Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

We went to see the sixth installment of the Harry Potter films yesterday. Before we watched the movie, I went online to read other people's takes on it, and talked to friends who had already seen it. I found the general consensus to be that overall, the film was well done. Some said it was the best Harry Potter film yet; others were disappointed that parts from the book were left out, and it seemed somewhat disjointed. After seeing the film, our family had mixed opinions about it: My husband and oldest son said it was OK, but they didn't like it as much as the other films, and it might well be their least favorite. As for me, although it might not be the best (The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Pheonix are tied for first place in my book) it certainly isn't the worst, and I was not at all disappointed.

If you haven't read the Harry Potter books yet, the story goes somewhat like this: after an intense battle with the evil Lord Voldemort depicted in Book 5 in which Harry's beloved godfather Sirius Black was killed, the teenage boy wizard returns to his wizarding school to find an increased fear that Voldemort and his henchmen will break into the school grounds and attack whomever they choose--especially Harry, The Boy Who Lived, The Chosen One. We learn that Harry's school enemy and bully Draco Malfoy has been entrusted to some evil mission that readers and viewers may only guess at. Meanwhile Harry finds himself in possession of a used textbook once belonging to someone calling him- or herself "The Half-Blood Prince," and the book shows Harry magical secrets that aren't being taught at the school. As the story unfolds, Harry begins to learn dark secrets about Voldemort that neither he nor the school's headmaster had ever imagined. Slowly it begins to dawn on Harry that defeating the Dark Lord might be more difficult than anyone has foreseen.

When the Harry Potter books first became popular, I was reluctant to read them at first because I kept hearing talk--mostly from evangelical Christians, and a few Catholics as well--of the stories' fascination with the occult and that they might encourage Satanic practices. After all, Harry Potter is a wizard, and practicing witchcraft is strictly forbidden in Christianity. (Heck, he even attends a school that teaches him how to use magic and spells and such.) Once I decided to read them myself and form my own opinion about them, I was hooked right away. I read the first three books nonstop; when I got to the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) I got a little weary of the long account of the Quidditch World Cup (Quidditch being a game people in the wizarding world play while flying around on broomsticks) and put Harry aside for a while. When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released, I picked up the fourth book again and read it as fast as I could so I could hurry up and read the fifth. (I learned that the Quidditch World Cup is a very important event in the story because things happen there that set the foundation for the rest of the book. But I digress.) Like millions of others, I counted the days until the sixth and seventh books were released, and devoured them as soon as I got my hands on them. We started reading them with our kids, and they loved them. We even talked to the boys about why some Christians aren't fond of Harry Potter, and that practicing magic and witchcraft are very dangerous things that we are not allowed to do. We've talked about how the witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books rely on their magical abilities for their joy and fulfillment, and as Christians we are to trust in God.

I've enjoyed watching the young actors in the Harry Potter movies grow from cute children into adults--young adults, mind you, but I'm pretty sure they're all over 18 now. (Let's just say I'm old enough to be their mother.) I like seeing the different adaptations of the individual stories: the first three were basically children's movies, while the next three have more serious and mature themes. Throughout the series, in both the books and the films, Harry has been tormented by a bully named Draco Malfoy, whose father is one of Lord Voldemort's sleazy henchmen, the Death Eaters. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we begin to see how Draco's father's legacy as a Death Eater is taking a toll on him, and the Dark Lord even trusts him with a dreadful mission that any follower of Voldemort would be honored to perform. (Almost every good story has a reluctant hero, and Harry Potter certainly fits this mold; I think Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is kind of unique in that it also has a reluctant villain in Draco Malfoy.) I thought this was conveyed particularly well in the movie, and Tom Felton, who plays young Malfoy, does a great job portraying his inner torment as he struggles to reconcile his desire to follow his father's wishes and become another of Voldemort's chosen, his fears of failure and of disappointing the Dark Lord, and his own conscience and real need to to what is truly right. Yes, there were some aspects in the movie that were different from the book (No Moaning Myrtle in this film, thankfully), and one scene was added where a gang of Death Eaters attacks and burns down the family home of Harry's best friend. I wasn't sure why that was put in the movie, but I suppose we'll find out when the next one is released.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a fun film to watch, especially if you've been a fan of the books. If you haven't read the series the movie might be hard to follow in places (so I've been told), but it's fast-paced fun and lighthearted where it needs to be, and just the right amount of intensity and emotion when the scary and the sad parts come.

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