Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
All week long I’ve been reviewing the Harry Potter films in what I’ve cleverly called Potter Week+. If this is the first you’re hearing of this, I’d recommend you take a moment and look at the reviews for ‘Stone, ‘Chamber, ‘Prisoner, ‘Goblet, and ‘Order.
It’s amazing what a difference fifteen minutes can make. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is so much better than its predecessor, but I’m pretty sure the fact that the film is fifteen minutes longer, while the book it’s based on is more than two-hundred pages shorter has something to do with it.
‘Prince also benefits from the fact that it isn’t so much about mysticism and bureaucracy, but rather about growing up in the midst of troubled times. This is really what the entire series is about, and it’s probably why this film succeeds so well.
Picking up in the aftermath of the prior film’s big (but confusing) conclusion, this film sees our characters somewhat in the eye of the hurricane. As big events swirl around them, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and company are back at school and trying to deal with life, as well as searching for a clue as to what evil Voldemort is up to. (Interestingly, Ralph Fiennes isn’t in this film, but his nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays a younger incarnation of the character in flashback).
Given the high stakes surrounding the characters, ‘Prince is actually a surprisingly light and even funny film. Director David Yates strikes a fine balance in this, his second outing with the franchise. The film moves along swiftly, but for the first time in a while it doesn’t seem at all rushed. This film is as much about the characters and their maturing relationships as it is about the greater conflict with evil, and that is why it works.
One character who is not having fun is Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), through the prior films Malfoy has always been a thorn in our hero’s side, but he’s been more of annoyance than an opponent. He’s been a miserable little brat, but not actually evil. In ‘Prince he has been tasked with crossing that line, and it’s clear that he’s very conflicted about it. Felton is fantastic throughout the film in portraying a character dealing with a deep personal conflict. He often appears sulking in the background of a shot, or passing through a scene. His story is cleverly directed and fantastically acted, it’s not until the end that the viewer even realizes how central his internal conflict is to the broader plot.
This is really a movie that captures what the Harry Potter series at its best. It can be scary, but it’s also funny. It’s about conflict, it’s about adventure, it’s about romance, an it’s all set in a fantasy world that is a truly imaginative place of magic yet at the same time clearly connected to our own reality. Most importantly it features characters that, we grow to care about, even if they’re characters that we’re not particularly meant to like.
Six movies deep into a series, it’s more than a little difficult to rate a film strictly on its own merits, however I really do believe that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince would be entirely enjoyable if it were a viewer’s first experience with the series. Add in some additional context and the film is absolutely fantastic. It is, clearly, a Must See.