The long wait is over and the students of Hogwarts are back and more grown-up than ever in the latest installment of the film adaptations of J.K. Rowlingâ€™s Harry Potter series. It has been two full years since the last film from the franchise, Order of the Phoenix, was released in the summer of 2007 and the wait has been less than easy for die hard Potter fans. However, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince delivers more than enough to satiate any Muggle-born moviegoer.
The last three in the book series (and last four in the film series) have been entrusted to director David Yates, who handles the films with an excellent blend of darkness and humor. His latest addition picks up right where Order of the Phoenix left off, with the same tones of impending doom looming over every frame of the film. This Potter feels like the most mature of the Potter films in many ways â€“ particularly in the coming of age challenges and the more grown-up sense of humor. For Potter fans like myself, it feels comforting that after three previous directors, the franchise seems to have finally found consistency.
The action of Half-Blood Prince takes place in a world that is in need of a good lumos charm. The clouds are always looming and seem to be getting closer and closer as the students face the realization that evil is closing in on Hogwarts. Harry has just faced Voldemort, and the Wizard world at large finally acknowledges that the Dark Lord has returned. Before Harry can head back to school, Headmaster Dumbledore has a task they must complete â€“ meet Horace Slughorn and convince him to return to teach at Hogwarts. The reason not being because of the bumbling old Wizard’s excellent knowledge of potions, but rather the fact that he conceals a secret that is essential to defeating Voldemort.
Harry is soon reunited with his old pals from school – Hermione, Ron, and Ginny – and the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix, the secret group determined to fight evil. The talk this year is that something sinister is going on with another member of Harryâ€™s class â€“ Draco Malfoy, the blonde Slytherin House boy who comes from a family of Death Eaters. Harry must find out what Draco is up to, while also attempting to pick the mind of old Professor Slughorn, and figure out his girl situation while heâ€™s at it. You know, normal high school things.
There is one way in which this film deviates from the novels in a way that none of the film versions have at this point (from what I can recall). The books are written mostly from the third person limited viewpoint â€“ the reader only knows what Harry knows (with the exception of one or two scenes). For the most part, the movies have stayed consistent with that viewpoint until now. Half-Blood Prince gives us perspective into the activities of another character â€“ Draco Malfoy. The viewers are treated to glimpses of Draco attempting dark magic in the Room of Requirement, arguing with Professors, and having a break down in the bathroom. In doing this, director Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves make the film feel like it does not belong to just Harry, the way the books do.
Early in the film we see the one bright scene set against a dark and desolate Diagon Alley â€“ Weasleyâ€™s Wizard Wheezes, the joke shop started by Fred and George Weasly. When inquired how his brothers keep up with the terrible times Ron responds â€œFred says in times like these, people need a good laugh.â€ That line is appropriate for a film that turned out to be one of the funniest in the franchise. This time around the sense of humor is also more grown-up.
One of the biggest sources for laughter comes from Jim Broadbent’s hilarious portrayal of Professor Horace Slughorn. Only an actor with a face like Broadbentâ€™s can create such humor in a pompous and bumbling old fool. He steals every scene he is in and when long gaps occur without his character, I often found myself hoping he wouldnâ€™t be gone long.
Every other actor adult actor in the film doesnâ€™t miss a beat. Michael Gambonâ€™s sympathetic Dumbledore elicits the most emotional performance ever seen in the stately Wizard. Alan Rickmanâ€™s Snape inhabits the screen with a level of sinister that makes you loathe him and feel sympathy at the same time. The young actors continue their maturity as artists and people. The bond between the three main characters never feels forced, although some of their reactions, such as laughter, do. It should also be noted that beyond the Harry Potter franchise, you may never see such a solid ensemble of actors working together for some time.
Once again the film is a wonder to behold visually. The always great art direction is once again present in every set piece. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is fantastic to behold, particularly in scenes of flashbacks or memories. In those, the camera might be tilted, or moving in an uncomfortable direction (like up and to the right while rotating), giving the viewer a sense of unease.
The flaws from the film came from the same flaws in the books â€“ the forced emphasis on teenage romance. Director Yates did a good job of presenting them without feeling too â€œDisney Channel,â€ but the amount of mix and match love triangles became hard to keep track of and even harder to care about. This surprised me because in the fifth film, Yates took a book where not that much happens and filled it with heart-pounding action. This time he took a book where a lot happens and emphasized some of the parts that were least important. This is all made up for in the last third of the film, when romance is the last thing on the charactersâ€™ and audiencesâ€™ mind.
I realize that this review is going on longer than it should, but I want to make one quick mention of Nicholas Hooperâ€™s brilliant score. It has a more mature sound than John Williamsâ€™ popular theme that started the franchise to match the tone of the film. At times it sounds like Samuel Barberâ€™s â€œAdagio for Stringsâ€ â€“ and it took my breath away in the same fashion.