Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/19/09 w/ Additional Edits.
The summer of 2007 marked the release of the final Harry Potter novel Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows in which Harry Potter battled Lord Voldemort to the death. While the novels marked an end of an era with J.K. Rowling moving on to different projects. The successful film franchise that had already spawned five successful films are ready to complete the last two books into films. With the last film set to be a two-part film released in separate years much to mixed reactions from fans of the novel. The long-awaited sixth film for Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince after a year of delay is finally released.
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince tells the story of Harry Potter exploring the background of Lord Voldemort with help from Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Asking an old teacher to return to Hogwarts in order to retrieve a memory, Potter and Dumbledore discover the secret into destroying Voldemort. Meanwhile, Harry becomes attracted to Ginny Weasley, the sister of his best friend Ron while Ron falls for Lavender Brown which upsets Hermione Granger. Harry also discovers a book that belongs to someone known as the Half-Blood Prince while learning that Draco Malfoy has become a Death Eater.
Directed by David Yates, who previously directed the last film, and an adapted screenplay by Steve Kloves. The film explores Harry Potter discovering what it takes to destroy Voldemort while being aware of the chaos that is going on as Voldemort is wreaking havoc onto the wizarding world and at Muggles. Featuring such regular players like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, James & Oliver Phelps, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, and Timothy Spall plus new franchise players in Jessie Cave, Jim Broadbent, Helen McCrory, and in the dual roles of the young Tom Riddle, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is an excellent, funny, and haunting film from David Yates.
Chaos is brewing over London in both the wizarding world and with Muggles. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) meanwhile is joined by Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to convince an old colleague named Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to Hogwarts. After Harry convinces Slughorn to return, Harry is taken to the Burrow to stay with the Weasleys for the remainder of the summer. Joined Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), the trio are in Diagon Alley to check out Fred & George Weasley's (James & Oliver Phelps) new joke-shop where they find Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) going into the dark magic street of Knockturn Alley. The trio catches Malfoy with Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bohnam Carter) and notorious werewolf Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno) at Borgin & Burkes.
Harry immediately suspects that Draco is now a Death Eater though Ron and Hermione don't believe it. After an attempt to see what Malfoy is up to backfires leaving Harry immobilized until he is saved by Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch). With the news that Slughorn is the new potions master and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, much to Harry's dismay. Harry, believing that his OWL grade for potions wasn't good enough takes the course since Slughorn is the new teacher as he received an old copy of a potions book that belonged to the Half-Blood Prince. Now a potions virtuoso, Harry keeps the old copy though Hermione and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) are suspicious. A class session with Dumbledore about Voldemort's background which includes Dumbledore's first meeting with a young Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) through Dumbledore's memories. Dumbledore reveals why he wants Slughorn back at Hogwarts to retrieve a memory about meeting with Slughorn and Riddle.
Things become troubling when a student falls ill to a curse making Harry more suspicious of Malfoy. At the same time, he finds himself becoming attracted to Ginny though she is dating one of his classmates in Dean Thomas (Alfred Enoch). With Harry attending Slughorn's parties with Hermione, Ginny, and Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), Harry hopes to get some information from Slughorn about Voldemort. Yet, he's troubled by some love problems involving Ron and Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) that's making Hermione jealous. At another party at Slughorn's, Hermione went with Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Storma) to her own regret while Harry accompanied Luna where he learned that Snape made an unbreakable vow with Draco's mother (Helen McCrory) to protect him in his mission.
After telling Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Nymphadora Tonks (Natalia Tena), and Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) during the holidays about what he heard. Lupin isn't so sure though Arthur reveals things about a vanishing cabinet at Borgin & Burkes. An attack at the Burrow and on the Weasley family led by Bellatrix and Greyback had the Weasley home destroyed though everyone survived. Back at Hogwarts, Harry's attempts to get information from Slughorn fails until Ron gets hit with a love potion where he turned to Slughorn for help. It worked but Ron got poisoned by a bottle that was supposed to be given to Dumbledore. Harry's suspicions on Draco increase leaving Draco overwhelmed in his mission while Harry finally uncovered the memory that he and Dumbledore needed from Slughorn. What was revealed was how Voldemort survived the killing curse and what he's done to achieve immortality.
The plot of Half-Blood Prince is about Harry Potter discovering about Lord Voldemort's background and how achieved immortality. While that was the main story, it's balanced by two other subplots. One involving the messy love affairs and attraction for the main characters along with Harry falling for Ginny Weasley. The second is Draco Malfoy's struggle to carry on his mission to kill Dumbledore under the orders of Lord Voldemort. While those two subplots are handled quite well. The story about Voldemort and his background doesn't cover as much information as it would be revealed. Especially in the discovery of the object known as a Horcrux. In the book, five of them were revealed where two of them being Tom Riddle's diary and a ring were already destroyed. The third object was a locket but not much information was revealing about the locket along with the Horcruxes that Harry and Dumbledore needed to find.
