The sixth Harry Potter movie is finally here, after a delay of almost eight months, and viewers can expect a bit more humor, some teen romance and a rousing match of Quidditch, even as the threat of evil looms in the background, building up to the upcoming seventh and eighth movies that will cap the franchise. And you won't believe just how much those kids have grown.
Director David Yates, who returns to captain this film after the previous Order of the Phoenix, has described it as Potter's version of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
"Yeah," Yates said in a group interview on the film's set outside London in January 2008. "I want to amend that. It's actually about sex, potions and rock 'n' roll. ... It's a wonderfully fun, slightly rebellious, quite naughty stage of teenage life, when you're kind of discovering the opposite sex. ... In the previous film, it was about the first kiss. This film is a bit more sexualized than that. You know, in a way. We don't see sex, but it's kind of in there. And the relationships are a bit more complicated and romantic and convoluted. So we're pushing into new emotional and kind of physical territory for Harry Potter, you know, in a way, so it's quite playful and fun." (Spoilers ahead!)
The sixth film feels like the first act in a final trilogy (the upcoming seventh and eighth films will split J.K. Rowling's final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) enlists the help of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to befriend the new potions teacher, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), to weasel out a crucial bit of information that may help in the coming battle against Voldemort. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), meanwhile, is tasked by the Death Eaters with a sinister assignment. But as the students return to Hogwarts, romance is in the air, with Ron (Rupert Grint) dealing with the attentions of Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), much to the chagrin of Hermione (Emma Watson), and Harry himself aware of new feelings toward Ron's sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright).
Yates promises a lot more humor than the dark installment that preceded it. "Very much so," he said, adding: "We really enjoyed making the last film. ... I liked the intensity of the story that we did last time. ... This has intensity, but it's very playful, and there are some terrifically funny scenes. And six is a much lighter, more playful book than five was. It still has some tremendous intensity at the end of the story, but it's got lots of laughs, too, and for me, as a director, what's lovely is to change gears a little bit, and that's why I wanted to do it. I didn't want to make a kind of film about teenage angst, I wanted to make a film about teenage romance. And so, when I took over for Mike Newell [director of the fourth film], I said, 'You [fancy] doing the kind of teenage love side of things?' And so now I've got a bit of that to do, and it's really fun to come back and do it."
Such themes are natural for the cast, who have literally grown up before our eyes: Radcliffe turns 20 shortly after Half-Blood Prince opens; Watson, who plays Hermione, is now 19; and Grint turns 21 later this summer. Even Wright, who plays Ron's red-haired little sister, is 18.
The stars have also grown as actors and really get to shine this time around, Yates said. "Emma has become much more confident," he said. "I mean, she was confident before, but ... her acting ... is becoming more effortless. Dan's been off and done Equus and some television things, a television film, and he's grown a lot more confident and matured a wee bit. And they're all getting a wee bit older, and the material allows them to take a few more turns. ... They're getting better, as they should be as they get older, you know, so it's encouraging and enjoyable to see the whole [evolution]."
Radcliffe and Wright found it a tiny bit awkward to take Harry and Ginny's relationship to a new level in the movie. "It's slightly odd, though, with Bonnie, because when Katie [Leung] came into play Cho [Harry's love interest in] the fourth film, it was very much the case when she came in, we always knew she was going to be as a love interest," Radcliffe said. "Whereas, of course, when I first met Bonnie, she was just another character. She was, I think, ... 9 [or] 10 years old when I first met her, and so it's very strange. I've sort of grown up with Bonnie, and now suddenly having to play love interest scenes is very—it's kind of odd."
Wright agreed: "It was quite, obviously quite weird, I guess, after you've known someone for quite a long time," she admitted. "It's quite a weird thing to get to do. But, no, it was fine. It wasn't too bad. ... It was better than I expected."
SCI FI Wire was among a handful of reporters on set to watch the filming and speak with the cast and crew in winter 2008. We toured the movie's sets, including the hallway of the orphanage where Dumbledore first meets the young Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a scene that takes place in flashback. The walls are paved with brown "tile," and Riddle's narrow cell is bare and bleak.
We also visited a new set representing the interior of the Weasley house, a ramshackle farmhouse interior without a single right angle: The low ceiling, timbered walls and floors are all canted in weird ways, as if the house hasn't quite settled. But it's very cozy, with overstuffed ratty furniture, a grandfather clock and a big fireplace in the center of the room.
We also observed the filming of a scene in the Great Hall, which is filled with Hogwarts students at breakfast (big platters of sausages, racks of toast). It's the day of Ron's big Quidditch match, and he's nervous as heck. Ron enters the hall, kitted out in full Quidditch gear.
We also previewed the film last week and found it to work wonderfully well. After six installments, it was apparent that all involved have settled so expertly into their roles that the magic comes almost effortlessly, both behind and in front of the camera. This film in particular showcases many brilliant performances, beginning with the three principals, who find new depths in their familiar characters, and extending to the smallest part. Most noteworthy is Alan Rickman's Snape, who is deliciously arch, and the veteran actor finds a way to stretch his character's lines nearly to the point of absurdity without going overboard. New cast member Broadbent, meanwhile, finds a way to make Slughorn at once ridiculous and heartbreaking. And longtime cast member Felton shows us that there's a lot more to Draco than a sneer.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens July 15.