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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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As the film begins, the Death Eaters rampage has spilled over into the Muggle world while forces appear coming to a head in the wizard world. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) collects Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) before the semester has begun to help coax former professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to Hogwarts. Dumbledore believes Slughorn, a former teacher of Tom Riddle before he became Lord Voldemort, may have some insight into the Dark Lord’s magical powers, and that Harry is the key to getting Slughorn to open up.

Narcissa Malfoy goes to see Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), requesting his assistance because Voldemort has given her son Draco (Tom Felton) a very difficult assignment. Snape submits to an Unbreakable Vow spell showing his commitment to protect Draco and to complete the task if the boy is unable.

Back in school, Harry also finds a potion textbook previously used by someone known as the Half-Blood Prince, who was such a talented wizard he made corrections to potion recipes and wrote spells in it. When Dumbledore isn’t away on secret missions, he submits Harry to the Pensieve where he learns about Riddle from people’s memories. As the school year comes to a close Dumbledore seeks Harry assistance on a dangerous mission that will strike at Voldemort’s power.

As if preparing to battle the Dark Lord and his followers wasn’t enough for a teenager, Harry, as well as Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), all have to deal with the range of emotions brought on by infatuation and hormones. Harry is attracted to Ron’s sister, Ginny, who seems to share his feelings but is in a relationship. Hermione has to fend off Cormac McLaggen’s advances while Ron is oblivious to her feelings towards him, in part because he is distracted by the overwhelming affections of Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave).

Based on how well the storylines come together and how well the film is executed, Half-Blood Prince could well be considered The Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter series. It is arguably the best adaptation and does a great job setting the stage for the series' conclusion, which will be two films based on the final book with part one scheduled for November 2010, and part two in July 2011. Under the guidance of director David Yates, the entire cast and crew perform brilliantly as they return filmgoers to J. K. Rowling’s world.

Coming back to the series, screenwriter Steve Kloves does a very good job cutting down the massive book and presenting the essentials required to move the plot and the characters along and ties them up nicely. As in previous films, Half-Blood Prince doesn’t shy away from the cost and sacrifice required to do the right thing and stand up to evil. The only issue I had with the film is the revelation of the HBP’s identity. Harry is never concerned with who the person is and doesn’t seek the information out. Out of the blue and at an odd moment, the character makes the announcement to Harry; however, it just feels tacked on because the secret is never a pressing matter.

The film looks fantastic. Production designer Stuart Craig’s team continues doing a great job bringing Rowling/Kloves words to life. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s camerawork and lighting/color schemes, particularly when differentiating the memory scenes, are masterful. The special effects make the magic look more natural with each installment, yet they never overwhelm the story because it’s the characters and their relationships that are the key to the series’ success.

The entire cast excels as usual. The lead trio of young actors each has a range of emotions to convey, including when under spells, and they do so quite believably. Snape has a higher profile in the story, and more Alan Rickman is always a good thing. Broadbent is welcome addition because he is brilliant in his role.

Fans and non-fans alike should be very happy with Half-Blood Prince, and it is likely to be on many “Best of 2009” lists. Potterphiles who want to compare differences in the film and novel can check the film's wikia page. An IMAX 3-D presentation will be available only in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago on July 15th, and then it will be available nationwide on July 29th.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Glad to hear you consider this the best of the series so far, there have been many good Potter movies. Also, I am not sure many who read the books would consider this the best of the books so that’s another good sign.

  • The film was well done. I had only one quibble with it, but thought overall it was well done. My problem is that not enough attention was given to the horcrux issue. Knowing how many there were, how many have been found, etc. needed a bit more screen time. That’s an essential part of what happens in the seventh book and that’s the only storyline they didn’t kick far enough ahead. It was otherwise well done.

    I liked it better than my wife, who has become increasingly frustrated with the liberties taken with the books. It’s a shame there wasn’t time to further explore Tom Riddle’s youth and the house of Gaunt, but they needed to trim and that’s fine.

  • I just noticed that some fans didn’t care for the book. Possibly too much memory-watching and romance, but it worked for me when I read it.

  • Josh, in their defense, it may be that with the final book split into two movies they will spend more time on horcruxs there.

    I understand your wife’s frustration which is the same as many fans. Ever since TGOF, they have had enough source material to make two films out of each book, so you are right a lot was needed to be trimmed.

    Are you rested after the midnight show?

  • I’m so jealous you’ve gotten to see this already but not enough to prevent me from stopping by to check out your review. And I’m glad I did because it was a reminder to me that the twelve minutes opening sequence was converted into IMAX 3D. And the there’s one of those less than ten miles from our house…WOOHOO!

    I love Jim Broadbent and am excited to see his role in this. And also how the relationship with Ginny and Harry is dealt with. In anticipation of seeing this movie, I’ve re-read all of the books through this volume and was reminded in the first book how taken she was with him when they first met.

    Thanks for the great review. I’m still jealous, though.

  • I thought about that with the decision to make 7 a two-part film. Odd they’ll need to do a chunk of 6 in the two parts of 7, but maybe they can make it work better there. The books absolutely got increasingly more difficult to condense.

    I’m still paying for the midnight run, though.

  • Saupe

    If only they had kept the original battle scene, mentioned half of what they needed to to keep us up to date with the plot in the next book, and not destroyed the burrow, is it only me who thinks these people must miss out chapters as they read?