Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Kim Broadbent

As the series has goes on, the Harry Potter films have grown in maturity and complexity as the story and character have dictated. The first two films were directed by Christopher Columbus and were childlike in his straight forward and simple (if not bland)  directing style. In using his vivid imagination, director Alfonso Cuaron made the third film feel like a teenager gaining a sense of style and confidence in a new found independence. The fourth film was directed by Mike Newell and felt more like an epic story of good vs evil as the main characters left their childhood for their first step into adulthood. The fifth and sixth installments have been directed by David Yates who brings a very mature and distinct style to the series. He is also the director who will be finishing out the series by adapting the seventh book into two separate films. 

The first scene of this film sets the tone for the rest of it. The film opens with Harry Potter   (Daniel Radcliffe) standing next to Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and looking exhausted and bewildered after facing Lord Voldermort. The scene promises that the characters are entering dangerous and unsure times. Right after it a group of evil wizards destroy a bridge in London and the daily Wizard newspaper tells us innocent civilians die. The world of Harry Potter is now dangerous and frightening.

Yet, there are somethings that will endure even in the darkest of times. Even though the Wizard World is engulfed in danger there is still time for young love. I really enjoyed the coming of age subplot in this film. These characters are experiencing their first loves and in some cases, their first heartaches. I respect the fidelity that the characters have to their teenage natures in these films. 

Sadly fidelity to the source material is one of the biggest flaws of this film series. Fans of the  books want to see a faithful and complete adaptation and the filmmakers try to give it to them but it isn't always a good thing. I felt like had I never read the book I would not understand the motivations of the characters in this film. Harry, the title character,  doesn't seem to have any motivation in the film other than to be where the story needs him. Compelling characters only have a few scenes to convey an entire story's worth of motivation and emotion. All of the actors are able to do this well but only a few of them are great at it. Gambon is one of the actors who is great at it as well is Tom Felton who plays school bully Draco Malfoy. Felton brings great depth and complexity to his character as he wrestles with his decision  to betray Dumbledore and Hogwarts. It would have been easy to play this character as the cowardly bully who finds himself in over his head. Instead I felt the conflict in the character as to whether or not he wanted to become evil.

It is a credit to the actors and filmmakers that the poor adaptation from book to screenplay doesn't drag the film down. Yates may have to work from a plot checklist to satisfy the fans of the book but he has a deliberate vision for the film. There are dark clouds gathering through out the entire film which foreshadows the storm that is about to break in the lives of the characters. One great sequence features all the main characters preparing for the life changing events that are about to occur. It looks and feels like the calm before the store. 

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. There is one scene that takes places in a wheat field in the dead of night that is gorgeous. The stark contrast between the color of the wheat and the black of the night sky is incredible. 

There is plenty to admire in this film but I felt like I was missing a complete story. I believe that it all comes down to the filmmakers trying to be too faithful to the source material. The fans of the book will always have the books for the entire story. When it comes to the films I wish the filmmakers weren't so afraid to adapt the material from the written page to the screen. It's a totally different media and I wish they gave themselves the freedom to use it to tell the story. I'm hoping that the splitting of the last book into two films will give them the chance to tell the story without all the clutter of a completely faithful adaptation.  It is possible to be faithful to the story and characters without being so restricted by the details. 

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