Posted on 24 July 2009.
Even though it started in the 90s, Harry Potter has become one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of this decade, thanks to its books and extremely successful movie adaptations. Closing the decade out is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or Harry Potter 6. It’s the sixth movie adapted from the book of the same name by J.K. Rowling. Just like the books, Half-Blood Prince continues the fashion of taking on darkening tones. It also continues the trend of killing off major characters, which began with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005). Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) first bit the dust in Goblet followed by Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) in Order of the Phoenix (2007). Half-Blood Prince will probably offer the biggest surprise for those who haven’t read the book yet.
After holding Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) back in the previous film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is now entering his sixth year at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the presence of Voldemort is still strong and there are continuous attacks by his “Death Eaters” on the school. While preparing to leave London via train, Harry witnesses long time rival Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) associating with some of the Death Eaters. Fearing that Draco is trying to help the Eaters find a way into the school, he warns Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and the rest of the staff about of him. Though they take Harry’s accusations seriously, they find no evidence to kick him out.
The staff now consists of Severus Snipe (Alan Rickman) as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and taking his potions post is Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who comes out of retirement to teach again. With Harry’s knowledge, Dumbledore secretly asks Horace back because he has vital information on Voldemort. While attending one of Horace’s potion classes, Harry stumbles upon a class textbook once owned by the Half-Blood Prince. Having being slightly modified by the Prince, Harry uses the instructions to cast more powerful potion spells than his classmates. Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), who is suspicious of the book, tells Harry the book is dangerous.
Meanwhile, Harry and the rest of the students are stuck in lovesickness. Harry is interested in Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), the younger sister of Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Fearing that it could damage his friendship with Ron, he keeps it to himself. Ron is also interested in Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), but this brings great displeasure to Hermione, who also likes Ron. Harry, who is trying to help Dumbledore find out what Voldemort’s next move is, must overlook the love circle and help protect Hogwarts from an invasion.
Is this a 'Harry Potter' movie or a Sandra Bullock non-rom-non-com?
The problem with Half-Blood Prince is that the cheesy lovefest between the students at Hogwarts overshadows the dark themes. Yes, the kids are 16-17 years old and you can’t blame them for being curious about the opposite sex, but I feel it focuses too much on that element and it ignored some of the more important plot details. Another problem was the anti-climatic ending. You kind of leave the theater thinking, “that’s it?” All previous Potter movies leave a good taste in the mouth with their endings, but Half-Blood Prince feels like it was spoiled over. I haven’t read the book yet but I would wonder if it was any different. Though it is titled “Half-Blood Prince,” this is only a secondary plot element and it feels pushed to the background or almost forgotten about as the film trudges forth. When you finally get the key to the Half-Blood Prince, it really isn’t a big deal. Being two and half hours long, this was the first Potter that I felt dragged in some areas. When the movie does focus on the darker elements, it becomes really good.
Again, I feel the movie’s title actually hurts the story. The Half-Blood Prince and the book are just secondary fodder and when Harry does avoid temptation from the book, the whole idea is completely ditched. When it is brought up again, it’s weak. Perhaps the title could have been switched to Harry Potter and the Rise of the Death Eaters since it would have set the tone better, but instead you get a title that is inferior to the overall theme. It wouldn’t be unprecedented as the first Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), was actually different then the book title, which was called “The Philosopher’s Stone.” While I feel the love story did develop the characters better, the movie spends too much time on it and this is where it drags.
Despite the drawbacks, the movie is very entertaining. Michael Gambon (as Dumbledore) is more involved than ever and it was nice to see a good actor get more screen time. Tom Felton (Malfoy) also had an expanded role, but I thought he was just okay. Since the Malfoy character only has a limited role in the previous films, I feared Felton couldn’t handle anything beyond that and it definitely shows. Jim Broadbent gives the best performance of the movie. Being his first Potter movie, he certainly makes an impression right away and I’m glad to see that he’s returning for the following sequel, The Deathly Hallows. Broadbent plays Horace Slughorn as a man whose is one of the most pleasant people to be around, but he casts uneasiness about himself as he struggles with personal demons. When these demons are confronted, Broadbent craftily switches it up.
The art direction is incredible, earning itself a possible Oscar nod. You actually feel like you are in the scene and this is one of the few movies where the set design actually helps it. Sometimes while the characters were in frame, I couldn’t help but stare into the background because it was so amazing to look at.
Half-Blood Prince isn’t as good as its predecessors because it gets bogged down by an uninteresting love story and a lackluster ending, but it does entertain and should be required viewing for anyone who is a fan. For those new to the series, I would recommend watching some of the older ones like Prisoner of Azkaban or Order of the Phoenix to get familiar with it. Good, but not one of the best installments.