Holy hormones, Batman!
Harry’s back for another year at Hogwarts, and while this installment of the popular franchise has been reputed as the darkest one yet, it’s also the funniest, brimming with love-struck humour and adolescent drollery. I half-expected the cast to spontaneously burst into a rousing chorus of “Love is in the Air”!
All kidding aside, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one of the series’ better entries. Purists will no doubt complain about the great deal of source material cut out of the screenplay, but director David Yates manages to keep the dramatic tone relatively consistent while avoiding a muddled narrative. His balance and timing between the dramatic thread (played as a dark mystery) and the love story threads (played mostly to comic effect) is more even than in his other Potter films.
The cast is in top form. Note standout Jim Broadbent, impeccably cast as Professor Slughorn. Even underwritten supporting players Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, and Helena Bonham Carter (she’s a batty one, she is!) have a strong screen presence. In fact, if the ensemble has any weak links, it’s in the three principle characters; Ron Weasley never moves past comic relief, Hermione Granger lacks the nerdy identity she enjoyed in the first two films, and Harry Potter feels like a somewhat passive observer throughout. It’s no fault of the actors, of course, but after six of these films it I guess it's just hard to make these wizards seem interesting.
Naturally, the real wizards are behind the scenes. Once again, production designer Stuart Craig dazzles us with amazing new sets that still retain the familiarity of Hogwarts, and Tim Burke’s FX team fill the screen with marvelous illusions. But best of all is the input of DP Bruno Delbonnel. His lensing of the Pensieve scenes in particular is an exhibition of brilliantly subtle lighting and focus, work deserving of an Academy Award nomination.
Speaking of which, what are the film’s award prospects? As much as he deserves it, I don’t think Delbonnel will be recognized by AMPAS, who have ignored every other Potter film for cinematography. Art direction seems a likely nomination, with a possibility for visual effects as well. Other than that, I’m not optimistic. The makeup artists have never caught the Academy’s eye, and composer Nicolas Hooper doesn’t have the name recognition he needs for the music branch to pay attention.
*** out of ****