July 24, 2009

New Harry Potter movie is short on effects, yet charms with comedy

Reviewed by Kamilla Benko (Special to The Criterion)

“Harry, you need to shave, my friend,” Professor Albus Dumbledore tells an angular-faced Harry Potter.

It’s a not so subtle reference that Harry and his Hogwarts friends are growing up. But it’s a reminder that isn’t really necessary.

From the first 10 minutes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it is clear that the teenage wizard has more to face than just wizard terrorists. He must also cope with a simmering cauldron of hormones and all the awkward moments that come with it.

In the movie, directed by David Yates, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), return to Hogwarts under difficult times. The evil Lord Voldemort is causing havoc in both the magical and non-magical worlds. (Related story: Harry Potter and Catholicism: Shedding light on Catholic themes in Hogwarts)

While Hogwarts is still a haven in the wizard universe, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), the Hogwarts headmaster, begins to prepare Harry for the dark times that surely must come. This year, Dumbledore has charged Harry with a special task: He must befriend the new teacher, Professor Horace Slughorn. If he does not, Dumbledore warns his protégé, “We leave the fate of the world up to chance.”

Meanwhile, Harry tries to sidestep heartache as he begins to develop feelings for Ginny, Ron’s little sister played by Bonnie Wright.

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, praised Half-Blood Prince for finding the “right balance” of adolescent love. The budding romance is tastefully conducted on screen and is fun for the audience, but does not detract from the main plot.

Many reviews have complained that Half-Blood Prince is a dark movie. But compared to the fourth and fifth installments, this movie is sprinkled with light-hearted laughs (as reflected by its PG rating).

Most of the comedic elements come from the new romantic tension between Hermione and Ron that provides many cringe-worthy moments—both intentional and non-intentional.

While the Harry Potter movies are known for their explosive magical effects, the acting in the series has mostly been sub par—until now. Though there is the occasional bad-acting moment, they are fewer and farther between than in earlier movies.

The talent is most notable in scenes with Tom Felton, the actor who plays Harry’s school nemesis, Draco Malfoy, and Alan Rickman, always a chillingly convincing Severus Snape. Scenes with these actors snap along with tension and also engender a surprising amount of sympathy.

Jim Broadbent is a good addition to the supporting cast. As the slightly inebriated Slughorn, he kept the laughs flowing with his ill-concealed self-advancement plans.

This movie contains more dialogue and fewer special effects than previous movies in this series, but fans looking for a visual spectacular will enjoy the climactic cave scene.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a Harry Potter fan and was one of the millions of children who anxiously awaited each new book. That being said, I am more of a fan of the Potter books than I am of the movies.

I was slightly disappointed by what was added and altered in the film. But I can understand why the director made the changes that he did. I believe the movie was true to the general essence of the book.

Half-Blood Prince is a solid addition to the movie franchise and, while it is certainly not the best movie I have ever seen, is the best Potter movie to date.

(Kamilla Benko, a sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington and member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, is a summer intern at The Criterion.)

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