Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Movie Information

The Story: Harry and company move one step further toward adulthood and the inevitable confrontation that must one day take place. The Lowdown: A surprisingly adult and even somber entry in the popular franchise that neatly builds to the two-part climax to come, while offering solid entertainment and artistry of its own.
Score:

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Horror
Director: David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman
Rated: PG

I am fully conscious of the possibility that I may have somewhat overrated David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is due to a variety of reasons that are not related to the film itself, but rather are grounded in the timing of its appearance. It is simply impossible not to find a degree of delight in being confronted with a film that’s almost exactly the same length as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but where I was never bored and didn’t spend the entire time feeling as if I were being bombarded with stupidity run riot on an alarming scale. That’s the recent past. The looming future was represented by a trailer for The Twilight Saga: New Moon—perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious (“Paper cut!”) and stupid-looking promo ever conceived—that plays just prior to this latest Harry Potter opus. Bracketed by Transformers and The Twilight Saga, Half-Blood Prince comes across as pure genius.

The truth is that I admired and enjoyed Half-Blood Prince more than any of the other series entries except for Alfonso Cuarón’s deliriously clever Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). And I say that as someone who has liked all the films and been pleased by the fact that I’ve never felt my intelligence was being insulted while watching them. I also appreciate the fact that the films—though changing in tone as befits the arc of the overall story—have maintained a level of quality unique to a series of this many films. This one is certainly no exception, and, in many ways, is the most intelligent film yet.

The story this round has two points of focus: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finding (and taking advantage of) a potions book that once belonged to someone only identified as the Half-Blood Prince, and then discovering and attempting to undo the source of the evil Voldemort’s power. There are other issues as well—many concerning the increasingly complex romantic feelings of the series’ now 17-year-old protagonists. A certain amount of grumbling has registered on this score—especially owing to things of a more magical nature that were apparently left out of the film version of the book—but as a non-reader of the series, I wasn’t bothered by this. Moreover, I was impressed by the fact that, although much of this is played lightly and humorously, it felt real in a way this sort of thing rarely does. There is a genuine sense of the painfulness of such romances and the deadly seriousness with which teenagers take them. This is far removed from the cardboard goopiness of Twilight or the “don’t get out much, do you?” aura that clings to George Lucas’ every attempt at depicting young romance.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s not much in the way of a big action set piece in the film—a daring move in a film aimed primarily at a young audience. It certainly doesn’t bother me that we’ve been given a movie that relies more on dialogue and frisson-inducing revelations than action. And it doesn’t bother me that the film (and presumably the book) closes on an emotional and somber highpoint rather than a “big ending,” especially since the emotional punch is nearly the equal of the end of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). It’s impressive that these aspects didn’t appear to make the largely youthful crowd with whom I saw the film restless, but may have much to do with how invested they are in the story by this point.

Another plus for the film lies in the relative calmness with which the bigger “effect” moments are handled. Yes, there are lots of CGI effects—nearly all of which are top-notch—but they’re rarely used in a purely show-off manner (something the first two entries were the most guilty of). Generally, the effects aren’t played up. Some of them are no more than basic effects work, as in a scene where Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) sets a house to rights, commenting, “That was fun,” which it was and which was the point. A large part of the CGI here is used in the creation of mood, and to create a sense of the ominous. By the end of the film, Hogwarts School is looking more and more sinister—its turrets resembling the German expressionist menace of Paul Leni’s The Cat and the Canary (1927). The suggestion seems to be that the series is becoming the horror film that was always at the story’s core.

The most impressive aspect of the enterprise—not overlooking the ever-more assured playing of the young leads, the rich performances of the terrific cast of British character actors, or the solid filmmaking craft—is that Half-Blood Prince actually makes me look forward to the final entries with genuine anticipation. For the sixth film to pull that off is magic of its own kind. Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

28 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  1. TigerShark

    Seems like you’ve always got to waste your first paragraph whining about other movies you’ve had to see. Whatever happened to just judging a movie on its own merits.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Seems like you’ve always got to waste your first paragraph whining about other movies you’ve had to see. Whatever happened to just judging a movie on its own merits.

    It’s called context. By the way, does someone force you to read these reviews at gunpoint?

  3. Natasha

    I agree with you that HP 3 was the best. I really wish they had stuck with the same director from 3 through the end.

