Archive Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

This is a repost (with some grammatical edits and few deletions) of my review from Aug. 24, 2009.

Like every movie thus far in the Harry Potter series based on J.K Rowling’s novels, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (book no. 6) cuts a lot of corners. Those who regard Rowling’s tome as a bible are sure to have complaints at scenes added (the attack on the Weasley’s burrow) and scenes taken away (the battle in Hogwarts), but as a film — not a book — second-time director David Yates and longtime Potter adapter Steve Kloves have made the most visually purposeful, emotional and character-driven Potter movie so far.

The previous film “Order of the Phonenix” (Yates’ first) introduced the inevitable dark direction of the series and therefore movies, as Harry (Radcliffe) embraces that he alone can defeat the evil Lord Voldemort (Fiennes, who’s absent from this movie), who has come back to power and is now an immediate and dangerous threat. In order for Harry to succeed, he must learn a crucial piece of information, one that belongs in the memory of retired professor Horace Slughorn, played brilliantly by Jim Broadbent, who Harry and his mentor Albus Dumbledore (Gambon) have convinced to come back to Hogwarts.

Meanwhile, Harry has a suspicion that his long-time schoolyard nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is up to something evil, possibly in service of Voldemort, and we frequently see him spending time alone in the castle. In addition to that, Harry also has to juggle his own new feelings for his best friend Ron’s (Grint) sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) and the rocky relationship between Ron and their other friend Hermione (Watson) who clearly has some feelings of her own.

If you think Harry has a lot to juggle, imagine the responsibility of screenwriter Kloves. Like a surgeon with only a scalpel, Kloves takes carefully to Rowling’s novel, omitting scenes but sneaking them into brilliant visual details, adding new parts where necessary and sewing up the most important plot lines into a narrative thread that remains coherent. He also weaves in graceful transitions that Yates can execute beautifully with his dark and mysterious vision for the film. And to top that, he adds an endearing sense of humor that the series has never seen before, and it brings a deeper love for the characters. Broadbent and Gambon, quirky as they are, add nicely here too.

And despite what you might think, Kloves’ greatest sins to the Potter fundamentalists out there aren’t solely his fault. The greatest blemish on this otherwise beautiful adaptation can be blamed on one thing: a PG rating. Intending to be PG, whereas the last two films were PG-13, strips the film of delivering all the weight of the best climax Rowling wrote in the Harry Potter series. The inability to show some sort of violence rips the battle at Hogwarts out of the film and deprives it of some much needed adrenaline — all for a measly PG rating. To compensate, Kloves adds the attack on the Burrow halfway through, but it stands out as the most frivolous in the film.

As these films come to an end, they are clearly in the right hands with Yates. “Half-Blood Prince” is wildly imaginative, edgy and suspenseful, with terrific foreshadow technique and chilling transitions. With these last few books being on such a grand scale in the Harry Potter universe, it’s key that someone be in charge who has a specific vision. Yates (with Kloves) has that vision and that’s what makes this a great film and not a flat one that’s too complex and overloaded with details from the book. If you want the latter, read the book again. Choices were made, and despite a less climactic ending, they were brilliant ones.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent


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