Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Directed by David Yates Adapted by Steve Kloves Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham-Carter, Bonnie Wright and Maggie Smith.
The sixth installment of J.K. Rowling’s famous boy-wizard saga gets the cinematic treatment at the hands of David Yates who gave us Order of Phoenix (and will give us Deathly Hallows in two installments). Along with screenwriter Steve Kloves, Yates manages to slim down Rowling’s sprawling penultimate chapter and center it around three (at times competing) narratives: the blossoming of teen love amongst our heroes, Draco Malfoy’s plot to fulfil the Dark Lord’s plan and Dumbledore’s quest to find a crucial memory that’ll help him know more about how to defeat Lord Voldemort. This probably explains the low-simmering pace of the first two thirds of the film, as Yates brings us back to Hogwarts for Harry’s sixth year at the magical school (now heavily guarded against Dark forces after the attack on the Ministry) giving us some love woes courtesy of teen awkwardness; some Quidditch matches to fulfill fans needs; some random attacks on students and a rather peculiar Potions book (“property of the Half-Blood Prince”) that helps Harry ace the class. All in all, the film moves slowly but surely towards setting up two crucial events: the death of a main character and the revelation of who the eponymous ‘Prince’ is – both of which fall limp (no pun intended) given the action-less climax during which they take place. Yates and his cast succeed at creating wonderfully nuanced quiet moments (Hermione and Harry at the bottom of the stairs, Harry and Slughorn in his office, Tom Riddle’s two memories) but – and this seemed to be a consensus around me in the theater – the two climactic ‘battles’ at the end of the film (Dumbledore versus the Inferi and the attack of the Death Eaters on Hogwarts) fell short (especially given the wondrous adrenaline-rush of the Ministry-attack inOrder of Phoenix). The sight of Dumbledore surrounded by fire (giving us a wonderfully Biblical image) is stunning but the pacing of the scene suggests no real urgency while the Death Eaters rampage through Hogwarts (given how much was stripped from the book) feels needless and aimless (thank god for Ms Bonham-Carter who – providing her own wardrobe and hair, I’m sure, manages to give this scene some spunk). But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise well-accomplished film which depends (quite rightly) on the strength of its cast (both the young trio and the slew of accomplished British thesps proving supporting turns).
Overall this sixth installment did/does what it needed/needs to do: mainly, set up the last (two) chapter(s) in the Harry Potter story. If the action sequences felt muted (or needlessly unthrilling) it might be because this is indeed the calm before the storm, so even if I would have liked to see more crazy Bellatrix, or a more rabid Greyback (really, was the attack on the Weasley’s really necessary as a plot/story/action device?) I was happy to see that the dramatic (and comedic – god bless Jim Broadbent!) aspects of the franchise have found its footing in what is arguably one of the most visually stunning and lushly art-directed and -produced installment in the series since Cuarón directed (my #1 HP film) Prisoner of Azkaban. A-
Best scene: Harry after drinking the “Liquid Luck” potion. Who knew Mr Radcliffe could play for comedy so earnestly?
Best scene 2: The mourning wands dissolving the Dark Mark – if only because of the way Maggie Smith can emote without even trying and still out-acting anyone around her.