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Harry Potter Retrospective: Part 6: The Half Blood Prince

Well, today is the day. July 15th see’s the long awaited release of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2, the final chapter in this magnificent saga. It also marks the last instalment of this Retrospective, at least until I’ve seen the new one. There is of course DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1, but I would very much like to induct the final two films together, as they are two parts of the same movie. So, until I have digested the last Rolo of the series, this will be the last Retrospective.

We’re in the home straight here, people. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE is the sixth, and arguably darkest of the lot. People tend to say that because Dumbledore totally dies at the end. Oh, um, SPOILERS!! I don’t think it is. If anything, it’s one of the funniest. Sure you can be funny and dark, the Coen Bros. prove that all the time. But I really don’t find this one too bleak. And if the films did get darker and darker as they go on like some say, then after THE GOBLET O’FOIRE (Irish Dumbledore, we salute you) the rest would be pitch black. Audiences would be sitting in complete darkness hearing Ron bump into various suits of armour and doing his PG swearing. Of course, this film has a downer ending, but that’s in the grand tradition, set up by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, where by the penultimate film in a series has a downbeat denouement which makes the ultimate happy ending in the final piece all the more satisfying. When the situation seems hopeless, that’s when our heroes come into their own. Also, Hermione. Boom.

The film picks up right where THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX left off. Moments after Sirius was murdered by his cousin and the spectacular duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore, Harry is stood before the flashing bulbs of the press. A comforting hand is placed on his shoulder, and he is led away by the one man left with whom he feels completely safe. The great thing about this is that there is no exposition. Director David Yates throws us in at the deep end. Haven’t seen the previous film? Have no clue what’s going on? Well f**k you and the broom you rode in on. This is the sixth film, pal. And if you ain’t with the programme by now, you can suck on my golden snitches, yo.

Not my words. The words of David Yates. That is not true.

Very soon, Harry is whisked away with Dumbledore to meet the first new character in the movie. Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent (one of my all time favourite actors), is a former teacher harbouring a dark secret about Voldy. Harry’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to find that secret out. Slughorn is something of a collector, as Dumbledore explains-

‘Horace likes his comfort. He also likes the company of the famous, the successful and the powerful. He enjoys the feeling that he influences these people. He has never wanted to occupy the throne himself. He prefers the back-seat; there is more room to spread out.’

Alright, so that quote is from the book, not the film. But Rowling explains him better than I ever could. That’s why I’m the journalist and she’s the book… making… lady. Broadbent plays Slughorn as a friendly, bumbling academic. A pleasant chap who would bore you to death with tales of people he would like to think of as his proteges. It’s a delightful performance from another seasoned veteran. It’s still peculiar seeing the man who played Slater in ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES in a huge Hollywood film, even after Moulin Rouge and countless others. He’s very funny from the outset; his squint, the way he moves and his comic timing all blend to create the most humorous performance since Branagh’s Lockhart in the CHAMBER OF SECRETS. A particularly good sequence is when he finds Hagrid mourning the loss of Aragog, the giant spider from CoS. Slughorn seizes the opportunity to take some venom from the arachnid’s fangs, seemingly grave robbing without Hagrid realising. To cover up this intrusion, he offers to ‘say a few words’ for the deceased beast. His whining eulogy had me chuckling heartily in the cinema and reminded me of his earlier, comedically free roles from the eighties and nineties. And yet, unlike Lockhart, beneath the facade is a great melancholy. Slughorn harbours a secret regarding Voldemort and what’s more, he knows Dumbledore and Harry know. He is guilt ridden for his part in the ascension of The Dark Lord, and vicariously the atrocities he committed. This is expressed in a heart rending scene where he talks to Harry about his pet fish-

‘It was a student who gave me Francis. One day I came down to my office, and there was a bowl with only a few inches of clear water in it. And there was a flower petal floating on the water. Before my eyes it started to sink, and just before it hit the bottom, it transformed into a wee fish. It was a beautiful piece of magic, wondrous to behold. The flower petal was from a Lily. The day Francis disappeared was the day your mother…’

Harry, choking back the tears, responds-

‘Be brave, Professor. Be brave like my mother… Otherwise, you disgrace her. Otherwise, she died for nothing. Otherwise, the bowl will remain empty… forever.’

It is a moment of exquisite tenderness and, as we have yet to see that side of Slughorn, has all the more emotional impact for it.  He finally capitulates and provides Harry with the information he needs, and it’s far worse than they thought.

