Film review – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)

The sixth in the eight-part Harry Potter film franchise (there are only seven books but the final book is being split into two films) sees Hogwarts in its darkest days yet. Not only does the wizard world seem to be facing its own economic downturn but also Lord Voldemort, like all great monsters of the screen, doesn’t seem to want to stay dead. Voldemort doesn’t actually make his grand comeback in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince but his followers, the Death Eaters, are causing plenty of trouble in anticipation. Within the confines of Hogwarts all the gang are back, in fact pretty much every character from the preceding three films makes an appearance at some point, but this time Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are also burdened with the emotional havoc of young love.

Jim Broadbent enters the series wonderfully as Professor Horace Slughorn, who taught Voldemort as a child when Voldemort was simply known as Tom Riddle. During the flashback scenes newcomer Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays Riddle with genuine creepiness. Radcliffe keeps on getting better as Harry but unfortunately Hermione and Ron are very much sidelined and kept out of most of the action. Instead they are relegated to being all love sick, coy and giggly during the large parts of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that feel like a mildly amusing teen-film with lots of inoffensive innuendo and use of the word “snogging”. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is also back to take another step towards the dark side but he looks too much like a child version of one of the guys from Kraftwerk to ever be taken seriously.

Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) and Harry
Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) and Harry

David Yates once more directs (he directed the previous film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and will also direct the final two films) and he has opted for a very striking visual style, which includes lots of extreme camera angles to give the film an off kilter feel. Ever since Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant third film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the series has gone for a darker feel and Yates makes dramatic use of shadows, side-lighting, back-lighting and under exposure to make Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the darkest film of the lot.

Anecdotally, people who enjoyed the book overall like this new film but they are nevertheless still puzzled as to why some aspects of the story were embellished while other aspects were dismissed. This may account for why the film feels very disjointed and why the structure and plot almost feel random. Apparently there is also some core information about the motives of one of the characters that is kept hidden in the book until the end but revealed very early on in the film. However, the fans seem to like this new Harry Potter film and approve of its place in the series. But for those of us who haven’t read the books and have only watched the previous films once, it is less satisfying as it struggles to hold its own as a stand-alone film. It certainly relies on the audience having a good memory of the previous film, which is problematic given that the previous film was the most forgettable of the lot.

Harry and Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)
Harry and Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince basically functions as a very good extended prologue for the final two films. It’s an improvement on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but doesn’t fulfil the anticipation set by some of the films before that. However, the final half an hour of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince includes a sequence with Harry, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and a bunch of Gollum-water-zombie-type creatures that is absolutely brilliant. Both the build up to this sequence and the sequence itself are terrifying; demonstrating just how good the Harry Potter series can be. Hopefully the final two films will have more moments like this and less of what often feels like narrative administration.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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