I wanted to love this movie – I really did. I have been a great fan of the Harry Potter novels and movies since they first came out. When the book Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was released, I was one of the many who pre-ordered my copy, waiting anxiously for the UPS man to deliver it and then spending an entire night reading so that I could finish the book by the next morning. I loved the richness of the book, the way the characters developed and matured into glimpses of their future selves and the way even the minutest of details came back as a useful part of the story’s resolution.
Unfortunately, I was somewhat underwhelmed by this latest installment of the Harry Potter saga. While there are many aspects of the film to be praised, I was disappointed in the glaring omissions – missing characters and whole sections of the book. I missed seeing the Dursleys at the beginning of the film. I missed seeing the development of the romance between Lupin and Tonks. And where were Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour? Why was Percy Weasley not even mentioned in the film? I admit that some of these characters were not pivotal to the unfolding of events in Half-Blood Prince but their absence makes me wonder what changes will have to be made to the final two films. We will lose some of the more touching and dramatic scenes Deathly Hallows has to offer without these characters. But obviously, I’m way to ahead of myself.
Despite the title of the film, one of the most jarring aspects was the lack of on-screen involvement between Harry and the potions book that was the property of the Half-Blood Prince. We see only one lesson where Harry uses the scrawling of the Prince to concoct a potion with the expertise usually displayed by Hermione. We are told that Harry spends most of his time with the book, and we see him carrying it around, but don’t get to see the book in action.
We totally miss the lesson on Golpalott’s Third Law, so that when the trick that the Half-Blood Prince revealed to Harry in that lesson is actually put into practice, someone who had not read the book might wonder how did Harry know what to do when his professor could only stand by idly, looking lost and confused.
Only Hermione seems interested in the identity of the Prince, but after one trip to the library, seems to give up on the subject. Even Ginny, who almost died in an earlier movie because of a magical mysterious book, did not voice any of the alarm that the potions book should have raised. It is only after Harry invokes an unknown spell from the potions book and almost kills Malfoy (seemingly without consequences which makes no sense in any world, magical or otherwise) that the true danger of the Prince is revealed.
Perhaps the lack of interest in the Prince is because all of the students seem to have other things on their minds. Obviously, the raging hormones of adolescence seem to have an unsettling effect on the residents of Hogwarts. The castle is rife with teenage angst about who is dating who and we get to see lots of snogging, along with lots of tears. Hermione’s anguish over the Ron and Lavender situation seems to have addled her usually sharp and inquisitive mind. Such adolescent longings are not limited to only the girls at Hogwarts; Harry has a crush on his best-friend’s sister, and Ron is playing the fool in affairs of the heart on all fronts.
These glimpses into the tangled love lives of the teenaged wizards provide comedic elements that are in sharp contrast to the rest of the film. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is probably the darkest of all of the Harry Potter films to date. An eerie sense of foreboding pervades the entire movie – we know the war is coming and everyone seems to be waiting to find out what Voldemort’s next move is going to be. Dumbledore, with the aide of Harry Potter, is desperately searching the past to find clues that will lead to Voldemort’s downfall. He even enlists Harry into enticing an old professor of Voldemort, Horace Slughorn, into returning to Hogwarts. Harry’s task is extract one of Slughorn’s most painful memories, in order to discover the source of Voldemort’s power.
The film is a cinematic masterpiece. It is beautifully shot – full of dark, gothic passages and camera angles that tell the story almost as much as the characters do. The special effects are outstanding – the effects seem to get better and better with each Harry Potter film. I loved the way the dark mark appears amidst roiling clouds and the dizzying way the Death Eaters traveled through smoke and mist. Knowing that worse is yet to come should keep fans in breathless anticipation for the war that will be unfolded in the next two installments of the franchise.
The performances in this film are outstanding. Tom Felton, as Draco Malfoy, has grown as an actor through the course of the Harry Potter films. His character has evolved beyond the one-dimensional, entitled, pureblood brat who acts as an antagonistic foil for the heroic Harry. Here, Felton delivers a layered performance full of the contradictions of emotions that Draco is feeling as the terrible chosen instrument of Voldemort at Hogwarts, and as an adolescent poised on the edge of manhood and facing life-altering choices. In a brief but brilliant scene in a boys’ lavatory, we can see Draco’s fear and anguish over the deeds that he has been chosen to do.
Academy Award-winner Jim Broadbent is also brilliant in his role as Horace Slughorn, the old potions professor who has altered the memory of his days teaching Tom Riddle before he became Voldemort. Broadbent delivers in his portrayal of Slughorn as an old man who, having never achieved greatness of his own, thrives on attaching himself to those wizards who have attained the power and glory that he can only dream of. Harry of course, would be the ultimate prize in his circle of friends. But beneath Slughorn’s boorish boasting and endless name-dropping, lies a pathetic and lonely old man who hides a shameful secret. We are able to feel the weight of Slughorn’s shame through Broadbent’s performance and can almost pity him after looking in his tear filled eyes after Harry convinces him to finally divulge the truth.
Other notable performances in this film are Michael Gambon as the maddeningly mysterious Albus Dumbledore and Alan Rickman, whose role as Professor Snape is expanded in this film. Snape is the master at playing both sides of the coin, so we are kept off guard as to where his true allegiances lie. Helena Bonham Carter also delivers as the criminally insane Bellatrix Lestrange. Her maniacal laughter and ghoulish demeanor give the Death Eaters a chilling sense of the macabre. And joining her little group of fiends wrecking havoc throughout the film is Dave Legeno as the werewolf Fenrir Greyback, a frightening presence who terrorizes Harry and Ginny in one of the film’s outstanding moments of pure suspense.
For once, I enjoyed watching the Quidditch matches in the film. It was nice to see the athleticism of the tryouts as displayed by Cormac, and it was really nice to have Ron have his chance to shine. What stood out is that for once, the outcome did not hinge on Harry catching the snitch, and we barely saw him throughout the game.
I thought the ending of the movie was somewhat anti-climactic. I am not 100% sure why that is – after the outstanding battle on the lake between Harry, Dumbledore and the Inferi, I was less than astounded by the scene at the top of the tower. Without spoiling the ending, I can honestly say that I cried more after reading the rich, descriptive words of J.K. Rowling, than I did watching what seemed to be a too-quick finish to what should have been the movie’s most emotional scene. It may have been that having read the book, I expected too much, but I also tend to think that had the screenwriter taken the time to delve further into Harry’s and Dumbledore’s exploits earlier in the film, the ending might have had more of an emotional pull. Also the scene where the students of Hogwarts stand with their wands held aloft, each little light combining to dispel a bit of the darkness in the sky felt a little contrived.
Despite my personal disappointment, I still think Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a good installment of the Potter saga. It feels almost like this film represents the tense moment of holding ones’ breath before engaging in battle. Poised on the edge of an epic war with darkness, this is the moment where a crush turns to love, and where childhood things like grades in school, and Quiddich, are put aside. This movie perfectly sets up the two films that will follow, and I hope that the heroics of all of the book characters that we know and love will come to life on the screen for film fans and Potter purists alike.