Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) – Re-watch Review

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With a around a month to go until the new Fantastic Beasts film, I have three more Harry Potter adaptations to review. Up next is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves unite to bring Harry Potter back for his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Half-Blood Prince steps up the darkness as the wider wizarding world accepts that the dark lord Voldemort is back and Harry begins to learn what it means to be the Chosen One. With Professor Dumbledore, Harry begins to learn how to defeat his greatest enemy.

This film has some of the darkest moments of any of the Potter adaptations. It is in Half-Blood Prince that Harry shows that he can do some quite dark things and can force himself to do things he feels are despicable. It shows the younger characters, from the Golden Trio to Draco Malfoy, moving properly into the adult sphere. But it also has some great lightness to it. There are some very humorous moments, particularly as Harry and his friends begin to get a proper grasp on relationships (or not). Though it is adapted from the book I liked least, it currently comes second in my new ranking of the films.

The early scenes in Half-Blood Prince are different from the book but work well. Much more visual and fits well with the darker tone of the films. It also shows Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry as a more independent person and hints at him becoming more successful with the opposite sex. Harry also has so much sass in this film. Much more like the books. Gives him more of a personality than the usual. Like the entire sequence where Harry is on Liquid Luck – it’s perfect. I also really enjoy his interactions with the other characters. It’s so nice to see him get on with other people when the other films have done so much to set him apart from everyone else. There are several scenes where he seems overly docile/prone to acting as a watcher but I prefer that to the under/over-acting of previous films. I’m starting to feel that this is part of the problem with certain films – the directors are trying to use Harry as the audience’s perspective the same way it is used in the books but it just doesn’t translate well. Thankfully, Half-Blood Prince doesn’t continuously rely on him in this way and this makes for a better film.

Ron is still used for comedic effect in Half-Blood Prince and seems like he doesn’t care about Harry in certain scenes. For example, when Harry is missing after the Hogwarts Express, Ron is unconcerned and focuses on eating. Though this does make Ron seem quite cold in some ways, it could arguably be trying to provide an opposite reaction to Hermione’s overly anxious/mothering reaction or show Ron’s confidence in Harry, and this makes things much better. In a lot of ways, this film is more like Goblet of Fire in that Ron and Harry’s friendship seems real and valuable, almost brotherly. Them going to potions for the first time is just utterly perfect. And the scene where Ron has the love potion! Overall, it’s a pretty good film for the trios friendship in general. There’s a hint of sexual tension between Hermione and Ron, jealousy between them both, all three have good banter together… It is definitely up there with Goblet of Fire for me in terms of successfully showing them as a group.

Bonnie Wright actually gets scenes in Half-Blood Prince! And lines! Lines that are pretty good at showing Ginny’s personality! She also spends more time with the Golden trio, facilitating the development of her and Harry’s friendship. Then there’s some scenes that just… cut off suddenly, like when Ginny snatches Harry’s potion book from him, finds the name of the previous owner but doesn’t explain why that’s important to her or why she’s suddenly involved herself in the conversation when she wasn’t there before… Just, why? However, I have to admit that there are some scenes where Harry and Ginny’s interactions get cut off in the best ways – most often Ron or Hermione – because it builds some level of sexual tension between them and it’s just so funnily done. Harry Potter is so cocky in this film and yet he’s constantly being cockblocked.

Another success of Half-Blood Prince is that Michael Gambon is finally Dumbledore. He is soft and intense at all the right moments and brings in the perfect amount of quirky to each interaction. And there’s no unnecessary shouting. It is the first time that he competes with Richard Harris for me – before he was just not quite the right fit for the Dumbledore in my head.

As always, there are some new additions to the cast in Half-Blood Prince. Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn is not quite how I visualised him but acts exactly how I imagined. The enthusiasm for certain subjects, the reluctance in others… He just communicates it all very well. The character of Lavender Brown is also more formally introduced in this film, with an actor change from Jennifer Smith to Jessie Cave. Of course, this has caused a lot of controversy because of the racial implications but I’m afraid that I will leave much of that conversation to people more qualified than I am. I don’t know why they couldn’t have left it as the same actress – and I certainly hope that it wasn’t purely down to the blondness of the new actress’s hair – but I can comment on the acting. I mostly enjoy her as Lavender. My only critique is that she plays her romance with Ron so genuinely when I had always been under the impression that her initial crush on him was more about his new status. Other than that, I can’t really fault her. Mostly, I love the effect it all has on Harry – his sudden realisation that Hermione returns Ron’s feelings, him and Hermione discussing crushes, and Slughorn’s party – it’s just very amusing.

Once again, the cinematography is beautiful and SFX are brilliant. Half-blood Prince uses some really interesting camera angles and sweeping shots that just look magnificent. The colour saturation also adds to the look as everything is rather muted and leans on the dark side. These act as hints to the wider problems happening in the world, from the sweeping shots of yellowing fields that hint to the problems with demetors breeding to the Hogwarts corridor scenes that look almost sepia because of the colour leeching. And the spells look amazing again. That first scene where the muggles see the destruction of the bridge just looks spectacular and really sets things up for a dark and magical film. It easily competes with Prisoner of Azkaban for most visually impressive of the film adaptations.

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The stream-lining in Half-Blood Prince is much appreciated. It cuts or re-jigs several scenes and switches some of Harry’s interactions around so that he spends time with other characters, stepping out from the source material, but most of the time this helps build Harry’s more important relationships or helps progress the plot more speedily. Like Harry being saved on the train by Luna instead of Tonks – who has never been prominently displayed in the movies – allowing more build up to Harry asking her to Slughorn’s party. (Unfortunately, however much I love that scene, part of me does think it may have been better for Ginny to be the one saving him instead. But that would probably only make sense to someone who follows the canon ships…). The cuts and alterations do mostly make sense, however, so I can’t moan too much.

Though I appreciated the script change choices for the majority of the film, there is one Half-Blood Prince scene that doesn’t fit. The destruction of the Burrow scene just irritates me. I understand that it is there to heighten the tension and it brings the costs of the war home to the audience but it feels clunky to me. It could be the fact that it’s quite glaringly not in the books and I dislike the blatant step away from the source material but I just can’t stand that scene. Was it necessary for the narrative progression? I think not. Maybe it’s just the case that the Potter film adaptations I like best must each contain a scene that I loathe.

I needed this film after the disappointment of Order of the Phoenix. It makes me happier. The combination of intense darkness with humorous levity, along with excellent visuals and a lack of invasive Harry/Hermione moments, makes Half-Blood Prince one of my favourite of the Potter adaptations.

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