THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MANY, MANY SPOILERS OF BOTH THE FILM AND NOVEL.
Dark brown clouds. In the background, the echoes fade of Bellatrix LeStrange yelling “I killed Sirius Black!” The flashes of cameras, the dulled sound of press questions, and Dumbledore puts his arm around the shoulders of a Harry Potter still bloodied and bruised from his battle with Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic. In just the first few seconds of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” David Yates has redeemed himself for everything he screwed up in “Order of the Phoenix.” And that’s just what “Half-Blood Prince” is: Yates’s redemption.
Though films are supposed to be reviewed singularly, it is hard to talk about the sixth film in the “Harry Potter” franchise without discussing its association with the previous films and novels in the series. After what I consider to be a brutal and unnecessary butchering of the “Order of the Phoenix” adaptation, “Half-Blood Prince” has moments of brilliance that touch on an understanding of the characters not even the novels fully master. It also misses out on one of the biggest chances at an epic action scene J.K. Rowling could possibly have written out for filmmakers.
But before what did and didn’t work for the film’s plot has been thoroughly analyzed, a moment must be taken to appreciate what wonderful actors the young “Harry Potter” stars have developed into. Most notable is Tom Felton, whose Draco Malfoy is malicious and tortured with so many intricate levels of his character expressed in only a grimace or a blank stare it is a wonder his true talent of making Malfoy a three-dimensional person rather than a flat, spoiled villain hasn’t been tapped into previously. Though “Half-Blood Prince” contains Malfoy’s highest level of involvement in a “Harry Potter” installment (meaning we will probably see far less of him in “Deathly Hallows I and II”), here is an actor who is going places.
Beyond Felton, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint continue to shine as Harry, Hermione and Ron. While some of their line-delivery is sometimes still as forced and awkward as it was in the first installments, there are moments when the threesome share a laugh or a knowing look that it is clear: more than just friends off-screen, Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are Harry, Hermione and Ron, and that friendship onscreen is the same as the one in the book. In “Half-Blood Prince” the threesome lives in their characters more than any other film in the series.
Written by: Steve Kloves
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman
Running time: 153 mins
Seen at: Boston Common Loews
Newcomer to the series, Jim Broadbent, is wonderful as Professor Slughorn, the Hogwarts teacher whose propensity for favorites can be said to have caused Voldemort’s rise to power. Fortunately, Slughorn will return to the series in “Deathly Hallows Part II” when Harry and friends return to Hogwarts.
In early reviews of “HBP” critics disapproved of the mass amounts of “filler” before the last 30 minutes of “plot” claiming that the film at almost two and a half hours dragged for far too long. On the contrary, “HBP” is the first film since “Prisoner of Azkaban” to take the time to devote its time to the year at Hogwarts rather than just pick the action out of the novel and turn that into the film’s plot. There’s a reason “Harry Potter” isn’t called “Harry Potter vs. Voldemort: The Fight Rages On;” the series is about Harry’s life during his seven years at Hogwarts and, even in the wizarding world, life isn’t always action-packed. Spending as much time on the burgeoning relationships between the Hogwarts students as on the Draco Malfoy and Half-Blood Prince plotlines is one of the best choices Yates could have made for the film. While an “Order of the Phoenix” David Yates might have ditched the Lavender Brown (played by the wonderful Jessie Cave)-Ron Weasley-Hermione Granger “sub-plot” for a closer analysis of Tom Riddle, here Ron’s unfortunate love triangle becomes one of the main plots of the film.
Yates must also be congratulated for returning Quidditch to its proper place in “Harry Potter” filmography, albeit for only two scenes. Not only does he manage to flawlessly integrate Ron Weasley into the Gryffindor Quidditch team (yet another unfortunately axed “Order of the Phoenix” plotline) but he also manages, for the first time in any “Harry Potter” movie, to not make Quidditch seem like a joke.
Unfortunately, he could not resist the urge to unnecessarily cut important and epic scenes from his adaptation. Rowling wrote film adaptation brilliance in the terrifying showdown between Death Eaters and members of the Order of the Phoenix and the DA at the end of “HBP.” What would have taken five minutes of screen time to set up Yates chose to scrap for a fight-less ending. In choosing to have the Death Eaters enter and exit Hogwarts with no opposition, “HBP” raises too many questions that shouldn’t have gone unanswered and makes those opposing Voldemort’s army seem weak in comparison. Where were those protecting Hogwarts while the Death Eaters were exiting the castle? Why wouldn’t the Death Eaters try to attack students while they were in Hogwarts? Where were the students while all this is happening? And when Bellatrix torches Hagrid’s cabin before fleeing into the woods, where was Hagrid?
And after Snape’s grand admission that he himself is the Half-Blood Prince, where is the explanation as to why? For a plot point so important it is the title of the novel/film, it was unfortunately cast aside in the movie.
Also, nixing Dumbledore’s funeral for a nod to “The Empire Strikes Back” didn’t give the audience the time to mourn the great wizard’s passing like it did in the novel, nor to understand the unfortunate ripple effect of his death. With an ending that rushes headlong to its finish in a messy and needlessly disorganized fashion, “HBP” could have used a beautiful funeral to honor a character who becomes so important in “Deathly Hallows.”
What Yates did give back to “HBP” were moments that only were produced since, for the first time, the end of the “Harry Potter” story was known while the film was being made. SUPER DUPER DEATHLY HALLOWS SPOILER ALERT! Harry touches Voldemort’s ring that once was a Horcrux and Dumbledore realizes a piece of Voldemort’s soul might have been left behind in Harry “" something portrayed only in a look from the wonderful Michael Gambon. END SPOILER
In a scene unique to the film, Snape (played by a stunning Alan Rickman) shushes Harry before joining the Death Eaters in Dumbledore’s office and ultimately killing Dumbledore, a moment which will haunt Harry until he discovers the truth behind Snape’s actions.
Even the Death Eaters attacking and destroying the Weasley’s house in a scene completely made up for the film stays true to the theme of not just the novel, but the series (and the unfortunate truth that Bill and Fleur’s wedding will never make its way to the big screen).
In the end, “Half-Blood Prince” is a solid film that has progressed leaps and bounds since Yates first took a stab at adapting the series in “Order of the Phoenix.” He has clearly learned the necessity of staying true to the novel’s plot in addition to making the film entertaining. The film itself is a work of art, and is already beginning to generate Oscar buzz. Hopefully with both parts of “Deathly Hallows” Yates will master the formula so many directors have struggled with in the past and create the perfect “Harry Potter” movie.