Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Half-Blood Prince was always my least favorite Potter book. Why? Because our main protagonist sits by the sidelines for about five hundred pages while his best friends snog each other. The most action-packed moments of the story happen at the very end or in flashbacks, and Harry Potter loses almost all of his agency, a flaw that plagues the series for the first three hundred pages of the final book as well. Rather than actively seek out adventure like he used to, Harry listens to Dumbledore regale him with adventures from the past. To be fair, important information is revealed, information critical to the conclusion of the Potter series, but a writer as skilled as Rowling could have easily tied Harry more closely to the forward progress of the narrative, acting as the detective rather than an ancillary stooge.

Somewhat ironically the sixth Harry Potter film shines as one of the best in the series, utilizing the book’s narrative malaise as a way of depicting the young wizard’s growth into manhood. In previous Potter films the set pieces had been so bombastic and distracting there was hardly the time to get to know the characters beyond a series of pithy remarks, but director David Yates skillfully utilizes the natural awkwardness of his young actors to create intertwining romantic plotlines that are both hysterically funny and touching. Despite the dark dealings surrounding Hogwarts in this story, the character relationships provide some of this summer’s finest comedy, perhaps with the exception of Pixar’s Up.

It’s hard to fault an adaptation that takes a stagnant story and brings it to vivid life, especially with such incredible camerawork and visual effects. There are certain shots, like the characters peering down from the rafters of the Weasley house and the early Death Eater assault on London that rival Oscar-worthy cinematography. That being said, there are occasional pacing problems, mostly the result of the adapted work itself than botched screenwriting. The script is piping with life and character, and thanks to some clever usage of love and luck potions, we get to see new sides of Harry and Ron that allow the actors behind them to really have some fun.

Visually stunning, emotionally honest and somehow still very grounded, this movie steals the crown from Prisoner of Azkaban. I almost wish Yates had directed the Goblet of Fire, but it’s clear from his previous attempt in the series, Order of the Phoenix, that he definitely needed a warm-up before he nailed it.

Potter fans can look forward to TWO upcoming movies, as the final story “Deathly Hallows” will be broken in twain as a way to further drain the bank accounts of loyal fans. It’s an unsurprising move fiscally, but a truly moronic one in terms of narrative. The first three hundred pages of Deathly Hallows suffer from a Potter without agency and mostly revolve around the three central characters bickering in the woods until some ancillary sidekicks miraculously reveal information pertinent to the central quest. I’ve joked previously that the last two books flail aimlessly because of Rowling’s own inability to neatly wrap up the massive and incredible universe she’s created. But even George Lucas gave us a Return of the Jedi (and those damnable prequels [and Indy 4]). Deathly Hallows has a tremendous ending full of heart, revelations and a huge destructive battle. Surely that’ll make for some really swell filmmaking. At least in Part II.

Grade: A

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