Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince (2009).

D: David Yates. DP: Bruno Delbonnel. W: Steve Kloves. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe/Emma Watson/Rupert Grint/Michael Gambon/Jim Broadbent/Bonnie Wright/Helena Bonham Carter/Alan Rickman/Evanna Lynch/Tom Felton. (NOTE: References made to J.K Rowling books and previous Harry Potter films)

Hop on up! Join the bandwagon! It is never a dull day in the Rowling world.

In the second installment of Yates’ Potter world, he directed Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix and is also set to direct the final book adaption (split into two films),  audiences will get their Hogwarts, but with supreme focus on the adolescent trio of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson). The dynamic is better balanced between the three in this film, with a comfortable repartee between them finally in place. The shiniest star amongst them is still Miss Watson who has embraced her character’s quirks the best. Yet there are moments that probably over emphasize Harry and Hermione’s friendship, but with lots of romantic kerfuffle it may go unnoticed. What does not, is the lack of a presence of other Hogwarts students. In the previous film, with the creation of Dumbledore’s Army, a core group was established. However, the dissolution of this group and support system is not visualized, which is a pity as it is ultimately significant.

But what is evident is the growing exchange of knowledge between Potter and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who finally gives us a weighty and wise wizard.  Although their relationship isn’t shown to be as distracting as in the book, Gambon finally lives up to Richard Harris’ memory. And in doing so he brings along a delightful Jim Broadbent, as Professor Horace Slughorn, to resume his post as potions master. He joins an ever pleasing staff, with the usual gems delivering excellence. Yet, somehow the potions text-book story-line of the film gets lost amidst romance episodes and horcrux discoveries. Such that revelations later on in the film lack emotional weight or surprise.

What is a pleasant surprise is the use of lighting and color in Delhonnel’s cinematography. New to the Potter franchise, Delhonnel gives a brilliant and energetic wash to the look of the wizarding world. He embraces the ominous and  nebulous dark that is creeping into Harry’s life, both internally and visually. Certain action sequences that merely threat Harry, are given fascinating beauty through Delhonnel’s shot composition. Similar to the gritty look of Slawomir Idziak’s work on Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, Delhonnel’s work enhances and encourages the darker evolution of these films. And I must applaud these foreign cinematographers, Delhonnel is French and Idziak is Polish, as it seems they can help to deliver a major studio release without the usual slick studio gloss. I do believe there is hope for Eduardo Serra (who is Portuguese) to embrace the darkness and fittingly finalize the filming of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows. Which will hopefully bring Mr. Potter out of ‘PG’ zone once more, which thankfully does not detract from this current installment.

Since, in mood and moments, Kloves’ script is his best yet, as he gives his teenagers enough snogging scenes to counter balance the menacing rising of the Dark Lord (who sadly never makes an appearance). It is important to note that Kloves will and has adapted all the Potter books to the screen except the previous one, Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix. This is significant as both books/films have traumatic finales with deaths close to Mr. Potter’s heart. And unlike Michael Goldberg’s Phoenix script, Kloves’ Half-Blood Prince ends without a dramatic punch, as he is unable to build up to his third act or develop Harry’s sixth year journey in a way that entirely draws us in. Somehow, although in mood the film feels on target, the emotional weight of the story is somehow lost.

And unfortunately, the film rarely hits its mark in many ways. With few references to the previous films or evidence of Potter coming to terms with events (like Sirius’ death), the characters seem forced to just hump along. And with so much delightful emphasis on romance and quidditch, the kids almost seem unaware of the major threat that surrounds them. The regulation of Hogwarts activity doesn’t seem to surprise and/or scare anyone, we hardly see the Death Eaters who are growing in number and politics, and there is little sense of the wizarding world’s final acceptance of the reemergence of Voldemort. Which is crucial as this book reaffirms Harry’s struggle, giving him motivational gratification that fuels his ultimate acceptance of his solo journey to destroy Voldemort. And although the Half-Blood Prince sets this up, by the end, it is difficult to be either sad, serious or surprised, but easy to be underwhelmed.

I am not ashamed to state concretely that there has not and will never be a sufficient Harry Potter adaptation. With so many different directors and cinematographers, inconsistencies in direction, mood and set is inevitable. And those constants in the novels are what create a seemlessness of story that is threaded through all seven books and is lacking within the films. Yet when taken seperately each film succeeds and fails differently. Such that, regardless of personal preferences, Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince is adequate in satiating a Potter appetite, but never reaches its fully satisfying potential. Potential, I believe, this installment definitively had.

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