Ah, to be young, in love and a wizard again. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth, hormone-injected installment of the zillion-dollar-grossing franchise, and the series shows no sagging signs of age. Instead, it manages to recreate all those wonderful, gut-churning feelings of unrequited teenage love that are sure to inflame your acne all over again. Yes, the Potter films are growing up. Gone are the goofy puzzles and silly monsters intended for 10-year-olds; we’re in legitimate (albeit fairly innocent) romantic comedy territory this time around. However, director David Yates understands the darkness that comes with growing up, and still manages to balance the film’s growing despair and darkening clouds with Potter’s burgeoning sexploits. Welcome to puberty, kid.
Based on the gargantuan J.K. Rowling book, Harry Potter Six begins with the ominous knowledge that Voldemort is back in town, sending his Death Eaters to terrorise modern London, as well as the inhabitants of its parallel wizard universe. Hogwarts Principal Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) sends our hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) on an important mission to discover exactly what black magic Voldemort is using to consolidate his power. His task will involve befriending new Potions teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), an eccentric old coot with a penchant for making famous friends. But how can Harry concentrate on saving the world when his crush on the sweet Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) won’t go away? Why did she have to be his best friend’s younger sister?! Not that his besties Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are any luckier in love; they continue their awkward courtship by dating other classmates and continually upsetting and ignoring one another. Love stinks.
Of course, any HP fan will tell you there is far more to this story than I’m letting on. For instance, why does Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) look so mysterious and tormented? Where does Dumbledore keep running off to? And just what is Snape’s (Alan Rickman) problem? These are the darker elements of the picture and discussing them would spoil the really juicy surprises. And before you laugh, some people may not know what these surprises are! A good friend of mine is a rabid fan of the films, but refuses to read any of the books. Therefore, he’s been waiting almost a full decade to find out how the story ends. I for one respect his perseverance (although at this point he might just be trying to make some kind of weird point).
So let’s focus on the lighter side of The Half Blood Prince. The film is a funnier affair than its immediate predecessor Order of the Phoenix, in which Yates tried to downplay the magic and wonder and bring his State of Play-esque political intrigue to the forefront. Now that the actors have come of age he can feature some good old fashioned teenage ribaldry: luscious kisses in darkened hallways; drunken butter beer binges; experimentation with mind-altering ‘potions.’ Relax parents, the film isn’t that raunchy. I mean, considering this a co-ed boarding school with invisibility cloaks and hidden rooms aplenty, they could have made a fairly decent Carry On film within the walls of Hogwarts.
Rowling’s seemingly infinite imagination has been brought to life time and time again in such satisfying fashion, that surely this is one of the few book-to-film adaptations to challenge its source material for artistic supremacy. Half-Blood-Prince is anchored by three solid performances from its young stars as well as the always reliable pros Gambon and Rickman. Even Felton steps up for Draco’s big descent. However, while the first four films are able to stand alone as entertaining flicks within a larger narrative, parts five and six feel like links in a chain – entertaining throughout but not wholly satisfying. Also, with much of the exposition excised to allow more time for action, newcomers will find it near on impossible to comprehend the events of this film. But that’s their problem; not mine.
Before the Harry Potter series came along, seemingly gone were the days of frightening kids’ films. Movies made for kids which featured characters in legitimate peril; movies for kids where characters might actually die. HP is now the lone beacon of despair for children in an increasingly pandering and brainless cinematic landscape; a Grimm tale that should satisfy the darker whims of imaginative children in the same way that J.K. Rowling’s books satiated the inner children of adults around the world. This franchise now carries the torch once held by movies like The Witches, The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. When was the last time you saw a movie and though “Bring on number seven!”
P.S. Considering the film is called Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, it was surprising to see how virtually the entire section regarding ‘The Half Blood Prince’ had been cut out. No wonder all those posters obscure the films subtitle.