Film

Harry Potter, Forever!

It's fascinating to watch a young cast grow through the years in (more or less) tandem with the age of their quickly maturing characters. It becomes somewhat less so, however, to watch them undergo the same kind of trials and tribulations from one film to the next.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Director: David Yates
Cast: Danielle Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Rupert Grint, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent
Rated: PG
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-07-15 (General release)
UK date: 2009-07-15 (General release)
Website
Trailer

At what point did the Harry Potter film franchise become a race against repetition? In J.K. Rowling's series of popcorn-munching fantasy-lite page-turners, the cycle of familiar events is something that helps power them along. Without the susurrus of new classes, new teachers, school holidays, and the rising and falling of friendships and crushes humming in the foreground, the books would have been lost beneath a crashing din of Rowling's hyperactive plotting. As fantastical fictionalizing of the dreary retread of school years that march one towards adulthood, the books' magic was rarely about exploration or discovery, but rather about circling the wagons of home and hearth against the darkness outside. Repetition, in the correct dosage, helped reinforce the sense of normalcy and protection that progressively shriveled from book to darker-hued book.

In the film series -- which helped instantly transform the books into just another widget in the corporate multimedia entertainment platform before they could really take on an imaginative life of their own -- those same guideposts of repetition become less reassuring, though, than they do overbearing. It's a fascinating thing, as an audience, to watch a young cast grow through the years in tandem with their quickly maturing characters. It becomes less so to watch them undergo the same kind of trials and tribulations from one film to the next.

In film number six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the threatening overtures of the Dark Lord and his wraiths of doom are gathering swiftly. Meanwhile, at Hogwarts, where new security procedures have been put into place, the students go about their business, albeit more nervously than usual. A round of thwarted romance sweeps through the trio of Ron, Hermione, and Harry, aiming to provide some lovesick cheer amidst the gloom. Where director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves go wrong almost from the start is in how they decide to toggle back and forth between the two spheres of dangerous dark-fighting and high school angst, with the latter seeming to get much more attention.

As the lead characters stumble and stagger into the first blushes of romance (the normal agonies are nicely played, and spiked with the occasional injudiciously applied love potion), the more stock story elements of the book begin to seem even more beside the point. There is yet another odd new teacher to confront, in this case a simpering toady of a potions instructor (played, it must be said, with particularly loony comic élan by Jim Broadbent), additional confrontations with evil acolyte and proto-Aryan Youth Draco Malfoy, inconclusive sparring with Severus Snape, and of course, another weary round of Quidditch.

There are times when the filmmakers appear have a difficult time even pretending to care. A scene in which Harry's giant protector Hagrid weeps over the death of a huge spider is played as so rote that one has to wonder why it was even included. One of the film's truly frightening moments -- in which a cursed student is suddenly flung into the air, where she floats with mouth agape like a frozen scream -- is barely allowed time to sink its fangs in before being concluded.

This may have simply been the result of fatigue on the part of the filmmakers, faced with so much story to power through in two and a half hours, even in abbreviated fashion. By this point in the series, the uniformly excellent cast has become so vast and the story so labyrinthine that a number of fine actors (David Thewlis, Timothy Spall) are practically reduced to walk-ons, and most minor characters have to elbow each other aside for a few bare seconds of screen time.

Maybe the worst of what afflicts The Half-Blood Prince isn't the dulling repetition of tropes from previous films, but the feeling it imparts of a vast story machinery grinding along with more dutiful, clock-watching efficiency than passion. The announcement that Warner Bros. is stringing along their kid-wizard franchise for an extra year of revenue production by splitting the last book into two films (to be released in 2010 and 2011) may bring some hope, however. With a pair of films to sprawl across, Yates and Kloves can take their time, and access the books' root of childhood anxieties about the terrifying encroachment of adulthood. And maybe leave the next couple Quidditch matches on the cutting room floor.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.