REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

6 08 2009

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to write a review for the latest installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise this late in the game.  The movie opened 4 weeks ago, and by this point, you have either seen it or you haven’t.  If you love the books like me, you rush out and see it the first day or even at midnight.  If you don’t dig the books or the movies, you aren’t going to see it because the movies don’t allow time to stragglers to catch up.  What I will say about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is that it is one of the best in the series.  The key element to its recovery from the horrifying previous film is an expertly crafted script.  Director David Yates returns and seems to find his stride this time.  His “Potter” is darker than we have ever seen it, and it works remarkably well.

Usually I give a plot summary in the second paragraph, but I think only a brief one is called for here.   The villainous Lord Voldemort is back, and tensions are high in the wizarding world.  But the tension is  higher with Harry and his pals are finding the pain and beauty of teenage crushes.

I love the books, but I am not one of those purists that is furious when they omit subplots.  I think that this is one of the best adaptations from book to movie.  However, I was intrigued by the shift in focus.  Rowling’s brilliant novel focuses more on Harry and Dumbledore trying to discover the dark secrets of how Tom Riddle came to be Voldemort by collecting memories from people who knew Tom.  The movie plays up the teen angst angle of the story, and I had no problem with that.  It gives a light, humorous side to balance out the bleak darkness of the rest of the story.

The acting is excellent, with the exception of Bonnie Wright, who plays Harry’s love interest Ginny Weasley.  I assume that they did not know the magnitude of her role in the story when they cast her in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets;” at least that’s what I hope.  I feel like Wright honestly does not understand that facial expressions make a difference in acting.  The look on her face never matches the words coming out of her mouth.  Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson all give pretty good performances, but the strength of the movies has always come from the supporting cast.  Two of the creepiest actors working, Alan Rickman (Snape) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) are back to send chills down your spine with their every movement.  Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) is at his best.  I had always felt his Dumledore was always too harsh in comparison in Richard Harris’ Dumbledore.  However, Gambon really gets to the core of Dumbledore here and makes him feel like a loving grandfather.  The newest addition the large cast, Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), brings a zany energy to his character that helps to infuse a lot of humor into the movie.

“Half-Blood Prince” is a massive improvement from its lackluster predecessor and is up there with Cuaron’s “Prisoner of Azkaban” as my favorites in the Potter series.   There is not a dull moment in its 153 minute running time.  The movie is suspensful, scary, and funny.  If you take out the fact that Hogwarts is a school for wizards, it is actually one of the best high-school movies I have seen.  I was worried about the direction the series was taking after Yates was brought back for the rest of the movies, but now I can see his vision for the films and look forward to see what he can do with the final chapter of Harry’s saga.  A- / 3halfstars

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