Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality
Running time: 153 min.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Robbie Coltrane, Jessie Cave, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Evanna Lynch, David Bradley, Helen McRory, Timothy Spall, Warwick Davis, David Thewlis, Alfred Enoch
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling)
Review published July 16, 2011
Continuing the more mature tone of the later books in the J.K. Rowing series, though this sixth film goes back to its usual PG rating, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince adds a heaping helping of romance into the mix, and re-establishes the staples of the first four films by showcasing quidditch matches and scenes of classroom whimsy. As a result, the film is looser and less intense than Yates' previous films, but it will most likely please Rowling fans, who are still likely to complain about a great many things that may have been left out from the text, a bit more now that the balance of character touches and plot are a bit more representative of the style of the book.
The sixth episode of Harry Potter's training at Hogwarts has him confronting the evils of the past that have come to roost in the present, including the story of Tom Riddle, the former boy student at the school who would grow up to become the wicked Lord Voldemort. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Gambon, The Good Shepherd) knows that the players for malice, the Death Eaters, have been hatching a plan to bring Voldemort to power, and enlisting the assistance of Professor Horace Slughorn (Broadbent, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the man who once trained Riddle during his formative years, the grand wizard begins preparing Harry, foretold to be the 'Chosen One' to confront these forces, for the cataclysmic battle ahead. In the midst of this, the students at Hogwarts are learning about the ways of love and burgeoning romance, which are exacerbated by the introduction of a potion that produces the feeling of infatuation in its imbiber. Romilda (Shaffer) is intent to use this on Harry (Radcliffe, Goblet of Fire), who in turn has feelings for Ron's (Grint, Chamber of Secrets) sister Ginny (Wright, Prisoner of Azkaban), who also has a thing for Dean Thomas (Enoch, Sorceror's Stone), while Ron's advances toward Hermione (Watson, Tale of Despereaux) would be requited if not for the whirlwind crush that manifests itself in Lavender (Cave), who won't take no for an answer.
David Yates (The Girl in the Cafe, Sex Traffic) continues to impress as the most simpatico director of the Harry Potter series, after his successful turn in The Order of the Phoenix, continuing the atmosphere of darkness and despair to the once relatively lighthearted series. With Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys, The Fabulous Baker Boys) returning as the screenwriter after skipping the last film, the more serious tone is interspersed with the lighter moments of teen romance, though these soap opera antics may seem tedious to those who don't care much about the dalliances of the Hogwarts students, particularly in how much screen time is given to it in place of the larger storyline that could have used a greater sense of build up. One important moment late (sorry, major spoiler if I were to reveal it) in the film is handled very well by Yates from a cinematic point of view, but it curiously is not as emotional in punch as the scene would merit. Gorgeous cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel (Paris I Love You, The Cats Meow) continues to be a main highlight.
Jim Broadbent is a nice addition to the pantheon of terrific actors in the series as the professor of potions, Horace Slughorn, offering the tight mix of bumbling charm and wry whimsy in keeping with the nature of the series as a whole. In its less serious moments, the young cast gets to finally shine in moments both romantic and humorous, so, even if the hormones-a-raging scenes might slow down the momentum from ever getting to fever pitch, they are likely to be cherished by the more hardcore fans who long for the personalities of these characters so evident in Rowling's original takes to finally emerge on the screen.
The Half-Blood Prince hits the right notes at the right times to make the music sound the way it should, and yet, while it is efficiently made and well worth recommending for Potter fans, there is still something hollow to the characters for those who've not read the books. This is in large part to the distracted way the stories have been told, placing equal emphasis on small, personal touches of humor, spells, snogging and Quidditch (there are TWO scenes in this one, vs. none in Order of the Phoenix) as it does the fate of Hogwarts and the world of Muggles at the hands of the Dark Lord. The film is somewhat subdued in no small part due to the fact that Rowling's take is not as big on the grand moments of action and adventure as previous entries, as it is merely a setup for the final book in the Harry Potter series, which is being released in theaters in two parts. There's no real sense in having big, action-packed moments that can't be outdone in the next entry, so Yates and Kloves are able to get the smaller stuff out of the way.
With another strong performance by Radcliffe anchoring the film, more of fan favorite villain Snape (Rickman, Sweeney Todd), and bolstering even further an already impressive cast of the finest British actors, The Half-Blood Prince provides another solid entry in the franchise, giving an entertaining bridge between the strong Order of the Phoenix and the upcoming final chapter, The Deathly Hallows. In the series, it may only be a table-setter, but credit is due for a setting that delivers with such professionalism and utmost visual flair.
-- Preceded by Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.
©2011 Vince Leo