Harry Potter VI: Are We There Yet?

July 17, 2009

In the penultimate book in J.K. Rowling’s famous series, the wizard Dumbledore must drink a basin full of noxious potion. Because this is a crucial step in the fight against the evil Voldemort, our hero, Harry, must force his beloved mentor tokeep going – even as each sip makes Dumbledore writhe in agony, plead for mercy and beg for the sweet release of death. (Kind of like crossing San José during rush hour on a Friday.)

The scene leaps off the page, but loses its potency onscreen, as does the book’s heart-wrenching ending. The movie version of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” proves once more that these actionpacked novels are surprisingly difficult to film, perhaps because of their increasing length. “Half-Blood Prince,” more than 600 pages and a heck of a story, becomes a film that is just OK.

The filmmakers do make some improvements on Rowling’s convoluted plot. A hair-raising opening scene shows us how Voldemort’s return has terrorized even the non-wizarding world, and sets the stakes high as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends head back to school at Hogwarts. The script includes a clever way to bring to life a plot to infiltrate the school – which, in the book, is explained at the end in an awkward, 007-villain-style speech – and eliminates some other flaws.

But the film lacks oomph – perhaps because Voldemort himself, so creepily played by Ralph Fiennes, is offstage here. To compensate, Helena Bonham Carter makes another fabulous turn as the devilish Bellatrix Lestrange, and Alan Rickman, masterful as the oily Professor Snape, remains the best reason to see these movies.

Rowling’s final tome, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” – which is being shot as two separate films – was the wordiest of all. It was as if the complex world she had created got to be a bit much for her, filling the story with clunky exposition. The ending is a humdinger, but director David Yates will have his hands full getting us there.

 

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