Gone to Potter

Nothing to do but pout and whimper. Who knew wizarding would be so boring?

Nothing to do but pout and whimper. Who knew wizarding would be so boring?

Rated 2.0

After watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I’m worried that a movie franchise that had been building up some significant steam could now be heading for a disaster of Matrix proportions. While the movie doesn’t commit an atrocity on the level of, say, the rave scene in Matrix Reloaded, it does manage to be quite dull. This far into the series, that’s a bit disconcerting.

This is easily the least likeable Potter film since the overblown and dull first one, Sorcerer’s Stone. I liked the second one, Chamber of Secrets, totally loved the third, Prisoner of Azkaban, was OK with the fourth, Goblet of Fire, and really liked the fifth, Order of the Phoenix.

The biggest surprise regarding the failure of Half-Blood Prince is that David Yates, the man behind the camera for Phoenix, directed the film. He’s also in charge of the upcoming two-part finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If the future films are anything like this one, Harry’s cinematic story will smash into the Earth like a Quidditch broom that’s lost its soaring power.

Things start interestingly enough in this chapter, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) almost picking up a hot waitress in a diner and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) spoiling the party. The old wizard needs Harry’s help in recruiting former Hogwarts teacher Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Dumbledore wants him back in the fold for some reason, and he needs to use Harry as bait.

Additionally, Dumbledore chooses to show Harry some rather disturbing memories of a former student named Tom Riddle, a young kid who could talk to snakes and grew up to be a major troublemaker. Yates, and the young people he gets to play Riddle in these memories (one of them being Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, nephew of Ralph Fiennes, who plays the nefarious Voldemort), make these scenes easily the best of the film. Actually, I’m wishing a larger percentage of this movie were flashbacks of the creepy kids. This aspect of the film is engaging.

Sadly, what the movie turns out to be, for the most part, is a blasé look at Harry and friends starting to notice the opposite sex in truly stultifying fashion. A subplot involving Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and his emerging sex appeal is nothing but silly. Even worse, the normally enjoyable Hermione (Emma Watson) is left little to do but pout and whimper, rarely raising her mood above somber for the entire picture.

A major character says goodbye near film’s end, and Yates bungles the job. Given the importance of the character, I was expecting something momentous. Instead, we get a scene that feels rushed and has very little emotional impact.

Yeah, I get it, the movie is supposed to be dark, disturbing and foreboding. It’s supposed to act as a transitional film to the big finale. I’m OK with the dark sinister stuff … hell, I welcome it, but Voldemort is nowhere to be seen, unless you count cloud formations, and the movie’s secondary bad guys are not given enough screen time to really register. The whole thing lacks focus.

I haven’t read the books (with the exception of Deathly Hallows). With every one of these movies, I have heard from diehard fans complaining of key points in the books left out, which is a necessity considering the lengths of the novels. I’m a total muggle, but Potterheads I know are outraged by omissions made in the film. I certainly got a sense that something was missing.

While I mostly complain, the film is more of a near miss than a total failure. It’s just that, given the quality of the four chapters preceding it, this does qualify as a major letdown, especially after the delay getting the movie to the screen. Part one of the Hallows conclusion hits next year. Let’s hope Half Blood-Prince is just a misstep for Yates, and he steers the franchise to a finish worthy of Harry and friends. And, please, no rave scenes.