Eugene Weekly : Movies : 7.16.09


Growing Up Harry
There’s no place like Hogwarts
by Molly Templeton

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: Directed by David Yates. Written by Steve Kloves, based on the book by J.K. Rowling. Cinematography, Bruno Delbonnel. Music, Nicholas Hooper. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Bonnie Wright, Alan Rickman and Jim Broadbent. Warner Bros., 2009. 153 minutes. PG.

Let’s be honest: If you haven’t been keeping up with the Potters, you’re not likely to start now. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth film in the series, isn’t going to hold your hand through a rehash of all that’s gone before. At times, it’s clearly expecting the viewer to fill in a bit of context memorized during her repeated readings of the novel. But if director David Yates (returning from the disappointing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and screenwriter Steve Kloves occasionally coast on fans’ intense familiarity with J.K. Rowling’s novel, for the most part they do well with Prince, a satisfying, somber yet funny story which carefully sets the stage for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Prince begins in the Muggle world, where dark wizards tear a bridge from its moorings as they race past in inky black blurs. In the wizarding world, people are disappearing, and no one feels safe. When we meet Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), he’s alone in an Underground café, a copy of wizarding newspaper The Daily Prophet between him and a pretty Muggle waitress. It’s the first of many reminders that Harry and his friends are becoming adults, a notion the filmmakers reinforce with muted tones and darker hallways, plainer costumes and light that, when it’s not downright cold, shines much less brassily golden than before. But there are constants, such as Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who quickly whisks Harry away from the waitress and off on the first of several trips — many of which involve not physical journeys but creepy walks down other people’s memory lanes. Dumbledore, suspecting a weakness, is trying to piece together the history of the man now known as Lord Voldemort.

While Dumbledore roams the world outside Hogwarts’ well-protected walls, smaller, more intimate — and more satisfying — dramas play out within. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are at odds thanks to his dalliance with the giddy, annoying Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave). The still-budding attraction between Harry and the youngest Weasley, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), has the glow of inevitability, but Wright and Radcliffe play it out with sweetness, warmth and few words; when Ginny goes tearing into the night after Harry, who’s chasing after the woman who killed his closest family member, no one says anything. No one needs to.

Half-Blood Prince isn’t exactly more than the sum of its parts; instead, its parts are more than its whole. There’s no epic narrative in this film. Small threads reconnect the series’ themes and the characters’ relationships. One thread is friendship, whether the strained one between Hermione and Ron or the delicate, gentle one between Harry and oddball Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), whose ability to be self-aware without ever being self-conscious is truly magical. One thread is a surprising dollop of comedy: A love potion and a vial of liquid luck give Grint and Radcliffe the chance to play loopy and loose with their characters. One thread wraps around the story of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), which plays out in terse looks and repetition; when Draco’s fury boils to the surface in a rooftop confrontation, it’s an unleashing of the tension he’s carried in his narrow shoulders for longer than we’ve seen. And the largest of these threads pulls tightly about the notion of home. By the end of Prince, it’s clear that nowhere is safe. The dark looms ever closer.

For those of us with visions of Hogwarts in our heads, the Potter films will likely always feel like shorthand for the books. But Prince carefullly splits the difference between the dark wizards’ threats and the beautiful, familiar school grounds, between the epic ultimate goal and the personal journeys that will carry the characters to their ends. This Potterverse looks engrossingly real; these Potter kids, with their complex relationships and broken hearts, are ready for their last scenes, no matter how bittersweet.