(No longer in theaters)
David Heyman, David Barron
Warner Bros. Pictures
Jul 15, 2009
Now that we know how the saga ends (with a ho and a hum), Harry Potter feels so … 2008. Kids who started reading J. K. Rowling prepubertally (“He and Cho Chang snog? No way!”) have since moved on to Mormon sexual-repression parables involving vampires, while Little Harry got naked on Broadway and blinded six horses with a metal spike. Undaunted, Warner announced it would prolong its franchise by splitting the underplotted final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two movies. (If they split the second part of that and keep splitting, the series could go on to infinity.) As tag teams of agents and executives labor to convince Dame J.K. that the world desperately needs prequels (Young Dumbledore and the Temple of Doom!), here comes movie No. 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Do we give a damn?
I didn’t, until the film started—and it was splendid! No, it’s not a larky kid-pic. We’re firmly in the realm of English horror, as one set of sallow Brits battles another even sallower. Our villains are racist murderers; our heroes embody tolerance, discipline, and a British public-school education, heavy on Latin—which, when chanted properly behind a wand, can mean the difference between goosing and defenestrating someone. As the aged Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) hears the chimes at midnight, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Ron’s newly sprouted kid sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), struggle to keep their desires (and vindictive hexes) in check while their objects of affection snog other people. If Voldemort (present in this movie only in spirit) were a true evil genius, he’d have abandoned the horcrux nonsense and used their own hormones against them.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves—who adapted earlier Potter tomes with excessive reverence—sat out part five and is in fighting form, cutting a droll path through Rowling’s verbiage. Apart from the fact that no one who hasn’t seen parts one through five will have a clue what’s going on, this barely feels like a sequel. Director David Yates creates Orson Welles–ish multiple levels of action, and when the camera sails around Hogwarts’ turrets, it’s as if the CGI is an extension of the wizards’ magic.
Illustrious British actors pop in and out, intoning their few lines and collecting the paychecks that underwrite their stage work (and country houses). As Professor Snape, either a double or triple agent, Alan Rickman hits new levels of hauteur, breaking up sentences with long, disdainful beats: I counted five seconds between two words, and I’m guessing Dame Maggie Smith bit her tongue to keep from howling. Jim Broadbent shows up as the new professor, Slughorn, and he makes the man at once dotty and haunted, the dottiness keeping his guilt at bay.
Our three protagonists are taller, more polished, more charismatic—after all, they’re movie stars now. But Emma Watson’s Hermione has turned out disappointingly. It’s not Watson’s fault she grew up so pretty, so poised, with such luscious tresses. But someone ought to have reminded the filmmakers that in this boy-centric universe, Hermione is the nerdy-wonky cutie with whom all girls, hot and not, could identify. Now she’s just another cover girl. I found myself wishing for more of the washed-out blonde Evanna Lynch and her glassy singsong as the space case Luna Lovegood, the last female reminder that Harry Potter began as a universe of misfits.