Saturday, 15 February 2014

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

“Excuse me, I have to go and vomit.”

I think I may have reached a turning point. I’ve enjoyed all the Harry Potter films, but up until now I have somewhat regretted the increasing seriousness of the films, in contrast to the sense of fun and wonder which the first film had. With this one, though, I may be starting to appreciate the more serious later films without pining for a more innocent past. This is probably because the ongoing plot and character development begins to bear real fruit at this point.

We begin with Harry and Dumbledore and a load of iconic London landmarks, which are looking very cinematic and presented as magical, in a way which evokes Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and the works of China Mieville. A bit of a scrap occurs and the Millennium Bridge is destroyed with delightful gusto. It’s an exciting beginning, which sets us up for a dramatic film. There’s a bit of exposition as the pair visit an old pall of Dumbledore’s, Horace Slughorn, who is to be the new potions teacher and who has a very convincing armchair costume!

Probably the most interesting character in all of these films, partly because of Alan Rickman’s performance, is Snape, who has until now seemed to be a red herring. However, a visit from Bellatrix leads to the revelation that he is apparently a baddie! The fact that he later (SPOILER ALERT!!!) murders Dumbledore, is another subtle hint! But for now it’s a shock to see him swearing allegiance to the Mallfoy’s and to Voldemort himself.

Eventually, term finally starts, although not before some argy-bargy in the train (again). Snape is the new defence against the dark-arts teacher and is suspiciously ineffective in the role. There is a new MacGuffin in the form of Tom Riddle’s diary, and a new emphasis on unease between everyone at Hogwarts. Harry’s possessiveness over the diary drives a wedge between him and his friends, while the mutual attraction between Hermione and Ron, what with them being teenagers in a movie, predictably leads to denial and awkwardness between them. Once again, as with previous Harry Potter films, and indeed with Buffy, the moral is clearly that a hero needs friends.

It’s an uncomfortable term, ending on the most uncomfortable note as Harry overhears Snape with Draco. The plot thickens as Harry discovers that Tom Riddle has a past with Slughorn which he is unwilling to discuss. Slughorn is not the only link to potions; in this film they positively abound, and Ron seems to be under the influence of a love potion. Slughorn, meanwhile, is soon the victim of an attempted poisoning. Things continue to go from bad to worse, and Tom Riddle’s diary is a sort of ring to Harry’s Frodo.

Fortunately there is such a thing as liquid luck. There is also such a thing as Hagrid, who is, as ever, a good friend. As soon as the gang gets back together, all friends again, things begin to look up, and for the first time we discover what horcruxes are, and the quest to destroy them all begins. This is, in fact, the beginning of the end of the film series, and a suitable point for Dumbledore, the father figure, to be killed off! This is a shocking event. It seems that Snape was the Half-Blood Prince after all. It is up to Harry and his friends to fulfil Dumbledore’s mission, destroy the horcruxes and vanquish Voldemort.

I enjoyed that. It was dark, but had an epic quality that previous films have not. If the final two films are anything like this then I will enjoy the ride!

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