HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
****1/2 (out of 5)
July 15, 2009
Daniel Radcliffe as HARRY POTTER
Rupert Grint as RON WEASLEY
Emma Watson as HERMIONE GRANGER
Michael Gambon as PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE
Jim Broadbent as PROFESSOR SLUGHORN
Bonnie Wright as GINNY WEASLEY
Helena Bonham Carter as BELLATRIX LESTRANGE
Alan Rickman as PROFESSOR SNAPE
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: David Yates
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I always seem to start my reviews of the Harry Potter films with a disclosure of which books I read and which films I have liked. Let’s not break with tradition. I read the first two books initially, got a little bogged down in the series, then jumped ahead to books six and seven two years ago when it became impossible to avoid spoilers.
And while I enjoyed the first two films, it wasn’t until Alfonso Cuarón took over the franchise with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” that he really showed how much better things could be than what mediocre director Chris Columbus gave us. Since then, the third film has been my favorite, and I even thought the fifth installment with “The Order of the Phoenix” had only about 40 minutes of story and was just marking time until this new episode.
Now, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” has arrived, and it is really giving “The Prisoner of Azkaban” a run for its money. After a summer which held such promise but delivered so many disappointments (like “Terminator: Salvation” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” stands out along with “Star Trek” and “Up” as one of the best films of the season.
In “The Half-Blood Prince,” Harry and his friends are going through a lot of changes. Not only are they stumbling through the standard teenage rites of passage with dating and young love (the anchor point of levity in this movie), but they are also realizing they live in a dangerous world where Voldemort and his followers (known quaintly as Death Eaters) are stirring up all sorts of trouble, not just with wizards but also in the muggle world.
In this installment, Harry tries to have a routine year at Hogwarts, which is interrupted periodically by headmaster Dumbledore, who is trying to uncover some mysteries in Voldemort’s past. Dumbledore enlists Harry in this mission to glean information from the new professor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), and discover the secret to wipe out Voldemort.
With a few stumbles in the film, “The Half-Blood Prince” is a return to Harry Potter greatness. It’s dark and eerie, shattering the innocence of the characters we once knew as children. The cinematography is brilliant, on par with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” and “The Goblet of Fire.” Visually, these films have come such a long way.
The biggest speed bump this movie has is keeping the audience informed. Anytime a 600+ page book is adapted, things are lost. Moreover, as a sixth installment in a series, there simply is no time to recap all the events, characters and the like, save for tacking on a “Previously on Harry Potter” opening sequence. So, viewers are advised to brush up on previous books. Either rent “The Order of the Phoenix” and watch it again or at least look at the Wikipedia entry before going to avoid confusion.
And don’t let the title of the film fool you, as it is simply a MacGuffin to propel the story along. In fact, it is this whole half-blood prince ordeal that exemplifies how much is stripped from the books to make a competent film. Rest assured, if you have read the book, everything is in there, and the half-blood prince is given his due. However, it’s not nearly as weighty to the overall storyline as the greater story of Harry on a mission with Dumbledore to discover the secrets behind Voldemort’s past.
This should also be a strong rest assured for those who have not read the book, so they aren’t worrying too much about the title of the film and can just enjoy the slow and somber reveal of the series’ dark history.
To say “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is freshly dark would be inappropriate, considering the film series took a decidedly dark spin as early as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” However, it uses its dark nature to whet our appetite for the final two films (which will be split from the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Harry Potter series, and it’s possibly the best film in the whole lot.