I think I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince right after I read the previous tome, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; I bought them together in 2005, and I remember reading them by flashlight when the power was out after Hurricane Katrina had hit. So when I went to see it this afternoon with Bob and the Old Professor, I had forgotten most of the story. That’s okay; I remembered enough of the backstory that I wasn’t completely lost.
(Continued below the fold. I reveal some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, stop here.)
The nice thing about this series is that they have managed to keep the look and feel of the films consistent, and they’ve been consistently good. And although one of the complaints about the series has been that the actors who are playing the parts are getting a bit mature to be playing high school kids — Harry, Ron, and Hermione all look like they’re old enough to be in college now — they didn’t look too out of place. As always, the supporting cast of Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and especially Alan Rickman, who can express more with a raised eyebrow than the entire cast of Mama Mia!, gives the film a depth of character and nuance that action/adventure films sorely lack.
The plot is fairly straightforward; Harry must face incredible odds against the agents of the evil Lord Voldemort (who doesn’t even show up in this outing); he has to go through a series of tests and adventures that peel back more of the story and lead him to the inevitable final conflict with Voldemort (coming in the final installations, spread out over two more films), and a major character dies at the end. And then there’s the side-story of Harry and Ron and Hermione getting hormonal — after all, they’re teenagers and what would a movie aimed at teens be without good old full-tilt adolescent horniness, right down to the somewhat snort-inducing Quidditch match with the boys all grabbing their broomsticks between their legs?
The climactic confrontation in the tower between Snape and Dumbledore had a touch of Hitchcock (Vertigo), and it left me with the same feeling as that classic; a sense of finality without mawkishness. (The homage to Dumbledore by the students and faculty lighting their wands had a nice Journey concert touch.) As is necessary, the film leaves cliffhangers all over the place, but it also stood alone pretty well. I just hope that by the time they get around to releasing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the actors aren’t laughably too old to be believable. But I guess that’s what special effects are for.