Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Now let’s be clear, I’ve not read a single novel beyond Philosopher’s Stone but I absolutely love the world of Harry Potter. How could you not? It’s not hard to imagine why a child would pick up the first book and fall immediately in love. Imagine it: you wake up one morning to find you’re a wizard. And not just any wizard, you survived a Killing Curse from one of the most powerful wizards in history. The novels, and so the films, bubble over with magic and enchantment: a living portrait here, a moving staircase there; it’s all very romantique if not borne out of a child-like innocence. I’ll let you know right up front that Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner Of Azkaban is still my favorite.
With Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, innocence is waning. As the books get more mature so do the characters and, as such, so should the films. While this is the best looking film of the bunch (with a style aped directly from Cuaron’s Azkaban), it is the least interesting of the bunch. See, I was under the impression circumstances were dire. The Death Eaters aren’t just toppling bridges, they’re murdering people. Wizards are disappearing. Lord Voldemort, the man whose name people were too afraid to even speak, is launching an all-out assault on both the Wizard and Muggle world and yet, pfft. Like his Skull insignia in the sky it’s all a whisp of smoke. Where’s the danger? Where’s the fear?
The film plays like a romantic comedy, which is certainly not to say it’s a bad film but we’ll get to that. David Yates is an extremely competent director, but the film lacks a certain sort of energy that made us fall in love with Harry Potter. People are praising the film for being more true to life and not so much about the magic, but these films were always about the magic. Harry Potter is escapism of the highest order. These aren’t just beloved books, this is an entire universe that children and adults alike have fallen in love with.
I won’t disregard that the relationships are vital to the final films, but where previous films have done a commendable job of bridging the fantastical with the real this film is usually one or the other. It’s comedy or it’s drama, it’s romantic comedy or it’s gothic horror. Love is cool, but we’re running out of of movies and, I don’t know about you, but I want to see some badass wizardry. With Order Of The Phoenix, Yates did something that hadn’t been done before in the series: he made being a wizard awesome, not just cool. The final fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore in the Ministry Of Magic was jaw-dropping, and yet none of that carries over here. Just because everyone knows the outcome doesn’t mean it should feel as though there are absolutely no stakes.
Also, most characters are reduced to nothing. I mean that literally — nothing. Neville Longbottom is in a dozen scenes at least, and has one pitiful line of dialogue the entire film. Characters appear out of nowhere (Remus, Tonks) only to disappear completely moments later. Draco Malfoy, who’s extremely important to this story, just kind of sits and stews, tests the Vanishing Cabinet, then sits and stews more. There’s also no concept of time with the film. I know they mention Christmas break and then there’s snow, then suddenly some spring decorations. I loved how Cuaron used the Whomping Willow as a sort of calender to let you know when events were taking place. Enough about what’s bad, here’s some stuff I liked…
— The opening shot of Dumbledore putting his arm around Harry was elegantly done.
— Alan Rickman as Severus Snape has a role which calls for knowing what’s coming while portraying the evil sidekick all at once. Everything you need to know is all there in the timbre of his voice during his short argument with Dumbledore, and moreso all over his face as he makes The Unbreakable Vow. The soft-spoken, almost hidden pain on his face at the end of Half-Blood Prince was powerful.
— Harry, Hermione, and Ron have quite possibly the greatest chemistry in Hollywood right now. So many tiny things (Harry hitting Ron’s book, or any scene with Hermione and Harry, really) can only come out of being real best friends.
— Harry and Dumbledore finally become the surrogate father and surrogate son we’ve all been waiting for. Their relationship really takes a huge jump from previous films where Dumbledore was more of a far-away protector and leads to some truly great scenes between the two.
— Whenever the Death Eaters are onscreen, the film is automatically 5x more exciting.
— The effects, production design, and cinematography are all top-notch.
— Jim Broadbent is absolutely brilliant as Professor Horace Slughorn.
— Jessie Cave and Frank Dillane (Lavender Brown and teenage Tom Marvolo Riddle, respectively) are PERFECTLY cast.
— Regardless of what was said previously, the humor is indeed well-handled.
— Luna Lovegood, in general. But that’s only cos I’m completely in love with Luna Lovegood and her adorable insanity.
— The film has the best looking Quidditch match of all the films. Azkaban still has the BEST Quidditch match, but this one LOOKS the best.
— Ginny Weasley, who has grown into a beautiful young girl and an actress with some real power. Her love for Harry is palpable and completely believable.
I didn’t hate the film at all. I don’t think it’s possible to hate a Harry Potter film (knock wood), but I just wanted more. More action, more tension, more danger. I wanted to fear Voldemort, and I wanted Harry to really understand just how tough things were going to get, but I guess with two films left Yates has the time to make that statement. I understand what they were trying to do I’m hoping the intention was to have one last flicker of fun and hope, before Voldemort’s full-on attack begins. Before everything is dire, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher, and characters we know and love are tortured or killed.
As for HBP, where it works it works immensely well, but when the romance is on it’s truly the most boring of the series. And that’s a damn shame.