In order to get what he needed, Harry had to take a luck potion, or Felix Felicitus. Upon doing so, Radcliffe’s performance changes. The potion is a great tool for our lead actor to flex his comedic muscles, as he hasn’t had much opportunity recently. He seems like he’s Ketamined off his tits and the audience enjoys this brief chance to see Harry in a new light. His turn of phrase becomes suitably strange, ‘I feel excellent. Really excellent!’ and it must have been a delight for Radcliffe to do something very different with his character, and to share these lighter moments with Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane, two of Britain’s most beloved comic actors.

The HBP provides plenty of opportunity for Watson and Grint to increase their humour quota. Ron has a couple of stand out scenes where his buffoonery can flourish. The first is his trial for the Quidditch team. Ron’s love of the sport has been clear since the first film, and this sequence made me care about it for the first time. He tries for the role of goalie and is up against Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Stroma), a rival not just for the post of goal keeper, but for the affections of Hermione. Ron is hoodwinked (great word) into thinking he has taken the Felix Felicitus and thinks luck is on his side, when of course, it’s all him and his own skill. He is juxtaposed nicely against McLaggen, who is elegant in his goal keeping; gracefully kicking the ball away, reaching theatrically for saves. Ron’s athleticism amounts to him bopping the ball away on his ginger bounce and falling off his broom. It’s thanks to Hermione’s Confundus charm that McLaggen is screwed out of his opportunity and Ron wins the place. It’s true that Ron earned it, but also true that McLaggen was had. Hermione is occasionally a bad girl and… and… and I think I need a moment alone.

McLaggen’s unwanted affections carry on during Slughorn’s party sequence where the film defends/ascends into high farce, with vomit and testicle jokes, characters ducking in and out of view and romantic entanglements. It’s moments like this which show the film is not as bleak as it could be, but also that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are all very capable of romantic, and hopefully comic, leads in the near future. And if not, Rupert Grint has said he’d like to be an ice cream man. What’s not to like about that guy?

The romantic silliness continues when Ron accidentally consumes a love potion meant for Harry. Much like Radcliffe later on with the luck potion, Grint get’s to act the silly bugger and go over board with playing ‘drugged up.’ The scene starts goofy enough, but when Slughorn gives Ron some wine with the antidote, he collapses, foaming at the mouth and convulsing. As we weren’t expecting it, we’re worried for him. It’s Ron! He can’t die, can he? Luckily no. But it’s a stabbing reminder that for all the film’s comic moments, the danger is always there.

The poison he took was planted by Draco Malfoy. You remember Draco, don’t you? The Aryan ultra bully whose been plaguing the lives of good natured Gryffindors for the last five years. He hadn’t had much to do, in all honesty, other than sneer, be a Greek chorus along with his Slytherin chums and be punched in the face by Hermione (which was awesome). But it’s in the HBP that Tom Felton, finally, after five long years, really get’s to do something with his character. As Harry’s given quest was to gain knowledge from Slughorn, Malfoy’s was to kill Albus Dumbledore. He relishes it at first, feeling important and wanting to avenge his father, who spends this film brushing his luxurious white hair in Azkaban. But as time passes, his worries grow. Can he really do it? Kill a man? And not just any man, but the most popular and respected wizard in the world? His attempts all fail, such as the poisoned wine, and the cursed necklace that caused the girl who touched it to jump around the sky like a jailbait Zebedee. Felton plays the change in his character very well, displaying the vulnerable side of an erstwhile two dimensional villain. That’s not to say he’s any nicer of course, but he is more human, and we’re more empathetic towards him for it. Just before the duel scene, Malfoy is crying, balling his eyes out showing not weakness, but humanity. The ensuing fight with Harry in the boys bathroom is tremendously exciting and actually quite shocking when Harry unleashes an untried spell at his foe. ‘SECTUMSEMPRA!’ he cries and Malfoy goes down, heavily bloodied. He is crying again with a mix of emotional and physical anguish, and Harry flees, almost as if he were the antagonist in this sequence.

