Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2009

Fast times at Hogwarts High

The specters of love and death clash in 'Half-Blood Prince'

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright and Tom Felton
Rated PG / 2 hours, 33 minutes
Opened July 15, 2009
(out of four)

Unconquerable forces are encroaching on Harry Potter in his sixth year at Hogwarts, throwing his very existence into chaos and threatening the bonds that hold him and his allies together.

No, I'm not talking about Voldemort and all that "fate of the world" stuff. I'm talking about girls.

Since our adolescent heroes first discovered their libidos in the last film, the situation has only grown more dire. Never mind the pending return of the Dark Lord - there are dates to go on, rivalries to get involved in, and mischievous folks mucking about with love potions.

The romantic entanglements in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince crossed with the genuinely sinister elements at work against the forces of Good could theoretically create a sort of thematic imbalance. Not so. Instead, director David Yates refuses to see the two as mutually exclusive.

To Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson) and everyone else, the emotional agonies that befall them - temporary or not - are much more urgent and much more real than any of the dangers facing them in the coming weeks, months and years. The film series has become specifically about their entrance into the adult world.

Yates has made these last two films an elegy to his characters' collective childhood, and an initiation into everything else life has in store for them. It is about them coming to understand what they're really up against.

Harry has had and will have the toughest road, and you could argue that he truly came of age during the climactic scenes of Order of the Phoenix. His experiences in Half-Blood Prince only grow in consequence - not the least of which is his budding interest in the opposite sex, in particular Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright).

He's not alone there, either. The tension between Ron and Hermione is growing as well (without the former realizing it, of course). The vast majority of the film's first half focuses on the amorous maneuverings and growing sexual tension of Hogwarts' teenage inhabitants. Yates and writer Steve Kloves approach it with sharp comedic observation, presenting the pitfalls of teenage romance in all its naked honesty.

The darker elements of the story come into play gently, almost as distractions for the characters that, after a time, simply can't be ignored any longer. With Voldemort's return imminent, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has concentrated all his efforts on fighting the inevitable - with Harry as his noble and trusting accomplice.

He has secured the services of retired professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, bringing a jittery anxiety to the performance). Slughorn was once a favorite tutor of one Tom Riddle, who eventually grew up to become Voldemort. Dumbledore commissions Harry to get close to Slughorn to uncover secrets that could have massive consequences.

Complicating matters is the odious Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who we discover is somehow in league with the Death Eaters - with Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in apparent collusion as well.

One of the strengths Yates has displayed during the last two films is his stylistic dexterity. He goes where the material takes him - refusing to shy away from either the comedy of every awkward romantic liaison or the violence infringing upon the souls of Harry, his friends and all of Hogwarts.

One scene in Half-Blood Prince is particularly evocative - an ominous chase sequence in a field of wheat brought to life by handheld cameras and a frightening atmosphere that serves as a reminder just how delicate is the balance between normalcy and jeopardy.

Two other sequences in particular stand out - one inside a cavern and another atop the Astronomy Tower that features a devastating reveal shot. Yates, who paid his dues on smaller-scale British work before taking over this franchise, has demonstrated an impressive flair for dramatic setpieces.

With Yates also helming the final two Potter films - the final book split into two movies - the series is in good hands. And after its uninspired beginning with the sluggish incompetence of Chris Columbus, the series has taken off under the guidance of three actual directors - from the poetic elegance and wit of Alfonso Cuaron's Prisoner of Azkaban (easily the best of the series) to the tonal shifts and excitement brought by Mike Newell in Goblet of Fire and now to Yates, who has proven more than worthy of handling the rapidly changing landscapes of the Harry Potter-verse.

In Half-Blood Prince, he deftly positions his characters' emotional well-being against the looming fate of their entire world, both elements mirroring the other. In doing so, he has prepared them - and us - for their entrance into adulthood.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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