Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movie Review: Sixth Harry Potter is charmingly silly, but unevenly paced

Warning: This post may contain some minor spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Any fan of the Harry Potter books can tell you that the novels aren't all fun and games. Despite containing elements of humor and whimsy, each novel in the series is progressively darker than its predecessor thanks to high death tolls and not-so-childish themes.

So it's no surprise that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the latest installment in the Harry Potter film series, presents us with a bleak world awash in sepia tones, blues and grays. But the film also doesn't let us forget that we're watching a story that focuses largely on the adventures of a sixteen-year-old wizard at boarding school. As a result, there are a surprising amount of laughs — especially during the middle chunk of the film. [bxA]

The humorous scenes are easily among the best part of this sixth Harry Potter movie. Star Daniel Radcliffe is at his finest while making jokes about being the "Chosen One" and acting loopier than usual after ingesting a good luck potion. While the digs at the young actors' teenage hormones are almost predictable at times (yes, there's even a not-so-subtle "doing it" line that makes its way in), these are also some of the most charming moments in the film — moments that might cause viewers to fondly recall their own school days.

The acting is also greatly improved in parts — Daniel Radcliffe seems a bit more natural as Harry and Rupert Grint continues to do a great job as Ron Weasley. And I'll admit that Emma Watson's portrayal of Hermione Granger is a lot more subtle than it was in her Goblet of Fire days, when her eyebrows seemed to do most of the emoting. But due to some factor — perhaps the directing — there are times where the trio seems to fall flat in their more emotional scenes. And this is frankly an issue that appears in other parts of the movie, with older and younger actors alike.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the transitional portion of a very epic narrative. Even the novel that the film is based on is slowly paced, focusing more on revelations instead of action-packed climaxes — though it does end with a massive character death and some all-out chaos.

However, while the novel conveys a sense of urgency and does a fine job of illustrating its characters' frenzied emotional states, the film falls flat in this department. When the aforementioned character death happens, the characters' reactions — with the exception of Harry's — seem wooden. When a classmate falls prey to a cursed necklace and has a spectacularly violent seizure in front of other students, everyone stands around almost expressionlessly before deciding what needs to be done next.

Even the way the film is paced — taking its sweet time before the characters actually get to school and just squeezing in the final climax and revelations — takes away from the sense of urgency that should be present throughout. Yes, the cinematography and color schemes, as well as some excellently-shot-and-acted flashbacks focusing on young Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort), give the audience a feeling that Harry Potter's world is currently very sinister. But the decision to cut other aspects of backstory, and the extremely abrupt manner in which the identity of the "Half-Blood Prince" is revealed, plays a considerable part in weakening the film's consistency.

Let's hope these issues are resolved by the time the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hits the big screen in two parts. Love or hate the series, the passion found in the novels really needs to shine — once and for all — on the big screen.

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