At last, we’re at the final pre-Deathly Hallows movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After years of childish antics, awkward pre-teen phases, first kisses, and last misses, we have arrived at the darkest movie adaptation of the series thus far. It’s been fun tracing the series’s history from its humble children’s/fantasy roots to what, I believe, is the deepest and most emotional installment leading up to the epic, two-part ending. Finally, a Harry Potter installment that transcends the Harry Potter movie formula.
Besides a few minor scenes in Order of the Phoenix, we haven’t really see any sort of interaction between the magical world and the real world. Half-Blood Prince does away with this right off the bat, showing a direct attack on the world by a few Death Eaters. Meanwhile, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is seen at a train station café, showcasing a few signs of jungle fevah! Unfortunately, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) appears and cock blocks Harry, apparating (a form of teleportation) the two of them away to a house. Upon arrival, they are successful in recruiting Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) back to his previous position as Potions teacher. Of course, Dumbledore has ulterior motives for re-hiring him back to Hogwarts as he carries a secret that only Harry can uncover. However, with the return of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) now public knowledge, the wizarding community is seen to have fallen apart in fear of Voldemort’s rising power, as Diagon Alley is all but abandoned. Furthermore, security is heightened at the school as Dumbledore and the faculty brace themselves for attack.
The first two acts of the movie focus on the character development of the three principal characters, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson). Ron becomes a member of Gryffindor’s Quidditch team, which leads to a rise in his popularity and his first love interest, Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), a creepy and very obsessed Ginger sympathizer. This, of course, causes tension between him and Hermione. On Harry’s end, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) is nowhere to be found, allowing Harry’s newfound attraction to Ron’s little sister, Ginny (Bonne Wright), to grow. However, once attacks on the students take place, the focus begins to shift strictly towards Harry as he sets out to discover Slughorn’s secret that, of course, is tied to Voldemort’s past, which leads to the main plot device of the story: horcruxes, which are objects that possess a fragment of the wizard’s soul. The last act is solely focused on the discovery of these horcruxes and where the brunt of the action takes place.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same formula director David Yates employed in Order of the Phoenix. While it’s an obvious and logical step governed by the story’s plot, it leaves the movie feeling improperly balanced. Once again, the first two acts feel like character-driven development building up to the deeper, more interesting last act. However, pacing and balance issues notwithstanding, the movie maintains a darker and serious tone throughout. For example, rather than forcing scenes entirely focused on some sort of gag or punch line, the humor is bred naturally from the scenes. Furthermore, there’s an implied undertone of drug abuse spread throughout the movie. There’s a scene where Hermione is very obviously drunk from butterbeer, Ron gets roofie’d by a beverage intended for Dumbledore, and Harry gets high off of cocaine Felix Felicis, a purported good luck potion.
However, all balancing gripes aside, the third act is good, perhaps good enough to even excuse the first two above average acts. The torture scene between Dumbledore and Harry is one of the best scenes in the Harry Potter series to date. Harry is forced to make Dumbledore drink a potion that causes tremendous pain, no matter what kind of protestations he makes. The level of emotional depth Gambon showcases in this scene makes you instantly empathize with him. If nothing more, you can’t help but feel sorry for this weak, grandfather-like character who just can’t handle the pain anymore. It all culminates in YET ANOTHER anti-climatic death of a main character, paralleling the ending of Order of the Phoenix.
Still, I can happily state that Half-Blood Prince is my favorite movie of the Harry Potter series. Cinematically, it has this muted tone to the picture quality that helps to accentuate the heightened emotions of narrative. And the acting is exponentially better than the previous films. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson truly have a grasp on their characters (for obvious reasons), allowing them to transition between all sorts of ranges. And, once again, accolades to Gambon for his role as Dumbledore.
Overall Score: 8.00 – Great. (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night.)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the best film of the series so far. While it suffers from balancing and pacing issues, the emotional tone throughout the movie proves that Harry Potter isn’t just for the kids.