Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: July 15, 2009
With each new Harry Potter movie, one must prepare themselves to be deafened by the cries of the divide. People either want the movies to follow the books page for bloody page or they want a standalone movie that they can enjoy outright. At this stage in the game I’m afraid neither one is fully possible.
Before you walk into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you have to decide what it is you want out of it before you will be allowed to enjoy it for whatever it is you are looking for. The movie lover in me wants to be able to look at this or any film in the series as a singular unit and enjoy it for what it is and for what it accomplishes — as a film — but I am also a realist. The problem with this approach is that you are dealing with a canon of material that, to me, makes this an unattainable request. If you were dealing with a series of movies that simply involved central characters with a new story each time you might have a better shot at it, but the complete story of Harry Potter was told by way of seven books; each adding more layers and revealing more of the story as it goes along. You are almost forced to enjoy the arc rather than the individual pieces.
Forget the movies for a minute; if someone was going to jump into the books they are based on, you still don’t start in the middle. It’s like watching Lost or any other heavily serialized piece of media whose success is based strongly on the continued drive of the story. Your appreciation, to some degree, comes by way of your knowledge of the previous material. Adding time and space for recap for the sole purpose of allowing it to stand on its own would break the rhythm of the overall story and reek of redundancy. In other words, for my money, it seems pretty unrealistic that in the sixth movie in any series is going to have much in the way of legs to call its own. This expectation that haunts every movie in this series that it somehow needs to be better than the first is a little annoying. Moreover, the assumption that when the second, third, fourth, etc., is inferior for no reason other than it doesn’t exceed the previous one somehow also seems unfair. What about sustainability? I just think people are judging the movie on improper merit.
So the question becomes, how do you write a subjective review of a film, as a singular unit, when you are dealing with the sixth entry into a series? Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn’t make it easy. It jumps right into the story and allots exactly zero minutes for catching up. From word one, we are pulled back into the story as if it never stopped. If you know the story, you know the story and if you don’t it won’t much matter at this point anyway but Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and company are entering their sixth year at Hogwarts. As Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) grip on the land tightens, Harry’s fear of danger becomes increasingly substantiated while Dumbledore (Sir Michael Gambon) is determined, almost blindly, to prepare Harry for a final battle. Pretty standard stuff, but when Harry’s textbook from potions class is found to be inscribed by the previous owner, the “Half-Blood Prince,” with handwritten instructions that allow him to excel in the class, the group tries to understand its origin and determine its previous owner. Aside from that, the characters are getting older and in the interest of staying true to their ages they are all not only involved in all the matters of wizardry but matters of every normal teenager. They start acknowledging the opposite sex. It’s got its charm I suppose and serves the purpose of adding another emotional dimension to the story. Which is to say the dynamic doesn’t get in the way.
If I took issue with any part of the film, it is with the last 20 minutes or so — and not because it left out so much of the original story (which it did). The final half hour is easily the most exciting in terms of action and development, but it falls short in serving its proper purpose of transition to the final story (which will be split into two separate movies). Bear in mind, this is all from the perspective of ignorance regarding anything related to the final book; only what is assumed to be the final showdown that Dumbledore has warned Harry about for the last six movies.
Technically, the movie is very well made. Very dark, very slick and well acted. I am comfortable with the remainder of the series being in the more than capable hands of director David Yates, but when it’s all said and done will I pick this one from the stack of the eight movies and watch it just because…? Maybe, maybe not. I liked Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for what it is — another piece of a great story that is nearing its end — and for what this piece of the story will represent when the full story is finally told.
And there’s the rub.