You’re here to read a review of the new Harry Potter movie. And you’ll get one.
But first, Palace Amusement wants you to know they have a card that can save you time. Also, the tabloid Chat! says hi; Burger King wants you to buy Whoppers; Guardian Life asks for your money; Digicel reminds you it is bigger and better (than what?); KingAlarm hawks their security systems; Claro sings about their 3G network (whatever that is); KIG claims to sell cars, although it’s not clear which ones; and Palace Amusement says they have more cards—gift cards this time. They will also host your child’s birthday party.
If you found that annoying, don’t go to the cineplex.
And now, the review. Here’s the truth. You’ve read all seven of J. K. Rowling’s books. You’ve watched at least one of the previous five movies in the franchise. You, or your child, or your spouse, threw both hands triumphantly in the air when you saw the TV promotional spots. And, regardless of what is printed here, you’re going to go and see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Fortunately, the movie is highly watchable. Sturdy, even. As far as these spectacles go, it’s positively masterful. Tightly plotted, appropriately macabre, surprisingly witty. The trouble with adapting the Potter stories is that everyone already knows what happens. Titanic (1997) navigated that obstacle by putting Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio at the prow, The Passion of the Christ (2004) by obsessing over visceral detail. Director David Yates and series scribe Steve Kloves, handling a truly sacred text, instead tweak Half-Blood Prince to create unexpected, fresh moments.
One comes early, when Harry flirts with a waitress in a Muggle diner, only to be interrupted by his Hogwarts headmaster, Dumbledore. Magic was Harry’s escape from reality; now the real world reveals its own charms. Hormones run high throughout Half-Blood Prince—Hermione, Ron and Harry all have uncomfortable moments with each other (not least when Ron, having imbibed a love potion, jumps into Harry’s bed).
The romantic comedy bits provide welcome relief from the dark thrills and black magic of Half-Blood Prince. More than the earlier installments, though less than the novel, the film lingers on ugly instincts—fear and revenge, pride and prejudice, power and greed.
Around 1940, with war close at hand, many German filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood. Their expressionistic aesthetic fused with American paranoia to create film noir—cheap crime thrillers with high-contrast lighting, oblique camera angles and a persistent sense of pessimism, suspicion and gloom.
A similar sensibility pervades Half-Blood Prince, with its Dark Arts, dementors and Death Eaters, so Yates and his cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel borrow the film noir look. Hogwarts has never been so menacing—cathedral windows cast prison-bar shafts of light onto cold stone passages. Many scenes are staged at night. Even the posters for the film betray the heritage, its text askew, its heroes half-hidden.
Warner Bros. spent more than US$150 million just to market and distribute Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, trying to get people excited enough to line up and buy tickets. This time, the excitement is warranted. But try to be late. With a little luck (drink some Felix Felicis), you’ll skip the ads.