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Half-Blood Prince marks the beginning of the end for Potter
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince
Opening July 17


It is going to be interesting to see what history has to say about the Harry Potter franchise. I say this wondering if there has ever been a series of high-priced Hollywood studio films that have been as intimately interconnected as these, managing to retain the same cast members (with one notable exception with the death of Richard Harris in 2002) start to finish for eight consecutive motion pictures.

There is the Thin Man series, but while the characters of Nick and Nora remain, the stories don't have much to do with one another. James Bond is more or less the same, and considering he's had 22 official adventures, retaining the same cast would have been impossible. There was The Lord of the Rings, but those were filmed at roughly the same time and were based upon a single literary source (itself also broken up into three). As for Star Wars or Back to the Future, well, I think the answer there pretty much speaks for itself.

No, as a single linear entry tracing its characters from what is essentially the start of middle school to the end of high school, these adaptations of author J.K. Rowling's fantastical best-sellers stand alone. If there is a comparison, the only thing that comes to my mind is director Michael Apted's Up documentary series, but even those are revisited only once every 10 years, with no guarantee any of the subjects followed around when they were seven will acquiesce to a new round of interviews.

I bring all of this up because in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it finally hits home that Warner Bros.' phenomenally successful cash cow is coming to its conclusion. The battle between the boy wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his ghostly nemesis Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) nears its climax during the student's sixth term at Hogwarts, and for all the twists, turns and surprises, the revelation that the end is nigh might just be the most startling one of all.

This comes from the point of view of someone who has not always been this series' biggest fan. I wasn't exactly impressed with director Chris Columbus' first two chapters, their sluggish pace and simplistic storytelling not winning me over. More, while Alfonso CuarĂ³n's magnificent third entry (still the best of the bunch) blew me away, Mike Newell's follow-up felt more like a sturdily constructed bridge between youth and the teen years than it did anything else. As for David Yates' 2007 entry, it holds up surprisingly well, its climactic sequences as thrilling and as, dare I say it, magical as any fantasy effort this side of Peter Jackson or John Boorman.

But as this one came to its cliffhanger of a finale I suddenly realized just how astonishing these flicks have been. Like a long-running hit television show made with nurturing care, the films have cast a hypnotic spell that has only seemed to grow. We have watched stars Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint mature from button-cute children into full-fledged actors with the ability to deftly shade their characters with subtly familiar nuances in virtual real-time. Alongside them, seasoned pros like Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Mark Williams have methodically developed their roles with precision and their ability to evolve from one to the next without deviating from the template they established back in 2001 is highly impressive.

This is important because finality is the key here. While teenage l'amour indeed blossoms, it is the sturm und drang of oblivion that drives our hero onward. Compelled more by trust than reason, Harry Potter learns to embrace his destiny, discovering new powers and abilities thanks to a mysterious spellbook while at the same time questioning the motivations of fellow student Draco Malfoy (superbly played by Tom Felton). Returning director Yates paces things as if this were the early steps of a funeral march, and while there is humor and romance, the aching broken heart is the key which drives things forward.

While all of this is well and good and the film is arguably the most handsomely mounted and pleasingly designed of the entire bunch, it still isn't wholly satisfying. While it's obvious the filmmakers intend Half-Blood Prince to be this series' The Empire Strikes Back, setting up the climactic two-part seventh chapter (both set for release next year), the denouement is strangely unsatisfying. The final scenes feel a bit like a cheat in a "Doc Brown disappearing in the Delorean in Back to the Future, Part II" sort of way, and the collective sigh from the preview audience I saw it with wasn't exactly positive.

And yet, despite all of that (or maybe because of it), I am intrigued to see where things go next. I want to know what will become of Harry, Hermione and Ron, want to see how they will defeat Voldemort and what the costs of doing so will entail. Most of all, almost like I felt while watching my two siblings grow from infant to adulthood (both are now in their 20s), I want to see how this series comes of age. For that reason alone, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince deserves appreciation, even with misgivings about the climax.






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