While Steve Kloves' screenplay is well written and well-condensed in what is needed to be told. There's even little details that do get some attention, notably the big scene near the end involving Dumbledore that serves as an important purpose to the plot of the entire Harry Potter story. Yet, with a lot of adaptations, not everything is perfect but that's understandable. What was missing is some of the things involving Voldemort's family background which was crucial to the objects that he created as Horcruxes. The dark tone of the story does get balanced by some light-hearted moments and scenes that recall a return of sorts to the early films that were directed by Chris Columbus and Prisoner of Azkaban by Alfonso Cuaron.
Even in the scenes involving the romantic troubles with Ron-Hermione-Lavender where clearly, it was used as comic relief in some parts but reveals the long-standing feelings between Ron and Hermione. For Harry, with him being the so-called Chosen One much to his annoyance does get attention from girls but is more focused on other things. One of those things turn out to be Ginny, whom he had known for so long and she had a crush on him since the first day she met him. Now that she has a boyfriend, Harry becomes more attracted to her though he doesn't want to upset Ron. Then there's story involving Draco Malfoy where the character, who had started out as a bully now becomes a full-fledge character. There, Malfoy struggles to carry his mission but behind it shows someone scared and having trouble dealing with the fact that his family name is shamed while he has to carry out a mission or else Voldemort kills him.
Malfoy's struggles would include the involvement of Severus Snape where the film early on includes a scene where he meets Bellatrix and Narcissa Malfoy to make the Unbreakable Vow. Snape becomes more complex than ever as to who is he really working for as his attempts to help Draco cause some resentments from Draco's part while becoming more and more frustrated with Dumbledore. What would be revealed near the end wouldn't just shape the story but add an aura of mystery. After this huge moment, the film ends in an anti-climatic way revolving the aftermath of what just happened. Yet, it reveals what had just happened and what to do next.
Kloves' screenplay does work in helping to advance the plot of the film that would lead to the final story in The Deathly Hallows. Yates' direction is solid throughout, notably the opening scene involving the chaos in London as it opens the film with a bang. Even as the scene reveals the Death Eaters capturing a major character of the Harry Potter story. The direction for the most part is a mixture of broad, light-hearted humor that is balanced dark, dramatic sequences, and high-octane special effects scenes. Even as the film feature some hand-held camera moments for the chase scenes at the Burrow, the duels and such. Yet, there's one scene which involves violence that definitely is a little gruesome for the PG rating along with some of the dark tone of the film. Clearly, it's a PG-13 film as the MPAA has no idea how to rate a film.
While Yates makes a lot of good decision in the scenes involving humor and action, a few decisions in the directing don't work. Notably the big scene involving Dumbledore where originally, it had Harry unable to do anything because he's immobilized. In the film, he could've done something but he's forced to watch instead. That was something that doesn't really work. Still, Yates does manage to create something that is engaging without delving into huge moments of effects and such. With its balance of humor, action, drama, suspense, and character study, Yates creates a film that isn't just faithful to the novel but also a film that takes its time without rushing into things.
Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel does some great work with the film's look as it is awash with sepia-style colors for some of the film's daytime, sunny scenes in both interior and exterior scenes. Even in darker scenes like the Burrow ambush, the attack of Hogwarts, and the London attack are done with great colors mixed in with a dark look to play up to the film's tone. The flashback scenes with memory are a mixture of light green and gray for its eerie tone. Delbonnel's work is phenomenal in conveying the look of the film in its wide range of tones. Editor Mark Day does excellent work in making the 150-minute film move a bit fast but not too fast. With some nice cuts that plays to a rhythm as well as capturing the intensity of the Quidditch sequence and action scenes.
Production designer Stuart Craig with set decorator Stephanie McMillan does excellent work in creating the looks of Diagon Alley as its decayed along with Weasley Wizard Wheezes shop that includes a little toy involving one of the antagonists in the last film. The design of the Burrow and the mysterious Room of Requirement has great set pieces in its decoration and design. The costume design by Jany Temime is excellent in its mixture of the uniforms and contemporary clothing the young actors wear while the look of Narcissa Malfoy is great for its regal look while the clothes of Slughorn is excellent to display his personality as a man wanting to be linked with greatness. The visual effects are top-notch in the action sequences along with the look of plants and things revolving around the wizarding world and Hogwarts. The opening sequence of the destruction of the Millennium Bridge in London is an effects scene that is phenomenal.
The sound work by editor James Mather is very good for the action scenes, little effects pieces, and the Quidditch sequence. The music score by Nicholas Hooper which revolves around some of the themes by John Williams in previous films plays well to the film's mix of emotions with soaring arrangements for the more heightened, intense action scenes and playful melodies for the light-hearted humorous sequences.
