Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince picks up right where we left off. Harry is once again entering another year of school and will be enjoying his sixth year at Hogwarts. There is ominous feeling throughout the entire film as Voldemort is once again gaining power and creating havoc in both the Wizarding as well as the Muggle world. Things are so bad many parents are refusing to send their children back to Hogwarts, even though it might be the most secure place in the wizarding world. The main portion of the film is back to day to day events at Hogwarts. Hormones flare up and relationships come together and tumble apart all in one film. You have Harry dealing with being “The Chosen One” as well as finding he is falling in love with someone he never expected to. These subplots blend nicely against the constant fear of attack, segued with shots of Draco Malfoy up to something that is bound to be no good. Despite all the fear in the world, life does go on.
This film concentrates on the characters more than any of the films before it. Less of the film is spectacle, which it does have more on that later, more of the film is rooted firmly in the relationships of the characters. One great example of the focus on relationships in this film is that of Harry to the odd and slightly self-serving Professor Slughorn. Slughorn delights in others fame and what their fame may bring him as their former teacher. Harry’s mother was one of Slughorn’s favorite students, but nothing would be bigger than the prized jewel that is Harry Potter. This works well for Harry who needs a memory from Slughorn that might unlock the mystery behind Lord Voldemort and bring about his downfall.
The acting in this one is superb. Daniel Radcliffe hands in his best performance today, casting his widest range of emotions out of any of the films. His time in the Felix Felicis scene looks breezy and fun, an almost perfect adaptation from the b ooks. His chemistry with Bonnie Wright who plays Ginny Weasley is surprising. We haven’t seen a lot from her in previous films, but she does a great job of bringing herself to the forefront to give one of the best performances in the film. The other two actors in the trio grow up a bit as well. Emma Watson gives as much of an adult performance as we’ve seen from her. She has lot a bit of the singsong quality to her voice, and it really helps us taking her character seriously. Rupert Grint is given the most he has ever had to do in a Potter film. His love affair with Lavender Brown played by the very funny Jessi Cave makes the audience feel a bit awkward with her girlfriend persona that is a bit over the top. Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn, while it seemed a bit quirkier than described in the books, is absolutely brilliant bringing us some of the big laughs and fun times the film conjures up. His slightly odd performance lets us know even if he is a bit ambitious he at least has a decent heart. Michael Gambon does an amazing job as Dumbledore in this one. His tone has gotten a lot lighter and his demeanor as well. My biggest problem with him in previous installments were that his Dumbledore was a bit too gruff. We finally see a caring side from him that we might have missed before. Once again Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter turn in top notch performances. Rickman as the is he or isn’t bad guy, and Bonham as the so bad to the core Bellatrix you’ll wonder where she got that dark side from. The best performance of the film goes to the much improved Draco Malfoy. Tom Felton gives a depth to this character I might not have envisioned possible from his earlier performances. He has always been a bit of a one note villain in the rest of the series, in this one he is a multi-layered character who has a job to do, but isn’t quite sure if he is ready to deal with the consequences.
How brilliantly is this film shot? Better than any movie this summer. If that seems like big praise, that is because it is and it deserves it. French Director of Cinematography deserves major kudos for his brilliant use of light and dark in this film. I turned to my friend next to me during the film and asked, “Is it just me or does this look amazing?” The answer was a very enthusiastic “Yes.” The light keeps a slight dark feeling over the whole film. Even when you are enjoying the funniest part of the film, you can’t help but remember that every character is still in danger. The camera work is dazzeling as well. Shots wind through hallways, stairs and windows to give a grand scope only attempted so far in the Potter series.
Some might be disappointed that Half-Blood Prince might seem to have the least amount of effects shots of any of the films. It seems that when they are used, they are used to maximum effect. Some of the spells, particurally one that we saw a piece of in one of the trailers will have you amazed by its brilliance. Quidditch matches have real speed and the players flurry through the air for a chance to score the quaffle. The Quidditch in this is impressive enough to look like an actual sport. If it was, I know I’d watch it.
I really feel like I can’t throw enough praise on this film. As a fan of the books I have been left largely disappointed by the films. I still enjoyed them, but they seemed to lack a lot of the spirit that the books have. Half-Blood Prince seemed to capture the feel of the books the best of any film to date. It gives me great pleasure to think that David Yates will continue to direct the next two films of the series. If he can hit it out of the park like this again, we are in for one hell of a ride.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets an A+.
David Yates returns at the helm of the sixth and second to last adaptation in the Harry Potter series and the result is a character driven story that sets up the final chapter that lacks a lot of action, as the source material dictates, that makes it a bit of the odd duck in the Harry Potter films.