Another compelling and action packed scene is Dumbledore and Harry’s attempt to acquire the Horcrux from a cave. A Horcrux is, well I won’t spoil it (I say that, I just can’t be arsed to explain it) but it’s the MacGuffin for the movie (that’s right, MacGuffin. That’s three years of film Studies for ya, Jack!). To get it, they must enter a beautifully rendered cave, eerily green and quiet. In it, a calm pool of water with a small island. They paddle across and discover that to access the Horcrux, in this case a pendant, they must drink the hexed fluid concealing it. Dumbledore sacrifices himself to do so, rendering him helpless, frightened and angry. Again, we the audience have never seen Dumbledore like this and it’s quite an upsetting experience. To add to their woes, from out of the water comes an army of Inferi (reanimated corpses controlled by Voldemort. A zombie by any other name would still smell as sweet). They attack Harry, pulling him to a watery grave, until he is rescued by a revitalised Dumbledore who encircles them in a wall of fire. This, along with his duel with Voldy at the climax of OOTP is one of the most spectacular set pieces in the entire series. What makes it so good is that we care about these characters, so we don’t see it as CG fire and CG zombies, we see people with whom we are emotionally invested in great danger, and we care. It’s the complete antithesis of , say, Transformers 3, where we couldn’t give a toss about the leads and one CG robot looks like the other, we can’t tell what’s happening and we care even less. No, this is Nolan-esque in it’s marriage of character and Hollywood scale. Which sums up the franchise.

And it doesn’t end there. Upon their return to Hogwarts, Dumbledore is left to recover in the observatory where, thanks to Malfoy, he is met by several Death Eaters, including the blond haired bully himself. He reveals that it was he who tried to kill Dumbledore, but everyone already knew that. The real surprise is Malfoy’s reluctance to follow through. He is seemingly talked out of it by his intended victim, who remains serene in the face of certain death. Malfoy is being egged on by his cohorts, but lowers his wand, with which he is clearly talented, as he disarmed the great wizard, a point that becomes very important in the next film (or at least will do if they stick to the book’s finer plot points). All of a sudden, Snape appears, apparently to help the stricken head master. Dumbledore pleads with him, but the language is key. ‘Severus, please…’ he says (again, this becomes significant). And then… ‘Avada Kedavra!’ a flash of green light and POW! Dumbledore is dead, his body sent flying over the side and to the the night below. The majority of the audience knew this was coming, but blimey. It’s still a shocker to see the heart and soul of Hogwarts, who we’ve grown to love over the course of these films, killed in cold blood. Be it as the soft and kindly Richard Harris, or as the fiddle-de-dee ‘OIM A WIZRD, SO OI AM!’ Michael Gambon, Dumbledore was always there, and we thought he always would be. With Dumbledore, Harry’s last hope of being protected also dies. He swore to his mentor that he would not intervene under any circumstances, so had to merely bear witness. But after the slaying, he chases the killers as they flee. Now, in the book, there is a huge battle raging below. Yates and Steve Kloves (screenwriter) chose to hold fire and not include it, as it would detract from the eventual Battle of Hogwarts in the final film. They made the right decision, as the it would have been over kill for more death and destruction after what we’ve just seen, and the demise of one the key players seems more significant for it. As Harry speeds after Snape, he hurls another Sectumsempra at the assailant, who brushes it aside. ‘You dare use my own spell against me, Potter?’ he hisses. ‘Yes. I am the Half Blood Prince.’ I should probably have mentioned earlier that Harry spends most of the film copying stuff out of an old text book, owned by someone named the Half Blood Prince. The big reveal at the end wouldn’t have had quite the impact if, like me, the film makers had neglected to mention that. That’s why I’m the journalist and they’re the film… making… guys.

And so ends the film and this Retrospective. As mentioned earlier, THE DEATHLEY HALLOWS PARTS 1 & 2 will be inducted later on as one large farewell to my favourite series of films (after POLICE ACADEMY). We here at THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS hope, dammit we KNOW you’re going to enjoy the final film. And to prove it, check out Tom Fordy’s review here

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

So until the Retrospective of the final film(s), as they say at Hogwarts, Live Long and Prosper.

No, wait…

John is a gentleman, a scholar, he’s an acrobat. He is one half of the comedy duo Good Ol’ JR, and considers himself a comedy writer/performer. This view has been questioned by others. He graduated with First Class Honours in Media Arts/Film & TV, a fact he will remain smug about long after everyone has stopped caring. He enjoys movies, theatre, live comedy and writing with the JR member and hetero life partner Ryan. Some of their sketches can be seen on YouTube and YOU can take their total hits to way over 17!

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