Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

The wizarding world is facing some dark days when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens up. After the title screen that can barely be read due to the change in tone set from the previous film, fear runs through everyone’s mind. Not just the wizarding world but the muggles are noticing a drastic shift in the weather too – cloudy gray skies, unexplainable events are just the tip of the iceberg that can be seen and felt (If only muggles could really see what’s going on). What happens in Order of the Phoenix creates a snowball effect – the finale is being set up for what’s to be an emotional conclusion for the characters we have come to admire over the past 8 years.

Year 6 at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has seen a facelift. Gone is Dolores Umbridge and in comes Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) at the invitation from Professor and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). As these are indeed mad times, Slughorn returns to teach Potions while Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) finally gets the post he’s been after for as long as we’ve known him – Defense Against the Dark Arts. Slytherins everywhere rejoice, the other 3 houses however are preparing for the worst.

But returning screenwriter Steve Kloves (who didn’t write Order) never gives us an opportunity to see a Snape led Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson, Professor Slughorn from the moment Dumbledore recruits him back to teaching becomes the most important character in The Half-Blood Prince next to titular hero and proclaimed ‘Chosen One’ Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Its learned that Slughorn has taught some of Hogwarts best and brightest students over his tenure and the prospect of collecting Harry is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Forget the title, who the half-blood prince is eventually gets solved but the focus on The Half-Blood Prince is solely on the relationship between Harry, Professor Slughorn and his terrible secret.

It’s a secret that has direct implications for the final film being split into two parts. What Slughorn knows and is withholding may tip the favor to the good side, away from Voldemort and his death eaters, who love wreaking havoc on anyone they come across. We are dealing with teenaged characters after all and Kloves once again puts teenaged hormones and drama within the context of securing Voldemort’s downfall. It’s tough being a teenager, being flooded with different emotions and feelings that both Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint) barely understand, but at least Hermione (Emma Watson) does to explain it all to them.

Since Sorcerer’s Stone, the tone has progressively turned darker, themes have grown with its main trio to fit their evolving maturities and their relationships with one another are as complex as ever. Navigating all of that and still pushing the story toward its inevitable conclusion is something that Kloves and director David Yates balances well. I mentioned in my Order of the Phoenix review that the screenplay while featuring the same structure of its novel counterpart is a significant departure for being a faithful adaptation. Being the longest book in the series, condensing it down to fit a 2 hour plus runtime is a miraculous accomplishment albeit being one of the shortest films in the franchise. For one, Harry’s isolation, anger and frustration at the lack of involvement in the Order is watered down and two, the absence of Quidditch being one of the thrilling action sequences that puts you in the air with the team.

I feel the same when it comes to Half-Blood Prince. Kloves does his best to condense the lengthy novel down to fit within the scope of this world however fans of the novels (like me) instantly notice the changes or additions that were never in the novel. The additions to the film do a crucial thing that fits the world – adds stakes and real tangible danger to the environment. Having a scene where the new minister of magic sit down and meet the muggle minister is great for the novel but seeing the events they discuss playout makes the coming fight feel more critical to the survival of life.

Maybe it’s time to officially change my tune on the Half-Blood Prince once and for all.

With The Half-Blood Prince Steve Kloves takes all the dread of this film being an emotional anchor for the final films and adds a much needed touch of lightheartedness. In the darkest of days, it’s the bond of the main trio that offers hope. By the end of the story, Harry decides to skip his seventh and final year at school to hunt down the pieces of Voldemort’s soul he put into Horcruxes. But the bond of Ron, Hermione and Harry have with one another will not allow Harry to do it alone.

Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint somehow get better with each film as the main three. Their relationship off screen translates to their characters on screen looking natural in their dialogue deliveries. You can feel the anger when Ron hurts Hermione or the sympathy Harry feels for Hermione in that moment. The rest of the ensemble cast fit right into their comfortable characters while new faces to the franchise like Jim Broadbent consistently makes his prescense known and felt throughout the castle.

Outside of the outstanding characters, the wizarding world is in bad shape. The castle and its halls though full of students shuffling to classes feels claustrophobic. Walls are closing in on the good guys and without showing his face, Voldemort can be felt looming over the castle and its inhabitants. The color palette is gifted a muted gray wash over the environment, light sources are dimmed to fit the darkness and the sets are extravagant in their coziness.

The journey of Harry Potter is coming to an end. The Half-Blood Prince shoulders the necessary burden to set up for the highly anticipated conclusion. Since Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry has only shared in small victories while Voldemort and his death eaters have remained in control. Blow after blow, Harry continues to fail and lose people closest to him, but Harry’s bravery and courage remains at an all-time high. Even with the loss, Harry is rarely alone. For its somberness and the emotional toll it will undoubtedly leave you with, The Half-Blood Prince never forgets its earlier days of humor and light-heartedness which is full of hope, friendship and courage in the face of danger.    

Screenplay By: Steve Kloves

Directed By: David Yates

Music By: Nicholas Hooper

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham-Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Julie Walters

Where to Watch: Max

Edited By: Mark Day

Release Date: July 15, 2009

Running Time: 2 Hours 33 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Based On: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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