Harry, having just lost his last living person he would call family in his godfather Sirius Black, Harry has spent the summer in a bit of a malaise away from the magic world. But when Lord Voldemort’s minion’s, the Death Eaters, actions begin to pour over into the muggle world he can’t help but notice the entire world becoming less safe a place to be. Potter is surprisingly visited by Dumbledore right before the start of the new school year only to be whisked away to help service Dumbledore’s attempt to recruit an ex-colleague back to Hogwarts. We then discover that Draco Malfoy has been tasked by the Dark Lord with a life risking endeavor that leads his mother to seek out Severus Snape to form an unbreakable vow to protect the Malfoy boy from harm. Potter quickly discovers that the professor Dumbledore recruited, Slughorn, has an important key to Dumbledore’s fight against Voldemort and understanding how to beat the Dark Lord. Harry is called upon to help Dumbledore gain this memory of Slughorn’s and he attempts to coax it from the professor in between the romantic ups and downs of himself and his best friends Ron and Hermione.
Now, there isn’t a lot going on in this chapter of the story when you write it out like that, but the key to this part of this tale is getting to know these characters as they really begin to turn into adults and deal with bigger emotions in their lives. The film’s main focus is the romantic endeavors of our main trio and the humor it gives to us as the teens deal with flaring hormones. Harry is a hot commodity with the girls as he is the world’s most famous wizard, but his gaze is on a girl with a lot of hurdles for him. Ron and Hermione continue their song and dance as they circle each others true feelings for each other while they get into snogging situations with other classmates.
While the film focuses on these characters growth and not a lot of plot really happens, the film is still full of magic, is the funniest film in the series to date, and is full of beautiful cinematography and creativity in its shots that it rivals Prisoner of Azkaban as the finest filmmaking in the series. The film also sees the return of the beloved wizard sport of quidditch and the two instances of the game are fun and thrilling, while providing most of the action in the film as well. And while on the action, there isn’t a lot in the picture. In fact, the filmmakers had to add an action sequence at the Weasley house to the picture just to try and keep up with the action packed installments that preceded it. So for anyone out there that loves the films for the wizard fights and other action sequences, be warned that you won’t find much here.
Also, for fans of the book, the film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the source work. There isn’t as much quidditch as there is in the book, nor are there many ups and downs in Ron’s new career as keeper, but there is plenty of quidditch to quench our starved thirst. The real nitpicking will come towards the end with the handling of the finale of the film. The scene at the lake works well, but once we go back to Hogwarts things deviate from the film a bit and I can’t help but question their decisions. They not only take away all of the fighting and action that took place, but they also make the actions of Harry seem odd, weak, and against what he would normally do if put in that situation. I also feel like the big emotional punch in the film wasn’t earned as well as they could have, and while the moment unfolds like it does in the book, the build up to the moment unfolds with little tension and no struggle in the middle of all hell breaking loose below at Hogwarts.
The acting film is as good as it has ever been in the series and the younger cast continues to grow under Yates’ direction. Emma Watson’s Hermione has always been the weakest of the three leads, by far, but she catches up to the pack in this one with no cringe inducing moments that she had in the previous installment. Rupert Grint is the best of the trio again as Ron, providing countless laughs and a hilarious turn as the most love swept character. Daniel Radcliffe gets better as well as Harry Potter and stands toe to toe with Michael Gambon and Jim Broadbent in almost every scene away from the kids. Broadbent is the new professor this year, Slughorn, and he does a fantastic job at creating the nervous and fame loving teacher that holds a dark secret; and he knows Dumbledore is after it. Gambon also gets the most screen time he has gotten since his first appearance in the series and that is a good thing for us. His rendition of Dumbledore is more spry, fun, and silly making him one of the most enjoyable characters in the series and he doesn’t disappoint. Jessie Cave is also hilarious as Lavender Brown, the love struck Gryffindor mate of our leads that goes gaga for Ron. Bonnie Wright is also able to make the step up in her biggest role yet in the films. Tom Felton also grows up as the sulking and always lingering Draco Malfoy, whose mission from Voldemort remains a mystery as he lurks in the background of the halls of Hogwarts. Alan Rickman also gets plenty to do as Snape, wrangling Malfoy being his primary job, and more Snape is always a good thing.
In the end, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a solid entry into the series, but after first viewing is not my favorite. It drags a little bit when Harry makes his final push on Slughorn and like I said earlier, failed to really resonate emotion at the end. With that said it is the funniest film and probably the finest produced in the series and really sets up the characters for the final act, The Deathly Hollows. The film itself serves as a set up more than anything, planting seeds that we won’t get answered until the final chapter in the series and I think that hurts the pictures ability to really stand out as a great film. Lacking action and a lot of fantasy spectacle the film might let down some, but when you sit back and look at it all it serves as a nice set up for the final film and will play better once that film is out I imagine. The most segue way film of the series there is plenty to enjoy in the quality picture, just prepared that it is a bit different trip this time around, and if you can get past the book nitpicking, that really isn’t a bad thing.
Potter gets a B+