Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Let me set the scene. Dozens upon dozens of fans, some of whom have been waiting since eleven o’clock the morning before, have finally been led into the theatre where their hours of vigilant persistence against the elements will finally be rewarded in a mere matter of minutes when the rousing score of John Williams, set against the Warner Bros. opening logo, unveils the first Harry Potter film in two years. As the fans take their seats, one eager Potter-phile brings himself to the front of the auditorium, dressed in a full black cape, a black witch hat, a yellow foam finger sporting the words, “Harry and the Potters," and his very own wooden wand, as he announces that he wants to lead the entire audience in singing the Harry Potter theme. And, despite some initial audience “criticisms," sure enough several rows of people begin singing in unison as conducted by this awkward, but determined, young man. Now if that’s not evidence enough of the Harry Potter midnight experience, I’m not sure what is. And that is exactly what my friends and I experienced last night. I witnessed fans attempting to steal Harry Potter posters; a woman goes amongst the crowd to “sort” each person with her very own “sorting hat;" news cameras cover the frenzy; and I even had an interviewer ask me my thoughts on why there were more kids waiting in line than adults (a very complex question, I know). It’s all just part of the midnight experience, and if you haven’t had the pleasure, I’d suggest you do it at least once in your life because there’s a sort of magic at the heart of it. Fans of all shapes and sizes have come together to share an experience, and even if the movie isn’t half as good as you expected, it doesn’t matter because it’s the wait itself that made it worth it and the memories that you’ll share with friends and family for years to come.
Now, to the movie. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (opening July 15 throughout San Diego), as if you didn’t know already, is the sixth installment in the Harry Potter franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series about the adventures of a group of young wizards and witches at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but is it any good? Well, for the short answer, yeah, it’s pretty good. Now, here’s the long answer. I’ve had an interesting history with this franchise. I read the first book, and well I hated it. I just didn’t see what everyone saw in this story about a parentless wizard who’s destined to take on “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." When the films came out, I saw them and again I was not impressed. In fact, it didn’t happen until June of 2004 when the third Potter Film, “Prisoner of Azkaban," was released that I was finally opened to all the wonders this world had to offer. It impressed me so much that I went back and read all the books from the first until the fifth. So, since then, I’ve had a reasonable interest in the franchise; I’ve watched all the subsequent films, but when this sixth book came out, I just wasn’t interested enough to read it. Thus, this makes the first time in a while I’ve gone into a Potter film without reading the novel befor ehand. Obviously, I knew the major character who would not be making it back for the next one, but outside of that I really didn’t know what exactly I was getting into.
That said, I came out really impressed by this installment. It’s a definite improvement over the fifth film, which I wasn’t particularly fond of. But luckily filmmaker David Yates, who also filmed “Order of the Phoenix," has stepped up to the plate for this film delivering one of the most visually impressive, if not the most, film in the franchise. The ways he manages to turn Rowling’s universe into life is at times mindblowingly cool, like the way he shows what really happens when Dumbledore and Harry “apparate” (essentially a form of teleportation) or how the memories Dumbledore’s collected come to life once poured into his wonderful floating water dish thing. In addition to Yates’ improved direction, the cast is at top form; especially newcomer to the franchise Jim Broadbent, who plays Professor Horace Slughorn, a former Hogwarts professor invited back by Dumbledore only so he can have access to a memory involving Slughorn and a young Voldemort, then know as Tom Riddle.
The film does a wonderful job of handling its central characters as they finally begin to make the transition away from the moody adolescent drama of the past few films toward becoming more stable, mature characters who are finally coming face to face with all the dark realities that surround them. The major problem with the film comes down to the fact that this film is just too held back by the fact that the filmmakers have undeniably labeled this film as the “set-up” film for the coming final chapter(s), which will undoubtedly provide fans with the epic Potter film they’ve all been waiting for. Because of this, it’s really hard for this film to really feel like it stands on its own. Instead, we are treated to a film with its major priority being getting these characters from point A to point B so they’ll be ready for the big brawl at the end. There are certainly some very strong elements in this film, from the incredible cinematography to the wonderful humor to some terrifically poignant and wonderfully eerie moments. I just wish they had gone the extra mile to make this film feel more fully developed and given time to elaborate on more. I want more Tom Riddle flashbacks, more conversations with Harry and Dumbledore, and more time with some of the more short-changed characters in this film, especially Hagrid. Fans will inevitably have more nitpicking than I could ever supply since I haven’t read the book. But, I can say this, I am very much looking forward to the final Potter films now that the filmmakers have begun to make up for some of their previous shortcomings and, after seeing this film, I have tremendous faith in these actors to give everything they have to these characters as we get closer and closer to the time that "Deathly Hollows, Part 2" (yes they’re splitting the 7th into 2 films) opens in summer 2011, when fans will witness the exploits of Potter and crew for the very last time.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality.
--Michael Shymon just graduated from The Bishop's School. He has had an avid passion for film since he was about 5. He enjoys acting, writing, watching movies, as well as making his own films. He will be attending NYU Tisch Film School next year and hopes that all this movie watching will one day pay off.