when the war came, the war came hard

15Jul09

This was the first year of many in recent memory that I hadn’t purchased a ticket to the midnight showing on release night of a Harry Potter film several days in advance. It honestly wasn’t even on my radar until yesterday morning, when I went searching for tickets and found that seemingly all the showings in Nashville were sold out. Luckily, I was able to find someone on craigslist willing to sell their extra ticket for face value and I took my seat for the 12:05 showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with the rest of the die-hards and waited for the lights to dim.

(Don’t worry, kids, there won’t be any spoilers from me!)

The trailer for Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., was the first to roll and put me in a really great mood. It looks to be a funny and original take on an old and classic series and I would love to see it when it comes out this winter. Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are was also previewed, and I was far from the only adult in the theater bouncing up and down with excitement. Last on the film reel was, of course, a trailer for New Moon, and predictably, the fangirls were all a-squee. Much as I may be a closet Twilighter (and yes, I will probably see the film on release night, also, lame), I was in hysterics by the end of the 90-second clip. It just looks so awful. And while Rob Pattinson may be pretty to look at, he really aught to take some acting lessons from his former co-star, Daniel Radcliffe.

When the lights went out and the music began rolling, the electricity in the theater was palpable. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as the sixth film in this incredible series opened on screen.

When it comes to film adaptations of novels, I’m usually a harsh critic. I’m a literary purist and the things I love about book are usually the things missing from their films. I am first and foremost a lover of the Harry Potter novels: for Rowling’s writing, for her characterization, for her amazing skill at bringing the seven-book plot full-circle. The movies up to this point have been wonderful adaptations, missing pieces here and there, but able to stand alone, and basically staying true to the books where possible. Half-Blood Prince was, by far, the most faithful and elegantly done adaptation of its corresponding novel in the series’ history.

Only the most literal of Potter book fans would argue that director, David Yates and screenwriter, Steve Kloves took the story and ran with it. For my part, I can only say that David Yates has overwhelmingly redeemed himself from the trainwreck he made out of The Order of the Phoenix in 2007. OOTP is my favorite book of the series and I was devastated when the film came out and the best bits of Harry’s inner turmoil and his relationship with Sirius were left out.

With Half-Blood Prince, Yates was on top of his game. Not only was the acting absolutely spectacular, the cinematography, the soundtrack, and the pace of the story were brilliant. I’ve always been impressed by how well these films were cast and watching Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson age and mature and develop into truly amazing actors is incredibly rewarding to a fan like me. Alan Rickman, as always, was perfect as Snape, and I love that we’re finally starting to see some of Snape’s depth and confliction come through. Jim Broadbent was excellently cast as Professor Slughorn, bringing pathos and humility to the role of a daytime drunk. But the biggest surprise, and I think one of the most rewarding aspects of keeping the original cast in tact, was Tom Felton’s vastly matured and emotionally gripping portrayal of Draco Malfoy. Felton has really grown into his character, starting off as just another snooty brat in the beginning of the series and developing into someone truly struggling with the weight placed on his shoulders. I was tempted to brush him off as being perfeclty “emo”, but his acting was so much more than teenage agnst.

Everything else aside, the film was simply beautiful to look at. It was dark and richly textured. The sets and costumes, as always, were spot on. (The Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes shop was particularly awesome.) The action was perfectly timed and transitioned. And the writing was the best we’ve seen out of these films.

I was prepared for the end, as we all were, but the final scenes were done in such a heart-rending and elegant style, it was almost as overwhelming watching it as it had been the first time I read it, when I was unprepared and shocked and horrified. I went to the theater expecting to cry, and I did. What I did not expect was to spend more than half the film laughing. True, the book had its funny moments, but portrayed on screen, they were actually hilarious. The comedy wasn’t ever over the top, though, and it was welcome relief from the general atmosphere of doom and gloom.

I know this won’t be the only time I see Half-Blood Prince in the theater. It was just too good to wait until it releases on DVD. We have a little over a year to wait until The Deathly Hallows, Part I comes out, and six or so months after that until Part II, and it will be a sad, sad day indeed when this, my favorite series of books, comes to its resounding cinematographic conclusion.

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