Thursday, July 16, 2009

A review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Novel vs. Film, Film vs. Novel- an epic battle whose end seems about as approximate as the end of our occupation of the Middle East. A battle which, in this humble politico's view, is just as futile. Maybe I still have college-kid cockiness because I took a few film courses dealing with this precarious relationship and understand that they are different mediums, with different conventions and different aims, and so I believe I'm an authority. Maybe I'm easy to please when it comes to something I'm familiar with. Whatever the case may be, I just can't sit around and defend the film against the argument that that it's not exactly like the book, or that major elements were cast aside.
What I can say is that it was an excellent film. In this, the sixth installment, Potter and his friends must deal with their raging hormones, and the constant threat of Voldemort and his legion. As to the latter aspect, there are various mentions of atrocities and occasional shots of Aurors (Dark Wizard Hunters) pacing the halls of the fortified schools. However, as a whole, that tense atmosphere was not well-communicated, but relegated instead to single shots such as the black whips of Death Eater trails repelling against the dome-like force field protecting Hogwarts. Whereas this could have been a detriment to the film, the director instead chose to focus on Malfoy and his quest, which remains a well clouded mystery until about halfway through the film; and even then specifics are shrouded (unless, of course, you've read the book). Here an ominous threat is cast over the otherwise bubbly landscape of the school's corridors, when Malfoy's usually boastful and angry grimaces are coupled with looks of weariness and uncertainty. Tom Felton, in a few words, finally delivers an authentic performance of substance. We feel his dilemma, we understand the internal conflict between his mission and his character, and that alone makes up for what should have been a much darker film.
Where the film succeeds is in the contrast between the solemn and the jocular. Hormones bubble to the surface, with an intense focus on potions class and the intentionally bubbly personality of its new teacher- Horace Slughorn. As his character unravels, so do the relationships in the novel- from light, humorous and airy to mysterious and wrought with guilt. The teenagers find love and, with a brazen air, wrench it from the mantle of fantasy; and like most young relationships, find it far too heavy to easily bear. Whereas Ron's relationship with Lavender is painted with humor, Hermoine's pain and heart-break is visceral. These emotions are paralleled with Slughorn, whose flighty character soon chips away to the foundations of guilt upon which his hesitance to re-join the faculty is rooted.
The film ultimately serves very utilitarian purposes: one last hurrah for the frivolity of youth; cementing the thematic motif of difficult decision making; and finally, grounding the roots from which will spring key plot points of the seventh and final chapter. As vague as my last point seems, to give more detail would ruin the film for those who've yet to read the book. And in this deliberate, utilitarian treatment of the reference text, the director succeeds in a fine adaptation. The nature of the book is intact with respect to the scope of the novels.
"The Half Blood Prince" aspect plays only lightly into the story. A bigger tale needed to be told, but it's function as part of the title is never fully served. Instead, it's presence is used as a device to find a means to an end. The "big reveal" seems to be a perfunctory revelation, more than an eye-opening point of further contention for Harry. However, this might be addressed in further detail and in subtler ways in the final films.
I won't give creedence to arguments of book vs. film, but I will say this: in an ideal world, I'd love to see a more precise translation. However, director David Yates delivered a film whose purpose and gusto do justice to the source material and, more importantly, to the continuity of the story as delivered through film.

8.0/ 10
(Random tags) Funny, lighter than the previous film, moments of sadness, mature-child friendly, inner turmoil,

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