Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' (B)

By Chase Kahn

The latest Harry Potter film is an odd but enjoyable concoction. Decidedly off-kilter, the film is a departure from director David Yates' 2007 addition to the Potter canon (Order of the Phoenix) in that it's a teen romance-comedy first and a dark fantasy adventure second. Never-the-less, Half-Blood Prince still manages to succeed on its slick production values and cast, which as the series grows -- and our heroes with it -- are becoming more formidable with each film.

This Potter has unquestionably more humor, romance and humanity than any in the series, which is understandable, given that these characters are now well into the latter half of their teenage years where jealousy, cruelty, young love and friendships begin to supercede all else. Yates, a former British TV director ("State of Play" miniseries) seems to have a firm grasp on the actors and in turn, mainstays like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) plus newcomers like Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) give mostly veritable performances.

And of course, any self-respecting Harry Potter review would be incomplete without mentioning the extremely superb and seamless performances of the adult supporting characters. As always, Michael Gambon as the fatherly headmaster Dumbledore is magnificently stoic. As are Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange and the newbie of the group, Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn -- who, whether he likes it or not, has a part to play in this war against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Who, speaking of which, is glaringly absent from this episode, which brings up one of the problems with the film in that it feels entirely too lax -- almost stuck in neutral -- albeit delectable in deep stretches.

French lenser and Harry Potter newbie, Bruno Delbonnel shoots Half-Blood Prince with stunning clarity and depth with deep blues and blacks overwhelming the scenes inside the now on-guard hallways of Hogwarts -- an icy Quidditch match halfway through is also quite a feat. Nicholas Hooper also brings an ecclectic and stirring score to the proceedings, like he did with the superior Order of the Phoenix. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, back after a brief hiatus, gives depth to these characters as they move steadily into their own distinctive destinies to be played out in two-part fashion beginning next fall -- the problem is that he and director David Yates don't stick the landing. In establishing and investigating the relationships and friendships of our favorite Hogwarts' witches and wizards in training, it's almost as if Yates and company have lost sight of the big picture.

As the final act of the film takes center stage, it's almost as if it never gets off the ground. There's no tangible feeling as to the magnitude of the events and as such, when it's over -- like Harry -- you feel cold, unprepared and in-the-dark. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does nothing to tarnish the reputation of what is a supreme, grade-A saga of family friendly entertainment, it just missed an opportunity to take the next step.

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