inevitably honor the spirit of the novels and the story they tell.  And we read the novels, or reread them, with the film versions of the characters in mind.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Grangerford (Emma Watson), the three main characters, are the heart of this latest installment.  The actors are all in late adolescence now (Grint is 20), and their maturity and developing skills as actors show. The film handles Ron and Hermione’s developing relationship with subtlety and sensitivity (although in most of the film it is not developing at all), just as it shows Harry’s growing interest in Ron’s sister Ginny. Of the three, Watson is the best actor, though the others are nearly as good.

The romantic interests of these characters in one another seem to develop almost in isolation from events happening in the outer world, the growing power of Voldemort who of course wants to take over everything and who has specific designs on Harry. In Half-Blood Prince there is specific focus on a conspiracy involving Draco Malfoy, Harry’s long-term nemesis, and his mysterious relationship with Professor Snape, who takes an unbreakable oath that he will assist Draco in an assignment he’s been given. But above all else the main characters, the deep friendships they share, are what captivate and carry us through the story.

Jim Broadbent was especially good as Professor Horace Slughorn.

The final scenes of the film deviate in ways from the climactic battle in the book, though the outcome is the same. To me, the deviation didn’t matter. The film worked well enough. As the Potter characters and the actors portraying them have grown and matured, as the problems they engage have become more complex and difficult, I have enjoyed each film, and the novel it is based on, more than its predecessors. Half-Blood Prince for me is the best so far. It will be interesting to see where the final two installments (based on the final novel in the series) go. They will mostly be taking place away from Hogworts, as Harry and Ron and Hermione search for horcruxes—pieces of Voldermort’s soul that must be recovered and destroyed before Harry himself has any hope of successfully facing Voldermort. Much of the final novel is a long and protracted delay before the final confrontation in which Harry plays the role he has been chosen to play, and before the series comes to a final end.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was by turns amusing, funny, disturbing, sad, and intriguing. It is well made in every regard. As a fan of the novels and of the films, I found it entertaining and satisfying.

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