    I must admit that I am one of the people who took issue with the movie because of what was excluded from the book. I understand that there will be differences, but I think that some really crucial story elements were omitted. This has less to do with nitpicking than it does with wanting people who only meet the HP world through movies to get a feel for just how deep and awesome JK Rowling’s world is.

    That said, I agree with you that this movie is far better than some of the other offerings out right now.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I agree with you that HP 3 was the best. I really wish they had stuck with the same director from 3 through the end.

    I doubt that Alfonso Cuaron would have agreed to lock himself into such a deal.

    This has less to do with nitpicking than it does with wanting people who only meet the HP world through movies to get a feel for just how deep and awesome JK Rowling’s world is.

    Realistically, that’s probably not a possibility because of the different media involved. Really, the best you can hope for with a film adaptation of a book of some complexity is that it makes the viewer want to read the book and doesn’t betray the author’s intent (which is separate from critiquing the author’s intent, though I doubt that comes into play here).

  5. Sean Williams

    This was by far my favorite of the films: Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban was probably the best film in its own right; Goblet of Fire was the best adaptation but lacked directorial flair; but Half-Blood Prince is both stylish and faithful. Admittedly, I may be overrating it, too, because of my love/hate relationship with the book.

    Half-Blood Prince occupies an awkward place in the series: on the one hand, it marks Rowling’s apotheosis as a stylist; on the other hand, it’s the only book in the series that feels insincere, because Rowling is trying to trot out everyone’s favorite secondary characters and have a fun time before she completely demolishes the Wizarding World in Book Seven. (Several of the characters who have prominent cameos in Half-Blood Prince actually die “offscreen” in Deathly Hallows.)

    Now, that said, I have no problem with the self-indulgence that critics have observed both in the films and in the books. I say, Thank God kids are reading an author who’s more preoccupied with atmosphere and characterization than with Advancing the Almighty Plot.

    There is a genuine sense of the painfulness of such romances and the deadly seriousness with which teenagers take them.

    The problem with Twilight is that the author takes the romances just as seriously as the teenagers do; Rowling, as a former schoolteacher, has a more realistic perspective on such relationships.

    And I say that as someone who has liked all the films and been pleased by the fact that I’ve never felt my intelligence was being insulted while watching them.

    The protagonist does make moronic decisions on a semiregular basis, but he does so in a way that’s true to teenage hardheadedness — which is rather different from the Second-Order Idiot Plot around which Twilight is structured.

    The suggestion seems to be that the series is becoming the horror film that was always at the story’s core.

    Oh, you have no idea. Deathly Hallows generates atmospheric horror more effectively than most adult novels. Ask Potterphiles about the snake in Bathilda’s throat and their trembling will register on the Richter Scale.

    I apologize for writing at such length, but my respect for J.K. Rowling as a writer and as an individual could not possibly be greater. The woman is the Gene Wolfe of adolescent fiction.

  6. Erik Harrison

    Is it just me or is Daniel Radcliffe pretty much hilarious? While the comparison may seem specious at first, his run as Harry reminds me of Matthew McConaughey’s early career – after Contact he was an up and coming actor of some gravity, and is now exclusively a comedic actor.

    Every time the series has given Radcliffe some genuine comedic room, I’ve been utterly delighted – the whole luck potion sequence in this film as an example.

  7. I doubt that Alfonso Cuaron would have agreed to lock himself into such a deal.

    I saw an excellent interview with Cuaron on Charlie Rose a few years back. He said the whole process of directing a Harry Potter film takes two years of a director’s time. That’s why he declined to do more, but he hinted that he would love to come back for the final installment.

    I agree that his is the best of the series.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I apologize for writing at such length, but my respect for J.K. Rowling as a writer and as an individual could not possibly be greater.

    Oh, no need to apologize. There is so much awful writing out there that I have no trouble seeing someone enthuse intelligently about writing that isn’t awful. (And this isn’t limited to writing that’s aimed at younger readers. I tried reading a recent book that got much press hereabouts and was supposedly aimed at adult readers. It was some of the worst, clunkiest, most amateurish writing I’ve ever seen.) So enthuse away.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Every time the series has given Radcliffe some genuine comedic room, I’ve been utterly delighted – the whole luck potion sequence in this film as an example.

