It’s safe to say that the end is nigh for Harry Potter, with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, what should be the next-to-last instalment of his cinematic adventures—but fans should take heart as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be split into two parts (to be released on November 19, 2010 and July 15, 2011 respectively). But this is the first film to be released after fervent readers found out what happens at the very end (the previous film was released two weeks before the last book ), and that knowledge casts quite a shadow over the proceedings as we look at the characters through the prism of what’s in store for them.
It’s also the first Potter film to be released after the franchise gave up its accustomed November slot, filled last year by the first part of the Twilight series, which was a worldwide smash and starred former Potter star Robert Pattinson. Fans of both series (in print and in the cinema) are extremely passionate and are keen to see the books they love translated almost word-for-word on screen. The Potter films have been excellent at achieving this and the first Twilight was equally lavish in its accuracy. But now that the Potter audience is ageing along with the movies, bringing it more in line with Twilight’s teen audience, can they both co-exist at the box office?
On Half-Blood Prince, David Yates takes up directing duties again after Order of the Phoenix, which proved he’s able to balance comedic moments with the dark tone that has settled over these later instalments. And he’s proved himself very able to get defter performances from his young charges, who have much more to get their teeth into this time round. The three principals now have an easy familiarity that shows real affection for each other. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson get a highly emotional ride, and Rupert Grint, who always enjoys the lighter moments of his character (the effects on him of a love potion are hysterical), moves centre stage for once. Special mention here should go to Tom Felton, who really conveys Draco Malfoy’s fear and bravado as he goes about his terrifying task, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley and Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood also add their usual scene-stealing touches, and Jessie Cave shows why she beat more than 7,000 girls to bring a delightful touch to Lavender Brown in her pursuit of her ‘Won-Won’.
On the adult side, Michael Gambon invests Dumbledore with a wistful grandeur that makes his death all the more shocking, and Jim Broadbent captures Horace Slughorn’s essential sliminess while still retaining his humanity. For me, Helena Bonham-Carter is too irritatingly mad and rather too Amy Winehouse as Bellatrix Lestrange, but I would have been happy to see a little more of Helen McCrory, who was thrown away as Narcissa Malfoy. But then quite a few of the ‘regulars’ seemed barely there, too. Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman seem especially short-changed, as always.
During the films’ production, special effects have evolved, adding an extra level of wonder to the film. They make the Quidditch even more thrilling, the almost casualness of the magic more organic and the magic duels even more perilous. At the beginning, there’s a terrifying sequence as the Death Eaters twist and destroy London’s ‘wobbly’ bridge, bringing their dark magic into our world (one of two scenes added to the film, the other being an attack on the Weasley’s home). For me, one of the most effective scenes comes at the end as Hogwarts’ great hall is effectively destroyed, its windows smashed and the floating candles extinguished—it’s so well realised that you feel as if another beloved character has been killed.
Parents of smaller fans be warned, however—the film is two hours and 33 minutes long.