If you’re the kind of person who’s sat there wondering whether there’s a bit of a gimmick-feel to this whole 3D revolution that’s supposedly taking place, then venturing off to see Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince at your local IMAX is unlikely to improve your mood. Exclusively to IMAX cinemas, the opening segment of the new film is presented in 3D, and you also get to enjoy the small portion of the film shot with IMAX cameras too. Yet this is no The Dark Knight, where six major sequences were filmed for the IMAX screen. Here, once the opening is done and dusted, you’re strictly back to normal.
Thus, at the screening of the film I caught yesterday, you’re duly instructed to put on your 3D glasses at the start of the film, and are foretold what symbol you need to look for when it comes time to take them off. Then, and this did not work in Mr Potter’s favour, a trailer for Disney’s A Christmas Carol in 3D was screened first, and this looked genuinely amazing. Animation may yet be the saviour of 3D cinema, providing it’s done properly on the evidence of this one trailer.
When it came to Half-Blood Prince, though, there’s a terrific opening sequence that swoops over London, then some chuntering on a train platform, then going and visiting Jim Broadbent, and before you know it, there’s a pair of red glasses flashing at the bottom of the screen. That, for those looking for the IMAX-specific and 3D sequences, was your lot. From that point on, it looks like the same film you could see down your local fleapit.
Not that the IMAX screen didn’t help it. I warmed to the last Harry Potter film, Order Of The Phoenix, an awful lot, and for two reasons. Reason one was Imelda Staunton, reason two was director David Yates. Staunton isn’t around for Harry Potter 6, but Yates most certainly is, and heck, did the cinematic franchise strike gold when it found him. Once more, his camera is fluid, keen to explore the world of Hogwarts and everything that surrounds it. And he also manages to darken the film substantially too, with some terrific use of colour that his camera also enthusiastically makes the most of. Yates is the gold in the Harry Potter series right now, and the fact that he’s helming the final two movies is a very good thing.
Half-Blood Prince also allows Alan Rickman, whose character has stayed primarily in the background for five films to date, to step more to the fore, and while he’s not quite channelling Hans Gruber here, he’s as magnetic a screen actor as Britain has produced over the past few decades. He’s in excellent form here.
And, to be fair, the three leads – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – are no slouches. They have to deal with some fairly cumbersome romantic explorations, which only Watson manages to put across convincingly, but when it comes down to the guts of the story, Radcliffe has turned into a solid lead actor. Helped along by Michael Gambon’s Dumebledore, as each film comes along, more and more of it is heaped upon Radcliffe’s shoulders, and he’s up to the job.
Sadly, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy isn’t, though. Cast several years ago when he was a suitably snidey school bully type, the plot of Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince has some reliance on Felton, and I never bought him as much more than a sneering pantomime villain. Jason Isaacs is sorely missed here as Malfoy Senior, and you do have to take a leap of faith or two to buy that Draco has any real sinister edge to him at all. Felton’s not a bad actor, he just doesn’t seem to fit the world of Harry Potter anymore.
The rest of the regulars all know this stuff like the back of their hand by now. Dame Maggie Smith is my usual favourite amongst the supporting Potter characters, and she’s terrific again here. As too is Helena Bonham Carter, returning for the second time as Bellatrix Lestrange. Jim Broadbent is the new face, as Professor Slughorn, and he’s up to his usual high standards.
But it’s Yates again who deserves the credit. For Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is a dark, brooding film for long periods of it, and Yates’ style matches it superbly. He’s hampered a little by having to do more set up than usual, and that does mean that the momentum of the film is a little stilted, but when he gets going, he’s again on excellent form. He deals with the slushy stuff – which does dig through a few rom-com clichés – perfectly well, but it’s the main plot he has the most fun with. One scene near the end of the movie, with Harry alone as the lights go out, is quite outstanding, wonderfully shot, and makes you instantly question the film’s PG rating. He also managed to wring one hell of a jump out of the crowd I saw the film with.
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is a long film, though, albeit one that gets through a lot of business. It struggles at times to keep the pace going, in spite of Yates using plenty of tricks to jolly things along, but it comfortably delivers by the time the credits roll.
Did the IMAX screen help it? Only in the sense here that it’s a big screen film and it makes sense to see it on the biggest screen possible. As impressive as parts of the opening were, there was a feeling of a bit of gimmickry being employed with the 3D segments, and my feeling on it is that if you’re going to make us all wear silly glasses, at least commit to it. It might look good on the poster, but there was a bit of a so-what feeling to it as we all had to take our glasses off less than 20 minutes into the film.
Still, Harry Potter continues to defy the rules of cinematic franchises, as six films in, it’s still churning out exciting blockbuster entertainment. And Half-Blood Prince leaves things, as you’d hope, nicely poised for Harry’s final adventure. Even if it is being released across two further films.
Sort the 3D thing out next time, though, eh?