    Right now, I tend to find him likable, but kind of bland. His strongest suit at this point for me is his ability to seem quietly amused at things that are going on around him. That could well translate into him becoming a light leading man over time. So far his one attempt at a non-Harry Potter starring vehicle, December Boys, sank pretty much without a trace. What happens next is completely up in the air.

  10. Sean Williams

    There is so much awful writing out there that I have no trouble seeing someone enthuse intelligently about writing that isn’t awful.

    Honestly, that’s why I enjoy your column: not only do you alert me to good films, you can articulate your reasons for liking them.

    It was some of the worst, clunkiest, most amateurish writing I’ve ever seen.

    At a guess — Dan Brown?

    His strongest suit at this point for me is his ability to seem quietly amused at things that are going on around him.

    My thoughts exactly. Also, it helps that the young cast members have been together for long enough that they can interact as casually as real-life schoolmates. None of them impress me as spectacular actors (I confess that I’ve never liked Grint at all), but at this late point in the series, they no longer seem to be acting at all so much as living their roles.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Honestly, that’s why I enjoy your column: not only do you alert me to good films, you can articulate your reasons for liking them.

    Well, unless you do that you really haven’t said a lot more than “I liked it” or “That was cool,” now have you?

    At a guess—Dan Brown?

    No, I meant that One Second After book. Setting aside the fact that I find its right-wing fear-mongering morally repugnant, I was simply appalled by the writing. It’s awkward and clunky, and the author is so hooked on ellipses that I started to suspect the book was actually in Morse Code. More appalling still is the idea that someone actually edited the thing and that this was the final product.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I know this doesn’t have anything to do with Harry Potter, but, damn, the comments made me laugh.

    Gee, thanks. I never see these things because if there’s anything on earth lower than the comments on Rotten Tomatoes 99% of the time, I’ve yet to see it. I’ve never bothered responding to anything written on there. I’m only surprised no one decided to attack my sexual orientation. That’s rare for the RT crowd.

    The people who comment generally don’t even have a clue how it works (as witness the “where’s the review?” question as regards a “quick rating” entry, which doesn’t have a review). It also seems to largely consist of folks zero sense of proportion — but an awful lot of spare time.

  13. john r

    I think the Rotten Tomatoes replies reinforce the reason why I drive the 45 min. from Greeneville, TN. The number one rule here is that a person must completely defer to the popular opinion, or become a target of personal attack. I may not agree with what you are saying, but your ideas are just as valid as mine and they deserve the right to be voiced. So next time you are out and about in town and you happen to hear some stranger say that they come to
    Asheville for good food and entertainment, please realize it is just another advocate of freedom of speech coming up for a breath of air. Thanks, Hanke-and carry on the good work.

  14. Ken Hanke

    I think the Rotten Tomatoes replies reinforce the reason why I drive the 45 min. from Greeneville, TN. The number one rule here is that a person must completely defer to the popular opinion, or become a target of personal attack.

    What constantly baffles me is the apparent need for validation through agreement. They sit there on Rotten Tomatoes waiting in anticipation of the first bad review of some movie they care about (often that they haven’t seen) for the express purpose of jumping on the first critic with a negtive take. It’s as if their own faith in the value of a thing must be shared by everyone or they might wonder if maybe they’re wrong. I certainly understand being passionate about movies, but a little sense of perspective and an effort at civility would seem to be in order.

    I may not agree with what you are saying, but your ideas are just as valid as mine and they deserve the right to be voiced.

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — over a period of time I don’t always agree with my opinions. And I certainly don’t mind discussing them after the fact — depending on how someone wants to discuss them.

  15. Steven

    [b] They sit there on Rotten Tomatoes waiting in anticipation of the first bad review of some movie they care about (often that they haven’t seen) for the express purpose of jumping on the first critic with a negtive take.[/b]

    The only time I agree with them doing this is when Armond White posts a review.

  16. Ken Hanke

    The only time I agree with them doing this is when Armond White posts a review.

    See, I don’t even agree with that. First of all, White is not an uninteresting writer, though he almost invariably gets all balled up in an excess of pretentious twaddle. I’m not 100% sure I think he’s entirely rational — meaning I’m not completely sold on the idea that he does what he does just for attention. But let’s say he does it to be contentious and for no other reason. If that’s so, then they’re playing right into his hands by giving him the very attention he’s after. In either case, posting that he’s a “douche” or a “homo” or a “retard” speaks far worse of those posting than it does of White.

