While the third film in
the series, the Alfonso Cuaron directed
Prisoner of Azkaban, remains its artistic high point, David
Yates’ two most recent instalments in the Harry Potter franchise are
polished and engaging. Charting the ever rising influence of the
nefarious Lord Voldemort, Half-Blood
Prince alternates between those dark and ominous rumblings and
the frothy teen romances developing between the leads. These two equally
intriguing halves dance around each other but pull us in different
directions. The two never satisfyingly converge.
A new Hogwarts staff member is custom in each new episode, and here Jim
Broadbent plays the newly appointed potions teacher, Horace Slughorn.
His appointment is a ruse concocted by Dumbledore, who is attempting,
though Harry, to exploit Slughorn’s knowledge of Voldemort’s past.
Meanwhile, the Dark Lord has given Draco a difficult and dangerous task
akin to Anakin Skywalker’s Faustian moment of lopping off Count Dooku's
head. To aid Draco on his mission, his mother and the scene stealing
Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) coerce the delicious Alan
Rickman’s Severus Snape into a magical agreement to act as his
protector. Concurrently – and tangentially – we also follow the romantic
entanglements of the hormone-infused leads, which include Harry’s
growing affection for Ginny and Hermione’s crush on the oblivious Ron.
Drenched in Gothic greys and blacks, visually the film is a wonder, but
unlike the earlier films, even The
Goblet of Fire, the tone is overly drab and melancholy. No doubt
foreshadowing events to follow in the final chapter (Deathly
Hallows, split in two), much of what occurs merely seems to be a
lull before the storm. Even the momentous death near the film’s end, no
doubt known to most, fails to deliver the emotional punch it should.
Despite the inherent perils of telling a story with the same characters
– and same villain – over a half dozen movies, each film has nonetheless
worked on its own terms. It's a feat which few other series can claim.
More akin to a TV show (or a series of novels, perhaps?), each episode
contributes to the arc while still retaining its own satisfying
structure. In Half-Blood Prince,
the structure works as a means of getting Harry, Ron and Hermoine in a
position for the final act, but less so as a stand alone narrative. With
a less easily defined plot that seems to amount to zero by the end,
character development becomes prominent, a characteristic which makes
the story impenetrable to those who have at very least not seen all of
the previous films.
This two-disc high-definition package offers a pristine visual and sound
transfer. One would expect nothing less from such a recent high-profile
release. The special features include a “maximum movie mode”, a Blu-ray
exclusive, where one is able to select features at scene-specific points
throughout the film.
The features available on the DVD release are presented on the second
disc. Emphasising the Potter juggernaut over content, these features are
directed towards the younger cohort of fans, with the young stars
presenting short segments on the major facets of the production. Also on
the disc is a 45 minute documentary entitled “J.K. Rowling: A Year in
the Life”, a preview of the Harry Potter theme park to be built in
Orlando, Florida, which looks suitably kitsch but will no doubt send
fans into a frenzy, and a stack of deleted scenes. Were it not for the
already extended running time of a shy over two and a half hours, some
of these transitional scenes would have added to the film and made it
more easily comprehensible to the uninitiated.
Beautifully crafted, Harry Potter and
the Half-Blood Prince is an example of what an A-list blockbuster
should be: well-made, entertaining and sophisticated. Whatever its
narrative shortcomings as a stand alone story, most telling is that, by
the end, one feels the next installment can't come soon enough.