One of the most anticipated films of some time is certainly Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which we've learned will be filmed as one film and released in two parts. So what of the Empire Strikes Back-esque 6th film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?
When Half-Blood was released as a book some years ago, it became the first real Harry Potter meme, as in something on the level of a "rick roll" or "All Your Base."
Truth, the final chapters and the word regarding characters Snape and Dumbledore became bumperstickers, pins, t-shirts, and Livejournal icons. So what is the biggest open secret going to be like on film? We're left waiting, gripped to our seats with one unfortunate thought in mind, "How are they going to fuck this up?"
Nevertheless, such a scene takes place deep into the film, so we must go along the storytelling that Half-Blood takes a mature, steadfast focus on. There's Quidditch, but there's less Quidditch, and furthermore, it's storytelling Quidditch--nothing comes off as fanciful and "Look what we can do!" No winking at the camera, and even the very funny bits (of which there are many) come off as adult and clever. Chris Columbus is far, far away.
Naturally, Harry Potter as a series has always featured a cream-of-the-crop talent file that has included nearly everyone except Johnny Depp (who alas, is not British and such is a caveat to casting). Kenneth Branagh, Miranda Richardson, Imelda Staunton, Julie Christie, Dawn French, Ralph Fiennes, Frances de la Tour, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Richard Griffiths, and still others have all made appearances so far (Staunton's expected for movie #7), and the returning crew has remained consistently charming. Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, and Robbie Coltrane are all back and not necessarily as expected.
It's almost a shame to list such incredible, cemented talent first since the films have gone to great lengths to prove the worthiness of its three talents that were undiscovered but 8 and a half years ago. Daniel Radcliffe--freshly from Broadway's couldn't-be-more-different Equus, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have long been the heart and soul of the films, and with the release of Movie 7.5 in July '11, will hopefully escape typecasting because they are all excellent. Certainly if Twilight's Robert Pattinson (Goblet of Fire Cedric) turns out to be the only breakout success from this series, we've all been very much deceived.
When last we saw the Potter folk, Voldemort (Fiennes) had revealed himself so many times that even the reluctant Ministry of Magic had to admit his presence. His followers of old have restarted their mission to lay claim to the magic world, which includes getting rid of the good wizards, the half/mud-bloods that they view as impure, and generally causing havoc. Amongst them include Bellatrix LeStrange (Bonham Carter) who has recently murdered off patriot Sirius Black, long misunderstood for his involvement with the murders of Potters' parents and Harry's beloved godfather with whom he shares a bond complicated by Black's status as ex-con.
Ok, so Bellatrix survived a brief confrontation with HP, Dumbledore and Voldemort attempted to beat the respective snot out of each other (in a duel got me reminded of Yoda va. Dooku... feeble vs. evil and feeble winning out), and now we're ready for the BIG BATTLE. Sort of. No fools, the evil wizards want Dumbledore out of the way fairly quietly so that the big attack will be that much more of a sweeping victory. So much of movie #6 has us waiting for someone to toss Dumbledore in carbonite so we're all bummed and ready for the resistance to finally win in the final chapter.
Rickman as the ever-complicated Snape is back, who in an early scene we learn has an invested interest in Dumbledore's outcome. Having helped Harry resist the Dark Lord's mental advances, and even saving him from certain death a few times, we're given a sideswipe when he makes an unbreakable vow to Draco Malfoy's icy mother to protect Draco and help him carry out his purpose. In no uncertain terms, we're all "wuuuuh?" when we learn that Snape, while clearly troubled by his decision, now has no choice but to do some very bad things.
Harry is well on his way to becoming an Auror (hunter of evil wizards), and under the tutelage of veteran professor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) who was an influential teacher to Voldemort back when he was a young lad named Tom Riddle. Through several tactics the long way around, we find out precisely how influential and to what end Slughorn is responsible for current events.
Well filmed, well acted, and especially well paced, this is probably the best filmed of the Harry Potter series, second only to perhaps Prisoner of Azkaban (film #3) in terms of storytelling. Michael Gambon is especially affecting as the wise codger Dumbledore, Daniel Radcliffe himself as Harry Potter who shows impressive range, and Emma Watson, who is occasionally heartbreaking as the unrequited love interest to Ron whilst maintaining her own strengths and characterization herself and not just being The Wouldbe Girlfriend.
Thomas Felton, who plays Draco, spends much of the film moping about, looking twisted and uncomfortable. Perhaps the film does linger a bit too often on "Oh, yes, meanwhile, Draco's still not feeling very well about his destiny." But it's a slight complaint considering how good his very first and final scenes are. His mother, newcomer to the celluloid, Narcissa (Helen McCrory) is quite interesting as well, and we can only hope she shows up again as effectively for movie 7 and 7.5. Bonham Carter is every inch Bellatrix (who, as the press will make sure is drilled into your head, was the second choice for Bellatrix as McCrory had to cancel her version of the role in film 5 because of pregnancy) and used beautifully.
Rounding out the cast is naturally Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine), Hogwarts' groundskeeper who says goodbye to a dear friend in this film, Luna Lovegood (Emma Lynch) who avoids the easy target of "dippy friend" in Luna and finds genuine sweetness, and the two Tom Riddles: Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane, who play the Anakin Skywalker to Ralph Fiennes' Darth Vader at age eleven and then older teens, respectively. They are fantastic.
Thrilling, with the drama taking a front seat to the usual fireworks, there's still quite a bit of fire to go around and while it won't leave you feeling particularly hopeful about the future, it will leave you relieved and excited that Hallows should compliment it in spades.