Review: “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

July 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm Leave a comment

Please note that this isn’t a comparison of the movie to the book (I’m sure there are plenty of HP fanboys/girls that would be glad to provide that kind of critique).  As with any piece of ‘art’, a movie, regardless of its source material, should be evaluated on its own, so my opinions of The Half-Blood Prince are strictly about the movie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince picks up several weeks after the events of the previous movie, Order of the Phoenix, and continues the story arc begun in movie 4, Goblet of Fire.  16-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is awaiting the start of a new school year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, all the while dark forces gather around him.  His nemesis, Lord Voldemort, has made his presence known to the general wizarding public, and has begun to gather his allies to him.  Standing in Voldemort’s way are Harry’s closest friends and allies, among them wise Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), headmaster of Hogwart’s, and Harry’s best friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint).  Dumbledore, too, is recruiting allies such as old friend Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), in an effort to deny any advantage to Voldemort.

However, one advantage is clearly in The Dark Lord’s court: immortality.  By reviewing memories (by way of the magical pensieve) left behind by a young Voldemort, a.k.a. Tom Riddle, Dumbledore realizes their foe has split his soul into seven pieces, hidden in seven obscure items, thus making him unkillable.  The solution: destroy these items, known individually as a horcrux, so Voldemort can become mortal, then hopefully draw him out into battle and defeat him once and for all.  Voldemort was smart, unfortunately, and left behind a series of traps to protect the horcruxes.  Thus sets up the beginning of the end for the Harry Potter story, one that will be wrapped up in the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows beginning next year.

The Half-Blood Prince is at once darker in atmosphere and lighter in tone than the previous movies, and director David Yates does a decent job balancing the two.  Gone are the ‘gee-whiz-ooohs-and-aahhhs’ moments of the first three movies, and the coming-of-age ‘who-is-asking-who-to-the-Yule-Ball’ awkwardness of parts 4 and 5; this movie sets things up nicely with a Death Eater attack on Britain’s Millennium Bridge, resulting in Muggle (human) casualties and a bombing of a store in the magical Diagon Alley.  Offsetting this still some of that teenage hormonal angst that people love to laugh at, but still finds some way to provide some comic relief to an otherwise tense and dreary atmosphere.  Harry apparently is over his first crush, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), who had been forced to betray Harry and his friends in the previous movie.  He now seems to be interested in his best friend’s little sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright).  Ron seems to be getting a bit of attention from classmate Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), much to the disgust of Hermione, who is now coming to terms with her own feelings for Ron.

This presents a bit of a problem for the movie, as the focus for almost half of it seems to be these relationships don’t necessarily affect the main plot of the story.  We don’t really see how Voldemrt’s attacks have interrupted school life, aside from some security checks set up around the school grounds.  I would’ve liked to have seen or heard a few lines where the students are expressing their concern for what is going on in the outside world.  Maybe, the school’s Great Hall could’ve been a little emptier this year, as parents nervously refuse to allow their children to go back to school during these dark days.

You...shall not...PASS!  Wait, wrong movie...

"You...shall not...PASS! Wait, wrong movie..."

Also, the whole mystery of who this ‘half-blood prince’ is was merely glossed over during the movie and conveniently explained in a single line toward the end.  This also messes with the pacing of the story, as it seemed slow for the duration of it.  The only moments of excitement we get are the Quidditch scenes (making their return since The Prisoner of Azkaban), and near the end during Dumbledore and Harry’s hunt for one of the horcruxes.

Now, I know this might seem like breaking my own rule, as I hate to compare a movie to the book it’s based on, but I might have to in order to make a point.

In the novel, there’s a skirmish that occurs between Voldemort’s followers and members of Hogwart’s and the Order of the Phoenix, who are stationed at the school to protect it.  This happens at the very end and is completely missing from the movie.  I’m not one to cry foul just because it’s something that is in the book which happens to not be in the movie.  The only reason I feel it should’ve been included is because the movie seemed to move sooo sloowww for about 2 hours.  The Death Eaters infiltrate Hogwarts, do what they set out to do, and leave.  In the book, there’s quite a bit more going on and I think the movie needed it.  Maybe there was a practical reason for it being shelved (budget being my first thought), but all I needed was maybe a minute or two and I would’ve been satisfied.

Regardless of the movie’s pacing, all the actors seem to be doing very fine jobs at making the time go by.  All the usual suspects have settled comfortably in their roles, while still providing nice performances.  Broadbent is perfect casting in the role of Slughorn, a potions expert who enjoys networking with students that may be able to provide services to him in the future.  Michael Gambon seems to channel J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf (the prototype for virtually any fantasy story’s wise old wizard) and everyone’s affectionate grandfather in his portrayal of Albus Dumbledore.  He’s an intelligent man, a beloved teacher, and respected wizard who can duel with the best of them.  Not given enough to do, however, is everyone’s favorite sourpuss Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and Remus Lupin (the underappreciated David Thewlis), their roles likely cut for time.  Ginny Weasley’s effort in an expanded part is admirable, but nothing spectacular.  Out of all the young actresses in the series, Emma Watson is still most likely to become a major star in the years to come.

And special mention should go to Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, actor Ralph Fiennes’ (who plays Voldemort) nephew who is downright creepy as 11-year-old Tom Riddle as well as Tom Felton for turning in a better-than-expected performance as the emotionally tortured Draco Malfoy.

The visuals seem to shine, even though there’s no real setpiece to show them off (unlike Goblet of Fire’s dragon match or Order of the Phoenix’s Dumbledore vs. Voldemort smackdown).  This may actually be a smart decision, as it treats the audience as a member of this world, and not a newcomer.  The score I was a little disappointed in.  I really enjoyed what Nicholas Hooper had done with Order of the Phoenix, but this score seemed bland, and he even re-uses some motifs from the previous movie.  The sound design, however, is good, but it’s relegated to serving the score and for background noise.  Just like with the visuals, there’s no real moment that will give the speakers a workout.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince leaves on a cliff-hanger, which should surprise no one (least of all the fans) as the final entry is already being lensed.  In spite of this story’s uneventful story structure and any lack of closure, it does set up what is sure to be a highly-anticipated finale.  Many claim this entry to be the best, but I’d have to disagree.  It could’ve been, since nearly all the elements are there: great cinematography, strong acting, relatable characters, and a continuing story arc that will leave fans clamoring for the next installment.  But this individual entry seems to be confused as to what it needed to be.  Was it a coming-of-age dramedy?  Or a detective story that could’ve been creative in its use of memories as evidence instead of objects?  Still, most fans will enjoy this, as there are plenty of ‘fan moments’ like favorite characters kissing other favorites characters, and the like.  In other words, this feels like a nice red carpet to the premiere of the real show-stopper.



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