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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2009

ImageIt seems like a million years ago when tiny Daniel Radcliffe took a wide-eyed step into the world of wizarding as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you live anywhere outside of America), and the world has collectively watched little Harry and his compatriots grow right in front of our eyes. Well, Harry and the crew are back for yet another installment of the unstoppable pop culture juggernaut, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is without a doubt the darkest and bleakest Harry Potter entry thus far.

After a massive fight in the Ministry of Magic at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the wizarding world now knows without a doubt that Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has indeed returned from the dead. Despite this, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has laid low. But that all changes when he gets a surprise visit from Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, still the most sympathetic actor in the series), and Harry is used to tempt an old Hogwarts professor, Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), back to his teaching post at the school. At the same time, Voldemort and his Death Eaters, led by Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) are hatching a plan aimed directly at Dumbledore, a plan which may or may not include Severus Snape (Alan Rickman).

Harry Potter kids

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were, in my mind, the weakest of the Harry Potter books. Phoenix was overly long and dense, with many dull passages that could have been excised, while Prince felt like one long setup for the seventh and final book in the series. So it’s all the more impressive that director David Yates has managed to turn these two slogfests into the two best Harry Potter films since Prisoner of Azkaban. And while Yates doesn’t have the authorial touch of Alfonso Cuaron, he does have the best handle on the meat of the material of any of the series’ directors. Visually, he pushes even further than he did on Phoenix, with several stunning shots that are set to impress. Less interesting is his continued infatuation with draining most of the color from his shots, and flattening the image so it almost looks like the actors are blending into the sets. I’m not really sure the reason for such a stylistic choice, but when the film runs over two hours it gets to be a little much.

But that’s really my only gripe with the film. By now, the actors know these characters like the back of their hands, so it doesn’t take much to get them going. Daniel Radcliffe is once again exactly who we think of when we think of Harry (and, let’s face it, by this point Rowling clearly modeled the book versions of the characters after their cinematic counterparts). Grint and Watson play the burgeoning Ron/Hermione relationship to a T, and Alan Rickman is as deliciously laconic as ever. The best performance comes, not surprisingly, from Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. As you probably already know, Gambon replaced Richard Harris after the latter actor died, and while I have no wish to disrespect the dead, Gambon is a much better choice. Harris was creaky and stuffy as Dumbledore, whereas Gambon imbues the character with life and a youthful vitality.

Dumbledore Slide

The plot of the movie feels slightly episodic, as there’s not one main villain to defeat, or even a singular goal such as the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Instead, the film mainly focuses on the romantic relationships of the leads, including many humorous scenes between Ron, Hermione, and another student named Lavender. Somewhat surprisingly, Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves decided to shy away from the mystery that gives the picture its title: A potions book with notes scribbled on it by a mysterious ex-student named the Half-Blood Prince. While the book and its contents played a major role in the novel, in the movie it’s merely an afterthought. The book itself is tossed away before the third act begins and is not mentioned again until the end in an abrupt reveal. It’s a strange move and had the plot not contributed to the title I wonder if it might have been excised completely.

Still, these are nitpics, as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is easily in the top tier of the Potter series, along with its predecessor and Azkaban. The majority of its shortcomings stem from the source material, and Yates and company have once again done their very best to bring the series to life. The movie is set to make about a gazillion dollars at the box office, but unlike its recent blockbuster brethren, Half-Blood Prince is actually enjoyable.

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