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Thursday, July 16, 2009 02:12 pm

Half-Blood Prince continues Potter’s compelling spell

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, middle, and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

A sense of doom and foreboding hangs over David Yates’ adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth chapter in J.K. Rowling’s pop culture epic. That the books continued to captivate readers throughout their entire run is no surprise as the author’s storytelling style is compelling, while her plan to have the characters and their story become darker to reflect our times proved an irresistible hook. That the films have been able to reflect this, with a variety of directors, is a miraculous achievement unparalleled in film history.

Yates wastes little time here, as we find Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his mentor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) visiting retired professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) in an effort to convince him to return to Hogwart’s Academy to teach. They are successful, primarily because many magicians are being picked off by the evil Death Eaters, and the elderly instructor is looking for a place to hide. As is par for the course, Dumbledore has an ulterior motive as he hopes Harry will be able to retrieve a key memory from Slughorn that will allow them to discover some truths about their enemy Valdemort’s past that will help them defeat him.

All of the main and supporting characters pop up at some point during the proceedings. Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and his young charge Malfoy (Tom Felton) enter into bargains that will cost them dearly; Ron (Rupert Grint) finds success on the quidditch field while remaining oblivious to Hermione’s (Emma Watson) attraction to him; and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) wreaks havoc for havoc’s sake whenever she appears.

Each of these characters move the plot along in their own way, but the focal point of the film is Harry’s continued maturity as a magician and man and Dumbledore’s efforts to pass the torch of responsibility to him. Their efforts to learn the truth about Slughorn’s connection to Valdemort is a dire one that takes them to the darkest of places which require sacrifices Harry isn’t prepared to make. This is the boy’s last lesson before embarking on his final trial and it is to Radcliffe’s credit that he conveys the subtle changes the character goes through.

The sense of reality that has been created throughout this entire series is remarkable. The attention to detail in these films is remarkable and each meticulously rendered bit from the clothing, sets, props and even the weather help create a sense of reality in this unreal place. We’ve become emotionally invested in Hogwart’s and all who go there, thanks to the fine work of all involved, which elevates these films above their genre roots.

Some may say that this entry in the series is nothing more than a bridge to the tale’s climax, that it does nothing more than bide a bit of time. However, the fact that this is more a character study of Harry makes this the strongest film yet, as it strengthens our emotional attachment to him and the entire cast. The film does not end with the sort of grand action sequence we’ve come to expect. Rather, it opts for introspection and reflection in the face of a monumental tragedy. This is the calm before the storm and there’s a sense of urgency to Harry’s fate. Half-Blood Prince does a masterful job laying the foundation for what promises to be a satisfying conclusion to not only an exceptional cinematic achievement, but an emotionally satisfying saga as well.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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