Chick 1 says:
The fifth and my favorite in the series so far, I watched this last night with a friend who hadn’t seen it yet. We were preping for the upcoming July release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth movie and number one on my I Can’t Wait List for summer.
The Basics: Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts is a bleak one indeed but he also begins to grow into the leader he’s destined to be. At the end of the fourth tale, Voldemort returned, killing a classmate of Harry’s in the process, thereby ushering Harry et al (and the readers) out of childhood and into young adulthood. Now the powers that be don’t want to accept that the dark lord is back and start a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore. When the students are prevented from learning to defend themselves, Harry starts an underground class to teach what he’s learned but his nightmares are becoming more disturbing and could lead to tragedy. (You think it’s hard to condense 870 pages into a 2 hour movie, try one paragragh.)
What I Liked: (Hold on. I’m about to rant for a while.) After Goblet of Fire’s lackluster direction, this movie is a vast improvement. David Yates’ direction is fantastic. Of course, the HP films have always had a cast of some of the greatest British actors of our day and the young cast continues to grow in their abilities. Alan Rickman completely steals one scene by only uttering two words. The new additions to the cast are spot on. Newcomer Evanna Lynch perfectly captures Luna Lovegood’s looniness while adding a layer of sweetness. No one but Helena Bonham Carter could have been Bellatrix LeStrange. I love her maniacal laughing during the climatic battle, her mad joy at all the death and mayhem. But the casting of Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge is the pinnacle. I never thought any fictional character could make me hate the color pink but Umbridge nearly does. I have never despised a fictional villian as much as I despise Umbridge and from Staunton’s first fake-sweet “ahem” I want to strangle her. At least Voldemort has the decency to appear evil but Umbridge is all smiles and kittens, all the while pushing every bit of life from Hogwarts in a way that would make the most oppressive dictator proud. HP’s special effects department has vastly improve since the anorexic werewolf from Prisoner of Azkaban. The final battle is truly climatic. Trying to condense the book, many parts of the big showdown are cut out, including a part where the reader is certain that Hermione is dead. But even with the missing parts, the battle remains exciting, terrifying, and emotionally devastating. It’s a shame my friend had to see the movie on my TV with it’s little sound system because the sound design is outstanding. When Dumbledore and Voldemort do battle there are moments when you are certain something powerful has entered the room simply because of the sound. And there is the final moment when Harry is “possessed” by Voldemort. Of course a big moment in the book, on screen it could have been really, really stupid. But the combination of a well written script, Yates inspired direction, and a nice performance by Radcliffe make this moment both powerful and surprisingly touching. Finally, the musical score is awesome. After the first two movies, John Williams left the series and although the following composers used his magical theme, the music suffered. I don’t remember hearing Williams’ Harry Potter theme except over the opening logo but the movie did not lack. Nicholas Hooper creates the perfect mood for these angsty teens and the battle to save their world. Like the rest of the Potter universe, even the music is growing up.
What I Didn’t Like: Yes, there are many wonderful things cut from the book but unless you want to sit through a four hour movie (which I would) that’s not really something I can fault the filmmakers for. I am a bit upset at the change in tone in Dumbledore’s character. Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first two movies with the perfect twinkle in his eyes. Never ruffled and always in control, you get the idea that despite his slightly wonky grandfather demeanor, he’s not someone you want to make an enemy of. Unfortunately, Harris passed away and the capable Michael Gambon took over the role. Gambon doesn’t quite have the twinkle that Harris had but he showed the appropriate madness in Prisoner of Azkaban. But since that movie the filmmakers have apparently been trying to “humanize” Dumbledore, completely missing the charm of this powerful wizard.
Bottom Line: Best (so far) in a franchise that has, for the most part, captured the beloved books brilliantly. Highly recommended.
PS: Check out my review of the latest trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince here.