The casting by Fiona Weir is wonderfully assembled with appearances from previous regulars like Alfred Enoch as Dean Thomas, Devon Murray as Seamus Finnigan, David Bradley as Argus Filch, Warwick Davis as Professor Flitwick, Gemma Jones as Madam Pomfrey, Jamie Waylett as Vincent Crabbe, Josh Herdman as Gregory Goyle, William Melling as Nigel, Afshan Azad as Padma Patil, Shefali Chowdhury as Pavarti Patil, Timothy Spall in a brief scene as Wormtail, and Katie Leung as Harry's ex-girlfriend Cho Chang seen in a few background scenes. Other small roles that were played by previous actors that are now portrayed by new actors are Georgina Leonidas as Katie Bell and Scarlett Byrne as Pansy Parkinson. New to the story with some memorable appearances include Anna Shaffer as Romilda Vane, Dave Legeno as Fenrir Greyback, Robert Knox as Marcus Belby, Louis Cordice as Blaise Zabini, Amber & Ruby Evans as twins at Slughorn's parties, and as a waitress Harry meets in early scene, Elarica Gallagher.
Notable big characters who don't get much to do are Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom where Lewis only gets to have a few lines as he's really wasted while David Thewlis and Natalia Tena are good though only appear in one big scene as Lupin and Tonks. Mark Williams gets a bit more to do as Arthur Weasley while Julie Walters is still wonderful as Molly Weasley. James & Oliver Phelps are good as Fred & George Weasley while Evanna Lynch continues to be a great scene-stealer in several moments as Luna Lovegood. Maggie Smith is very good as Professor McGonagall with some funny lines while Robbie Coltrane gets to have some good moments as Rubeus Hagrid that involves a great scene with Jim Broadbent. In the roles of the young Tom Riddle, Ralph Fiennes' real-life nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin is wonderfully creepy as the 11-year old Tom Riddle while Frank Dillane is charming yet slithery as the 16-year old Riddle.
Freddie Storma makes a fine impression as Cormac McLaggen, a smug Quidditch goal keeper who has his eyes on Hermione only to fall for one of Harry's pranks. Jessie Cave is hilarious as Lavender Brown with her love declarations for Ron that is almost scary but not as funny as the name she gave Ron, Won-Won. Bonnie Wright is very good as Ginny Weasley, the girl who would become Harry's new object of desire as she becomes someone who can ground him while trying to deal with her feelings for him as well. Helen McCrory is pretty good in her brief scene as Narcissa Malfoy who comes to Snape for help though isn't sure that Draco is up to the task for the mission he's chosen. Helena Bohnam Carter is great as Bellatrix Lestrange, the crazed witch who is willing to go onto the attack for Voldemort as she is a loose cannon who is just fun to watch.
New to the franchise is Jim Broadbent who is amazing as Horace Slughorn, a charming professor who likes to collect students who he believes have great talent and stories they can share. Most of all, Harry whom he befriends while carrying a dark secret that he is trying to hide. Alan Rickman is phenomenal as Severus Snape where he brings a low-key, dark quality to the character whose loyalties are questionable while dealing with Draco Malfoy's problems with the mission. Tom Felton delivers what is truly the best performance of the film as Draco Malfoy. Felton truly sells the despair, anxiety, and angst of the young bully who is overwhelmed with what he's trying to do as he is forced to face the fact that if he doesn't do it, he and his family will die. Felton's performance really shows how the actor took the character and made it into something more real and complex.
Michael Gambon is excellent as Albus Dumbledore in providing a nice mix of humor with a bit of camp while playing the wise wizard who is providing Harry information of how to destroy Voldemort. Rupert Grint is really good as Ron Weasley in providing some funny moments when he's lovesick while showing his insecurities as a Quidditch player and his stupidity when it comes to girls. Emma Watson is also good as Hermione Granger as the intelligent bookworm comes to terms with her feelings for Ron while trying to help Harry in divulging the mystery of what is happening. Daniel Radcliffe is solid as Harry Potter in providing the complex struggles of a young man coming to terms with his role and losses while realizing what is up ahead. Radcliffe really sells Potter's complexity while dealing with his own feelings towards Ginny as he and Hermione become closer as if they were siblings. Radcliffe's scenes with Gambon and Broadbent shows that he is still growing as an actor and proving he can act with them.
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is an excellent, well-made, smart and witty film from David Yates and company featuring some standout performances from Jim Broadbent and most of all, Tom Felton. Fans of the franchise will be amazed at how well-told the story is while fans of the books will be relieved in its faithfulness and approach despite some flaws. While the next film will be two films instead of one, which isn't a popular idea with some. It's clear that the Harry Potter franchise hasn't lost its touch while continuing to provide audiences with lots of entertaining moments before it would go to the ultra-dark, sprawling tone of the final book. In the end, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is a solid yet well-made film for the franchise.
Harry Potter Reviews: The Novels: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
The Films: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone - Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 - Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
Related: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Related: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
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