  17. Will

    I have similar sentiments about most reviews by Rex Reed, whose reviews I find much more ignorant than those of Armond White. It’s not that I agree with the idea of posting insulting comments, though, so much as it is that I merely sympathyze with their outrage.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I have similar sentiments about most reviews by Rex Reed, whose reviews I find much more ignorant than those of Armond White. It’s not that I agree with the idea of posting insulting comments, though, so much as it is that I merely sympathyze with their outrage.

    Rex Reed does indeed tend to be a little…wanting in his critical accumen. Still, maybe I’m just jaded or more sympathetic after being on the receiving end of the outrage, but so much of the outrage seems excessive and more lacking in judgnent than the writer being attacked.

  19. Vince Lugo

    This was a very enjoyable film, but I feel it suffers from the same weakness as the book in that it doesn’t stand on its own as a self contained story as the first five do (sort of), instead serving as an extended prologue to Deathly Hallows. We’ll all be eagerly awaiting that final installment, as well we should.

  20. Ken Hanke

    it doesn’t stand on its own as a self contained story as the first five do (sort of), instead serving as an extended prologue to Deathly Hallows

    That’s always a problem with what’s essentially a transitional entry (I’d say the same is true — maybe more so — with The Two Towers). At the same time, what are the chances of most viewers coming to this movie cold and not knowing that it’s leading to something else?

  21. Sean Williams

    What constantly baffles me is the apparent need for validation through agreement.

    I’d much rather follow an articulate, rational critic who always disagrees with me than a vapid quote whore who always agrees with me. I mean, so help me, I have intelligent friends who like Stephenie Meyer.

    Setting aside the fact that I find its right-wing fear-mongering morally repugnant, I was simply appalled by the writing.

    Well, I can deal with political and religious views that I find morally repugnant if the author expresses them well — which this guy apparently doesn’t.

  22. SPOILERS AHEAD

    Saw this early today. Wonderful – thrilling and boundlessly atmospheric, and nice to see Jim Broadbent finally turn up (what took him so long?).

    I never managed to finish the book, or get around to the subsequent one – I’m not sure if I outgrew them or just found the teenage characterizations unrealistic in a way I don’t in the films. Still, it wasn’t hard to work out that Snape was going to be the one to knock off Dumbledbore (the conversations between him and Mrs Malfoy, and later with Dumbledore foreshadow it pretty clearly), not that it made the moment any less resonant.

    Just a random observation, but between this and SWEENEY TODD, I’m beginning to find Helena Bonham Carter appealing in ways I never had until recently. Perhaps she should start a cottage industry playing overly made-up lunatics.

  23. Ken Hanke

    Well, I can deal with political and religious views that I find morally repugnant if the author expresses them well—which this guy apparently doesn’t.

    There seems to be a direct connection between such ideas and bad writing — and filmmaking — but my view is certainly colored. A lot of my problem with such works — regardless of quality — is the way in which they influence readers and viewers who take what they encounter as true, since a lot of people are rather credulous. (And, yes, I know that this can be applied to views expressing reverse ideas.)

  24. Ken Hanke

    Just a random observation, but between this and SWEENEY TODD, I’m beginning to find Helena Bonham Carter appealing in ways I never had until recently. Perhaps she should start a cottage industry playing overly made-up lunatics.

    I’d at least marginally add her role in Big Fish to this list, though eccentric would work better than lunatic.

  25. Sean Williams

    There seems to be a direct connection between such ideas and bad writing — and filmmaking — but my view is certainly colored.

    I suppose that if you’re on the philosophical fringe and perceive that the rest of the creative community is unsympathetic to your ideas, you feel that you need to express yourself less subtly.

  26. Ken Hanke

    I suppose that if you’re on the philosophical fringe and perceive that the rest of the creative community is unsympathetic to your ideas, you feel that you need to express yourself less subtly.

    You presuppose an ability to do otherwise. I guess I am simply less charitably minded.

  27. sapna

    Thanks for sharing this informative Article on Harry-Potter, i liked it the much and appreciate your views on it.

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