Directed by David Yates
After a fantastic opening scene in modern-day London of the Death Eaters attacking the Muggle populace, we see Harry enjoying his summer break until Professor Dumbledore shows up to take him back to the safety of Hogwarts. First, they must convince Dumbeldore’s former colleague, Jim Broadbent’s Professor Horace Slughorn, to return to Hogwarts for reasons Dumbeldore won’t reveal. In the meantime, the Death Eaters have been trying to get at Harry–the only person to have survived an attack by their master Voldermort–and everyone at Hogwarts tries to get back to business as normal. Dumbledore asks Harry to become Slughorn’s star potions pupil in order to get answers that might help them find Voldemort, while Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy has been recruited for his own mission by the Death Eaters. Harry has found a special potion book belonging to someone known as the “half-blood prince,” and there’s a subplot involving something called Liquid Luck. If you’re already lost then welcome to the world of J.K. Rowling’s over-elaborate plotting and how hard it is to retain all of it when making a film adaptation.
David Yates becomes only the second filmmaker to make two “Harry Potter” movies back-to-back, with this sixth installment also bringing original screenwriter Steve Kloves back to the fold. At this point, if you haven’t been religiously watching the movies based on Rowling’s tomes, you might as well give up. As much as “Half-Blood Prince” tries to retain the done-in-one aspect of the previous movies, there are just way too many characters from the previous chapters making brief appearances you’re not likely to know who anyone is. Instead, the focus is on the evolving relationships between the characters, something that’s important to all good filmmaking ventures, but not when it bogs down the forward movement of the story, which is clearly the case here.
The young female members of the cast clearly steal the sixth film, especially Emma Watson’s Hermione, whose acting has been consistent and solid throughout the series. By comparison, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint don’t seem to have improved very much, although at least Grint is getting away from the Stan Laurel routine he was doing so much in previous movies. There’s no explanation for Harry’s sudden change in demeanor since the last movie in which he was angry all the time; here, he’s quite placid once again despite everything that happened. If someone told me eight years ago that Bonnie Wright, introduced as Ginny Weasley in the first movie, would turn into such a strong dramatic actress who could carry scenes as well as the three leads, I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a testament to producer David Heyman and the various directors who’ve helmed the franchise that these young actors have been able to evolve and develop their characters so much. This movie would have failed miserably if that wasn’t the case.
The verbal sparring between Ron and Hermione has played such a large part in the last few movies, and if you didn’t realize where their relationship was heading then you’ve clearly never seen an episode of “Moonlighting.” Hermione is finally realizing she has stronger feelings for Ron, who is as oblivious about them as ever, but the movie spends way too much time dealing with this relationship and how others get in the way. As entertaining as all the character interaction continues to be, so much time is spent dealing with the mostly inconsequential romantic relationships of the various characters that it completely overpowers the main plot. Sadly, it feels that the movie is trying too hard to retain the straying young women who have become enamored by the “Twilight” series, rather than remaining true to itself.
As much as the focus remains on the younger cast, this installment is clearly Michael Gambon’s moment to shine as Professor Dumbledore after spending a good portion of the last movie in the wings. For the actor to follow the likes of the legendary Richard Harris in the role and make it his own character is quite an achievement. Similarly, Jim Broadbent does a great job filling in as this installment’s “special guest,” a doddering sycophant who has his own plans for Harry. (Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape continues to play an equally large part in Harry’s life at Hogwarts, although we can’t say much about his role in the movie without spoiling it.) Over the course of the five previous movies, so many characters have been introduced and there’s very little for many of them to do in this one, yet many of them make brief appearances in inconsequential scenes that are similarly unnecessary in the overall scheme of things.
Noticeably missing from this chapter is Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort, who played such a large role in elevating the level of menace in the last few movies. We do get to see the former Tom Riddle in his younger guise–one even played by Fiennes’ nephew–but the main menace this time is his Death Eaters, who only really appear at the beginning, the end and a few scattered bits in between. For the most part, this chapter seems to be lacking in the epic magical fantasy that was such an important part of the series up until now – there really aren’t any magical creatures for instance, and a lot of what happens could just as well have taken place in any episode of “Saved by the Bell,” as the film strays from the fact that the story takes place in a school for wizards.
While Rupert Grint has previously been the film’s primary comic relief, that honor goes to the duo of Evanna Lynch’s Luna Lovegood and Jessie Cave’s Lavender Brown–the latter is Ron’s ditzy love interest–both of them keeping things light and fun throughout. Another pleasant surprise is the amazing transformation of Tom Felton’s Malfoy from a sniveling and unlikable bully into a villain with real potential. Most of the film, we watch him putting things into a cabinet that makes them disappear, for reasons we don’t discover for a long time.
By the time we get back to the actual plot, almost two hours have passed, and by then, you might have completely given up on caring who the titular “half-blood prince” is. That makes it the first time in the series you really start feeling the movie’s length before the two-hour mark due to the amount of needless filler.
That’s not to say Yates doesn’t continue to prove himself an accomplished filmmaker, doing a fantastic job with what is evidently the weakest chapter in the series since its debut. He has created another fantastic looking film with a distinct look from its predecessors thanks to the gorgeous cinematography of Bruno Delbanel (“Amelie”) while Nicholas Hooper’s score continues to make one forget all about John Williams. The quality of their work is most evident in the last twenty minutes, when we finally get the exciting, fantastical climax we’ve been hoping for, but it takes way too long to get there. To be honest, other than the opening, a brief Quidditch match and the quest by Harry and Dumbeldore’s quest to find an important artifact, there’s nothing in the sixth movie that necessarily needs to be seen on the larger IMAX screen.
We won’t divulge the two or three big revelations, though they’re not nearly as groundbreaking as one might hope after having waited eight extra months for a movie that resolves little and doesn’t really deliver on many things set-up in the previous movie. Instead, we’re left once again with what is essentially a cliffhanger for the next movie, which one can only hope will return to the vast scope of the previous movies.
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