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Jul152009

Review - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince **1/2

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a beautiful and hilarious movie that I desperately wanted to enjoy. Unfortunately, it lingers and plods on awkward teenage relationships, forgetting that it has an adventure to tell. Like the halls of Hogwarts these days, I left feeling empty.

I seem to be alone in my judgment. More than a hundred critics around the country have given Half-Blood Prince has a 90% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a B+ average on Yahoo. Were they watching the same movie? Granted, I saw the film at midnight in a packed crowd, and there was a girl behind me who coughed incessantly the whole movie (get a cough drop or leave please), but these external elements do not break a movie for me. Potter 6 just never took off. It meandered on the runway for two hours, spinning its wheels.

Harry is now at his sixth year (of seven) at Hogwarts, which has turned into teenage puppy-love city. All the girls are guy crazy, and all the guys are girl crazy. If only I had a potion I could give to a hot girl that made her instantly fall in love with me. The girls at Hogwarts have no qualms abusing this magic. Harry and Ron don’t need potions though. They’re now the stars of the Quidditch team, and girls come out of the woodwork to see Ron be a goalie—or “Keeper” as they call it in the Wizard world—and watch Harry “seek,” or whatever he does. For the first time enough of an actual Quidditch game is shown that I understand the rules. In previous films, we always ended up just watching Harry chase around that damn Golden Snitch. Here we get a chance to watch real players try to score and actually play Quidditch.

Like I said, hormones are on high. Hermoine likes Ron and Ron’s sister Ginny is into Harry, but the only way anyone communicates is through awkward pauses, vacant stares, and almost kisses. Director David Yates expertly brings the teenage tension to life, and there are some very clever pauses and stares. He also does a terrific job breathing dimension into Draco Malfoy, who is conflicted over a mission he must complete. Draco and Potter used to snicker at each other. This time, shots are fired and people bleed.

Weaved into the teenage tension is the growing relationship between Dumbledore and Harry. The head of Hogwarts asks Harry to help him solve a mystery about Voldemort, who used to be a student at Hogwarts named Tom Riddle. Through extracted memories, we see Voldemort’s troubled childhood and Dumbledore’s first encounter with him. Nearly every scene with Harry and Dumbledore is riveting and well done, save the finale of the film. Michael Gambon plays the wizard to perfection, though I did pick up a lot of interesting vibes between him and Potter. He repeatedly asks Harry about his girlfriends, and even comments that Harry “needs to shave” at one point. I’ll assume I’m looking into it too deeply.

The truth is that there’s a lot to love about this movie. The cinematography is the best the series has seen. Hogwarts has a very isolated and empty aura to it as the threat of Voldemort grows, and the school itself begins to feel like a character. Jim Broadbent, who was great in Hot Fuzz and almost everything he’s been in, is also fantastic as potions Professor Horace Slughorn.

Unfortunately, while David Yates stalls and spins through the teenage drama, he loses focus on what’s truly important to the plot. There is very little action in this Potter film, and when there is, it mostly feels tacked on for the hell of it. In one scene, a group of Death Eaters destroy the Weasley home and harass Potter during Christmas break. What were they trying to accomplish? It felt like a scene inserted solely to speed up the movie and add some fireballs. I’m told it wasn’t even in the book. Half-Blood Prince is an 652 page book: there should be no scenes invented for the movie.

I am a Harry Potter movie purist. I have not read the books, but plan to when I finally see all of the films. I don’t know many details outside of the movies, but the end of this film makes no sense. I can’t imagine the book ends so puzzlingly. I can forgive a lot, but basic questions of logic bother me.

If you’ve seen the last five Potters, you have to see this one—you’re in too deep now. Don’t rush to the theater though. Wait until you can rent it cheaply, or see it for free. Here’s hoping that David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves give The Deathly Hallows its due attention and end this series on a higher note.

Score: 2.5 out of 5 - Not Recommended (But you’ll probably see it anyway)


Small Spoiler Questions

  • What do the death eaters want to accomplish? Are they just after Dumbledore? Why do they spend the movie trying to break into Hogwarts if they don’t plan on sticking around?
  • Yates makes a point of showing how magic can restore broken house to order, yet everyone is crying when the Weasley house is destroyed. Couldn’t they wave their wands and fix it?

Reader Comments (7)

I probably won't end up seeing this one unless its part of an ABC Family marathon on a Sunday afternoon. Good news though! They will have two more chances to get a Harry Potter movie right! The last installment (Deathly Hollows) will be a two-parter. I just hope they know what they are doing since taking a Harry Potter novel and turning it into a 2 1/2 hour film seems to be long enough. Looks like Deathly Hollows may span 4 hours+.

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPacman

Basically my thoughts exactly, except I'd probably give it an even lower rating. Good review, thoughtful and well written as always!! :)

(One small correction you might want to make though -- Ron's sister's name is "Ginny" not "Jenny.")

I, too, am confused as to how HBP is managing to receive all these stellar reviews, from critics and fans alike. I cannot honestly see a die-hard book fan (like myself) taking this film seriously as an adaptation of the book. Maybe I'm even more die-hard than most fans, I don't know. So far I've been able to enjoy the HP films for what they are - entertaining, if not always 100% accurate, movies. I just can't really say the same about this one. :(

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJaclyn

Hah. Thanks. Fixed the spelling on Ginny. I never looked that up. I should have known that no one has a normal name. Except Ron.

July 15, 2009 | Registered CommenterJeffrey Van Camp

I think that was my biggest worry of the film... too much concentration on all the teenage relationships. While they're important, they weren't the focus of the book. Anyway, great review. I'll be seeing it dirt free. :)

July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErrka

Yeah. I liked the focus, but the movie kind of went in circles with the concept. It almost felt deja vu-like at times. It could have done what it needed to do with less scenes like these.

July 15, 2009 | Registered CommenterJeffrey Van Camp

I couldn't agree more with this quote, "Unfortunately, it lingers and plods on awkward teenage relationships, forgetting that it has an adventure to tell."

Compared to the other movies, this one was pretty bad. Very long pauses. Quite a bit of slow camera motion to "convey" deeper feelings. Yawn. Let's get to the story already.

Book 6 was not nearly this dull, or cheesy. It talked about the growing romantic relationships quite a bit, but it didn't bore the shit out of you like the movie did. Movie 6 did have superior special effects, but left me wondering what happened to the great story the book told.

July 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

I recommend that no one should read the sixth book before seeing this film considering that they are essentially two different stories. I was completely disappointed by the lack of purity and connection this last film has kept with the book that I read and loved. Whole characters that play a major role in the book, such as Fleur who is to marry Bill Weasley, are simply left out of the social structure. I understand the need to cut down a 700 page book into a sizable movie, but there is no need to completely make up events that simply did not take place in the text such as the torching of the Weasley house. This is obviously not to mention the complete removal of the climactic battle at the finale of the book. I now know what they mean by "BASE ON the novel".

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

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