Like: Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

So yeah, I like the Harry Potter books. They’re good. They’re fun. J.K. creates a heck of a world, and best of all she is the perfect kind of amateur writer whose natural style rarely gets in the way of the clarity of her intentions, nor the narrative. Just good, good stuff.

The movies are a slightly different story. I really do hate the first two movies, with the special kind of hate reserved for the things that are so infinitely lazy and inane. Those films are glorified line readings with special effects. Thanks Chris Columbus for your complete lack of effort! One things a direct of cinema would understanding of telling a cinematic story, you know, cimenmatically. Perhaps I’m being harsh. They were servicable most likely, but admittedly the best thing that came out of them was that they were impeccably casted with a stable of A+ british actors and appropriate young kids who were signed up for the long haul.

Things were suddenly righted in the third film when cinema god Alfonso Cuaron, took over and injected the entire thing with a sense of fun and imagination (I realize that’s a generic statement, but it is also an accurate one). It could have been a truly great film had it not made a couple of weird choices that subverted the real essence of some key moments, but none the less it was wonderful to see the world actually come to life, even throw in a few surprises. Next, Mike Newell came along for the forth filmand had a nice solid entry. It was probably the most “traditional” kind of movie, whatever the hell that means, but it helps that the story lends itself to blockbusterish-like tone.

Then some guy named David Yates came in to direct the fifth one. I had never heard of him. He had pretty much just done some BBC tv and that’s it. But after I sat and watched the film I realized that I really liked Mr. Yates. He took a somewhat rambling and unfocused book (it’s great and all, but come on) and turned it into the fastest paced, shortest, and probably most focused film to date (perhaps even a little too rushed to be honest). The young actors, probably just getting more comfortable with age, seemed to have settled into adopting naturalism; their scenes were far less stagey. And the action finally had a kind of weight to it, best personified in the truly thrilling Dumbledore/Voldy fight. But none the less I considered his entry to be visually exciting, more interesting, yet still somehow workman-like. And in a first, since Columbus, Yates was hired back to direct the 6th film.

And now, I’m thrilled he was.

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, is by far the best film of the entire series. It’s a somber film. An layered film. A film that always opts to tell the story through cinematic language when possible. And most of all, the film breathes beautifully. It doen’t feel like a single other film in the series. It feels heavy. Scenes air out and emotions get to run. The film just feels lived in. The young actors seem to be challenged by Yates to step up and do some real adult acting (and some real fun innuendo comes into play as a result).  Seriously, every single actor gets a chance to show depth: Malfoy gets to do reluctance and despair. Hermione gets to feel wounded. Ron gets to do pride, arrogance, and even a nifty little love sap. Harry gets to show unabashed self-confidence (unnatural of course), and even deal with responsibility of maturity. And Dumbledore gets to deal with finality; as Dumbledore, and his subsequent relationship with Harry, is undoubtedly the core of the film. Yates knows this. And he shows it from the start with a wonderful cinematic blurb of an opening (a sort of papparazzo fallout of the fifth film’s battle). Not to get spoilery, but HBP is really a film/book about Dumbledore saying goodbye to Harry, taking him as his confidant, partner, and ultimately successor of sorts. And here, what could be so heavy handed, is told completely with ever look, glance, and cinematic cue.

Even with that strong core, the film truly belongs to Jim Broadbent. Dear god, does he get a chance to shine in this. I’m pretty sure the entire Slughorn role was left completely in tact (or at least it sure felt like it). He does so many things with what could have been a bit of a throwaway role. But he and Yates craft something exceptional here. Not just for a Potter movie, but for any movie. Slughorn gets to show such range: buffoonery, intelligence, pride, terror, emotional paralization, sadness, and deep, inescapable shame. But rather than morph to singular essences of those traits within the moment, he exhibits them from THE singular essence of one character. It is true acting. Embodiying three demensions. His eyes, in every thing he seems to do, simply seem to ache with vulnerability, and therefore humanity. I honestly think it’s one of my favorite performances of the year.

The whole film is just works brilliantly, and it almost feels, dare I say it? High brow. Yikes… but despite all this, there will be Potterites will hate it.

Oh yes, the movie diverts from the book, um… a lot. This irks some people. I do not understand thi.. I mean I get it in the techncial sense, but I go to the movies so I can see something different, something new. Going to simply see a visual word-for-word recreation is nothing more than an exercize in unhealthy internalization, if not mild egocentrism. In some ways I think the HBP is… gulp… better than the book. I’m not so naive as realize that there is a way in which all books are inherently better than their movie counterparts, in that movies naturally lack the depth and scope that comes from the novel format, but movies can exist as something separate and just as good in their own way. So often, book-to-film adaptations try to capture that sense of scope by keeping every single detail. This was the main fault of the first two movies. What HBP instead opts for is by going for the same depth, emotions, and scope by supplanting singular detail (plot or otherwise) with tone, character tension, or even a clever adlib or gesture. Every one of these divergent choices is just immpecable: the simplization of the quidditch tryouts, the added burrow scene, the removal of most of the flashbacks, some added dialogue, the new placement of an infamous kiss, you name it.  These bits and plot changes reek of excitement, effieciency and, to use a word so many times it becomes redundant, depth.

So… I’m on board with David Yates, who has made an incredible movie that mostly deals with human interplay, but just so happens to be a summer tentpole. I can’t remember the last time a popcorn movie had this much weight (hint: it’s not a popcorn movie in the slightest). At first I thought the idea of splitting the last movie into two was a deplorable idea, still technically do. But Yates just entered that special territory, where I’ll be down with anything he does because his work is simply a joy to watch.

In case you couldn’t tell I really liked this movie… Actually, I would have probably liked it even if I hated Harry Potter.

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One Response to Like: Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

  1. asgoodandbetter says:

    Hmm, I agreed with you all the way through the first half of your review. I have no problem with Yates per se, and liked HP5, but this one…well, let’s just say we had differing opinions…

    http://blog.asgoodandbetter.com/2009/07/15/potter/

    …but that’s what makes life fun, isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Cheers,
    N

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