"Half-Blood Prince" casts a thrilling spell

July 20, 2009, midnight | By Deepa Chellappa | 12 years, 10 months ago

Latest Potter potion is a complex and enticing brew

Six films in, the Hogwarts Express shows no sign of running out of steam. Perhaps the most anticipated film of the summer, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is an almost seamless blend of comedy, romance, action and magic. Director David Yates appropriately captures the dark, horrifying mood that envelops the wizarding world while interspersing the comedic woes of our favorite adolescent wizards with stunning cinematography that will leave even those uneducated in matters of bezoars and Devil's Snare completely spellbound.

The entire film resonates with a sense of gravity and urgency, the perfect set-up for the final movies of the saga. The wizards are now 16, in a pivotal year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Though he is never directly shown on screen, Lord Voldemort's ominous presence is distinctly felt. He has assembled an army of malevolent henchment, the Death Eaters, who menace the wizarding and mortal worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the refuge it had been for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson).

Meanwhile, the surly Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry's sworn enemy, is seen skulking off in the school's corridors, struggling with a terrible mission he has been assigned by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself. Harry works with Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to thwart Voldemort, hoping that by learning about Voldemort's tumultous past, they will be able to finally destroy him and restore hope to their world.

One of the grand pleasures of the Harry Potter movies remains the way in which they move between somber and funny, dark and light. The imagery is astonishingly beautiful, with mindblowing shots of the castle grounds surrounded by snow, powerful fire destroying dead bodies that rise out of a lake to attack Harry and rushing water surrounding the cave that supposedly contains 1/7 of Voldemort's soul. And when you start to feel overwhelmed by the tenseness of any particular scene, Ron Weasley appears on cue with his bemused facial expression and shaggy haircut to awkwardly stuff a pie in his mouth and make us pity his total lack of knowledge about the opposite sex.

The comedy mostly relies on Harry, Ron and Hermione's messy situations with their objects of affection. The love triangle (square? pentagon?) stays true to author J.K. Rowling's portrayal of teen angst while poking fun at the main characters' merciless and raging hormones. When our hero's fame makes the Hogwarts girls infatuated with Harry, Hermione can't suppress a little hint of resentment. "She's only interested in you," Hermione retorts when one girl flutters her eyelashes at Harry in the library, "because she thinks you're the Chosen One." Harry's playful reply has a matter-of-fact finality: "I am the Chosen One." That's his destiny - although he receives a handy smack on the head from Hermione for his pompousness.

Besides the trio around which the novels revolve, the supporting actors play their roles magnificently. Draco Malfoy, whom Harry repeatedly catches sneaking around the castle with a sinister look on his face, is more interesting and engrossing in this movie than in any other as he wrestles with his fate and the terrible task to which he has been assigned. Felton has finally mastered his role, developing far beyond the typical stale sneer that epitomized Draco in earlier films. With a hank of platinum hair brushed immaculately across his forehead and a meticulous black blazer over turtleneck, Felton brings a previously unseen sympathetic quality to Malfoy.

Even better is Alan Rickman's Snape, who is a central character from here on out in the movies. Rickman makes each snarly pause powerfully ring out. At one point, when Hermione and Ron's girlfriend become engaged in an awkward competition over Ron at his bedside, Rickman's facial expression of absolute loathing and scorn is priceless.

Perhaps the main fault devoted Potter fans will find with this latest installment is its deviation from the book. Though the differences between the movie and the book are slight and intended to keep the movie under three hours, they are noticeable and lamentable. In fact, the film's most important development, that of the Horcruxes, almost feels like an afterthought to the frequent scenes of snogging and heartbreak.

Yet the movie is arguably the best of the Harry Potter series, striking the perfect balance between love and drama with superb acting and even finer directing. True, the movies have yet to reach or surpass the high expectations set by Rowling's fantastic novels and dedicated fans, but with its smooth handling of teen yearning and affection, "Half-Blood Prince" maneuvers mysteries of the heart that abound in worlds both magic and Muggle.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (153 minutes) is rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Deepa Chellappa. The high point of Deepa's life thus far occurred when she waved to Mickey Mouse at a Disney World parade and he blew her a kiss in return. Needless to say, she hates Minnie with a passion. In her free time, Deepa can be found … More »

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