Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

The Harry Potter films have become difficult to fairly assess from a critical standpoint. Four of the first five films rank between mediocre to abysmal, with only one truly intuitive adaptation of the unremarkable source material (Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n). By the sixth installment, the audience must already be engrossed by the characters, their world, and the story, and regardless of its craftsmanship as an individual film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was doomed to suffer for its predecessors’ mistakes, and it does.

However, if every film in the series was as good as this, the Harry Potter films would be memorable as more than an obligatory franchise extension of popular fantasy novels. Here, thanks to better acting and refined direction, director David Yates has brought enough laughs, thrills and well-placed vistas to the table to make up for the thin plot and the franchise’s pedigree.

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The plot involves the adolescent wizard, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), entering his sixth year in Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and maintaining his social and academic lives while helping the school’s headmaster discover how to defeat the most dangerous, evil wizard of all time. For those who don't follow, either familiarize yourself with the previous five Potter films, or prepare to be lost.

Half Blood Prince jumps between the main plotline and unrelated character subplots as often as you’d expect from a Harry Potter story, but here the pacing, writing, and acting help to score more hits than misses from amusing distractions like Ron trying out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. This is, at times, a very funny movie. One sequence – involving a potion that grants its drinker extraordinary luck for a brief time – presents Radcliffe’s finest moments of comic acting in the series when Harry (finally!) lightens up.

Another thing improved is Voldemort. He’s frightening. Though Ralph Fiennes makes no appearance as the snake-faced mastermind, his nephew Hero Fiennes Tiffin plays him as a child to chilling effect, and in a few other scenes Frank Dillane plays an adolescent Voldemort that is far more subtly menacing and calculating than the version played by Christian Coulson in Chamber of Secrets. With all respect to the illustrious career of Ralph Fiennes, his Voldemort was a stock villain of pure evil who looked more ridiculous than terrifying. Here, seeing the unsettling youngster manipulating those around him in his search for immortality, it’s clear that the saga chose the wrong version of the villain as its antagonist.

That’s not to say Half Blood Prince gets everything right. Harry’s rival, Draco Malfoy, spends much of the film depressed and brooding, holding some terrible secret. Two scenes show him using a sinister looking closet that is clearly part of a dark plot, but his early use of it is so bizarre and inscrutable that it’s not as suspenseful as it’s clearly intended to be. Worse, Draco is shown alone, just brooding, at least four or five times. It bottoms out at unintentional self-parody, and it becomes so hard to identify with or even pity Malfoy that the climax is robbed of much of its emotional weight.

As well-paced and edited as it is, the story still lacks the finesse to make the movie truly great, and a host of minor quibbles and outright stupidity from Harry and friends calls back much of the annoyance of lesser Potter movies. Since the characters, likeable as they become, still aren’t deeply resonant, Half Blood Prince works better as a spectacle, comedy, and mood piece than the sprawling personal journey of a hero-who-didn't-know-he-was.

With that said, as much as its companions have doomed it, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince stands as an ambitious, respectable, and fun movie. Thanks to some excellent cinematography and taut editing, the action scenes are beautiful and thrilling, delivering emotional pay-offs with somber, well-composed wide shots instead of over-acted close-ups. Any strict adherence to its dubiously crafted source novels will bring down a Harry Potter movie, but the sixth suggests that the series could one day be reimagined and refilmed into a new saga, a great one. As it stands, it’s a high point in an iffy procession of cash-in blockbuster adaptations, but it deserves accolades for not relenting to the status quo of its forerunners.

Spoiler for Old Time's Sake

Snape Kills Dumbledore


¬Will Ross said...
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Laurel Ross said...

"I don't get it." That was my comment coming out of the movie...but, it needs to be put in its place, just as "The Two Towers" did. I could have enjoyed this movie more if I would have done my research and figured out what part in the series the movie played. Hopefully there are not that many more that walked into this movie in a state of ignorance!

Christina said...

Oh God the Brooding! (This is another test comment. Feel free to delete it)

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