By Ryan Pike
It’s been over a decade since J.K. Rowling introduced the world to a pre-pubescent wizard and eight years since the first time Harry Potter and his friends hit the big screen. In the intervening years, the characters (and actors) have grown up and the filmmakers involved have refined their craft. The sixth Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, features most of the same strengths and weaknesses as prior offerings.
Half-Blood Prince picks up where 2007’s Order of the Phoenix left off. Having proven to the world that the evil Lord Voldemort has returned, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for another year with Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson), who struggle with their attraction to each other. Meanwhile, Harry finds himself increasingly drawn to Ron’s younger sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). But it’s not all fun and games in year six, as Voldemort’s underlings are rapidly preparing for the inevitable clash between good and evil — and Hogwarts is not immune to their influence.
From a technical perspective, Half-Blood Prince is marvellous to behold. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, best known for his superb work on 2001’s Amelie, joins the crew and provides an eye-catching glimpse of the Potter universe’s well-known locales. Delbonnel’s shots of Hogwarts itself are breathtaking, something that should also be credited to production designer Stuart Craig, whose work on the series has already earned him two Oscar nominations.
One of the problems with the previous films was their treatment of action scenes, particularly larger magic battles. This problem is solved in two ways. Half-Blood Prince features only a handful of battles and they’re all blissfully simple to follow. Moreover, director David Yates seems more at ease behind the camera than he was in Order of the Phoenix and this confidence is evident in several key scenes — including attacks by Voldemort’s Death Eaters on downtown London, the Weasley home and Hogwarts. The attack on the Weasley burrow is especially well-done, with Yates utilizing perspective, music and farm crops to create a fantastic sense of dread.
The film is bolstered by strong performances from its cast. The standouts for this installment are definitely Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Jim Broadbent (Albus Slughorn) and Alan Rickman (Severus Snape). Radcliffe has grown leaps and bounds since the first film, while Rickman steps into his own and truly transforms Snape into a magnificent character. The supporting actors are equally up to the task, as Wright’s Ginny Weasley steps out of the shadows and becomes a character in many ways as prominent as Ron or Hermione.
However, problems abound. Fans of the previous films and their rapid pacing may not like the film’s more laid-back attitude. The narrative is remarkably simple, with the mystery of the film being swept aside for most of the duration before being picked up on right at the conclusion. Much how The Two Towers and the Empire Strikes Back set up the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars sagas for their conclusions, Half-Blood Prince aspires to do the same. It’s not quite as successful; the film’s entire duration is devoted to set-up, leaving precious little time for a plot of its own. It’s great for long-time fans of the series to see these plots furthered, such as Harry’s feud with Draco Malfoy or the various romantic entanglements, but when the consequences of the plot can be described in a matter of short sentences, it’s a bit sparse.
That said, the Harry Potter films have been great to varying degrees — 2004’s Prisoner of Azkaban likely being the standout — and Half-Blood Prince does not disappoint. If audiences can handle not getting much in the way of closure or answers, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is an effortlessly enjoyable trip through a magical world that primes the two-part conclusion to the Potter saga, hitting theatres in November 2010 and July 2011.