Billy Soistmann

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

In Coming-of-Age, David Yates, Harry Potter, Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Warner Brothers on July 15, 2009 at 4:47 AM

First of all, let me say that I have never considered myself a Harry Potter fan. I’ve always enjoyed the movies, but had only seen them once. That is, until this week, when I watched the first five films over the course of three days. I never realized how much I enjoy them. It’s amazing how much better the movies are when you go in with the knowledge of the previous ones. After soaking in the previous movies, I was now prepared for the “Half-Blood Prince”.

Once again, I loved the movie. The magic carries on, even though so much has changed since our heroes were just little kids running around an enchanted movie set. Thematically, the series has definitely evolved. A storm is brewing as Voldemort prepares his army and Harry must be ready to fight back. Dumbledore steps up to prepare the young wizard, instead of hiding as he did in “Order of the Phoenix”. At the same time, we see the complex nature of teen relationships as Harry, Ron, and Hermione discover love. The film moves completely away from the episodic nature of the early movies and becomes much more focused – Voldemort is coming and we must be ready.

This movie has bridged an important gap, created by “Order of the Phoenix”, between the enchantment of the first films and the brooding darkness of the two most recent installments. “Half-Blood Prince” successfully combines the magic of the early movies with the ever-increasing tension of Voldemort’s return.

The acting is better this time around. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) loosens up and starts to embody his character’s conflicts while Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) remains funny throughout and Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore) steps up to become a much more active player in the movie. As always, Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) is delightful, but I was surprised to see Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) in such a big part. While I will forever hate his character, I have to admit that it was nice to see him in a bigger role. Instead of serving as a simple, all-evil antagonist, Draco becomes torn between his family ties and his personal convictions. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) adeptly depicts the ups and downs of Hermione’s growing feelings for Ron. One of the best moments in the film happens when a distraught Hermione shares her feelings with Harry. It’s great to see how these young stars have matured and become actors in their own right.

The newcomer in this film, Horace Slughorn, returns to his position as Potions Master after being persuaded by Harry and Dumbledore. As the story wears on, Harry struggles to find out what happened between Professor Slughorn and the mysterious Tom Riddle. Harry must persuade Slughorn to give him his memory of that night so that he can view it with Dumbledore’s pensieve, a device that visualizes memories. The character is portrayed excellently by Jim Broadbent, who really brings depth to the character.

Another surprise is the comedy. This is definitely the funniest Harry Potter film to date. It was definitely a risky move, but it paid off. The comedy gave the movie a fresh feeling that really livened the potentially droll middle portion of the movie.

Thanks to both the direction and cinematography, the film really shines visually. I don’t remember another movie where I was so consistently impressed with the visuals. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is top-notch. From the opening Death Eater attack to the race through the wheat field and up until the thrilling climax, the movie consistently provides fantastic images. I’ve seen movies with good shots, but this one kept coming with excellent scenes over and over. Be sure to see this in the theater – you won’t get the full impact at home.

The special effects only added to the fantastic look of the film. CGI has come a long way since The Sorcerer’s Stone’s ragdoll effects, but the deciding factor is how the technology is utilized. Instead of constantly bombarding the senses, the effects are subtle and only serve as a tool to tell the story. What stood out to me were the quidditch sequences. In “Half-Blood Prince”, they are vastly superior to any of the previous films’ quidditch due to the combined effect of great cinematography and special effects.

Where this installment falls short, unfortunately, is the plot. First of all, I imagine it will be nearly impossible to watch this without any knowledge of the preceding events, but I don’t consider this a fault. This is now the sixth movie in the series, so don’t expect to be able to jump right in. The main problem is that the entire story feels unfulfilled. For example, we see the Death Eaters attack sporadically, but nothing ever comes of it. Just as we start to learn more about Tom Riddle, we realize that hardly any new information has been added. The worst offender in this category is the Half-Blood Prince. You would think that the title of the movie would be given some significant time, but this part of the story consists of a potions book with his name in it and a single line at the end of the film – “I am the Half-Blood Prince.” Well, that’s just great, but what does that actually mean?!

Another oddity was the absence of Voldemort himself. I didn’t realize this until shortly after the movie, but Voldemort was inexplicably absent. At first, I was a little mad, but I soon came to the conclusion that this was a very smart move. First of all, it shows that the film can hold itself up without him, but, most importantly, giving the Dark Lord very little screen time increases his mystique exponentially. By hiding the main antagonist for the majority of the movies, he becomes a much better villain. Even so, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the “Deathly Hallows”.

In spite of these faults, the story builds well and leads to a thrilling climax that doesn’t disappoint. The overall structure of the film is good, it is in the details where things get dodgy.

Even with its plot’s minor faults, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is another great addition to the Harry Potter franchise. With its rich visuals and solid performances, HP6 shows how a big-budget summer blockbuster should be made. Now, I hope that this movie goes on to make as much money as possible, just to show that audiences do know a good movie when they see one.

My Rating: 8.6/10

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