Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Marking time with Harry -- Potter, that is
Generally speaking, the Harry Potter movies have maintained a reasonable level of quality while being careful to remain as faithful to J. K. Rowling's beloved books as possible. The huge fan base for Rowling's massive series probably is enough to ensure financial success, and the sixth installment, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," likely will keep the turnstiles spinning,
Having said that, it seems fair to argue that the movie's main purpose is to pave the way for the finale in which Harry squares off with the Voldemort, the evil wizard who began his dark journey as a student at Hogwarts. If the object of "Half-Blood Prince" was to make us eager for the climactic "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows," it worked for me. It's time to wrap things up. (The agony, of course, will be prolonged with "Deathly Hollows" slated for a two-part release that's not scheduled to conclude until 2011.)
As has and will be pointed out again and again, a major pleasure of the series has been watching its youthful cast mature. If Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) don't get on with it, they'll be old enough to collect pensions by the time the series crosses the finish line. At one point, the sagacious Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) calls attention to the maturation process, noting that Harry could use a shave.
This time, our trio of protagonists has become seriously enmeshed in adolescence. Harry has become something a chick magnet, a role he seems to enjoy; Ron is also ready for love, and so is Hermione, whose crush on Ron thus far has gone unrequited. Meanwhile, Ron's being pursued by Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), an overeager teen who always seems on the verge of hyperventilation.
Some of what we see becomes repetitious, a Quidditch match in which Ron emerges as a star jock, for example. Ron is the goal minder -- or whatever the term is in Quidditchese.
The special effects are good, clever, and not overwhelming in quantity; they provide a little humor in what can be an extremely dark scenario: Evidence of Voldemort's preparation for the final showdown is everywhere. To make the point, the picture begins with a deadly attack by Death Eaters on London's Millennium Bridge. Although director David Yates creates an opening that looks like the beginning of a disaster movie, he makes little or no later reference to this devastation. Instead, he marches -- sometimes turgidly -- through a talk-heavy plot in which Professor Dumbledore asks Harry to pry a secret from Professor Horace Slughorn (James Broadbent). We're also shown scenes from Voldemort's early life at Hogwarts.
The three young actors are all good, and from the outset, the filmmakers have employed a variety of fine character actors to lend support. Maggie Smith (as Professor Minerva McGonagall) returns as does Robbie Coltrane (as Hagrid). Alan Rickman reprises his role as Severus Snape, a Hogwarts professor who stands more revealed by the end of this installment, which also features the death of a major character. Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, shows more range, although his character remains dominated by a trademark sneer.
No point rattling on: In "Half-Blood Prince," we feel the dark storm gaining force, and are primed for its waves to break. I suppose that was the job that needed to be done. Now, can we please get on with it? How nice it would be to conclude Rowling's popular saga prior to 2011. Think about it. At that point, those who started watching the series at age 10 will be 20 years old.