Being a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, I always have high expectations of the film adaptations. So far I’ve watched each movie and felt a strange combination of elation and disappointment, but always manage to enjoy the movies despite what they lack when compared to the books. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is no exception to this rule.
The first act sets up the major story points, and centres around three main elements which are explored to varying degrees of satisfaction: Harry suspects his school rival Draco Malfoy is working on a secret, sinister project for Lord Voldemort; Dumbledore tasks Harry with befriending the twee new Potions master Horace Slughorn, in order to get at an important memory concerning the aforementioned Dark Lord; and then there’s the rather important matter of the mystery surrounding the titular Half-Blood Prince, whose scribbled instructions in a second hand potions book bring Harry a lot of luck.
Over the course of the film Harry spends a lot of his time lurking the shadows eavesdropping on Malfoy, trying to uncover his project, which inevitably leads to a rather nasty confrontation later in the film. Far more successful is the development of the relationship between Harry and Slughorn, this complex bond is based largely on Slughorn’s previous friendship with Harry’s now-dead mum, and translates well onto the screen. But the mystery of the Half-Blood prince- although touched upon several times in the movie- is not explained in a thorough or satisfying manner, and the result is a revelation at the end of the film that feels tacked on.
The second act is overlong by Harry Potter movie standards, and though it adds little to the main plot, it is saved by some sold humour. Yes, hormones have kicked into overdrive at Hogwarts, and our three heroes are not immune. Poor old ginger ninja Ron carries the lion’s share of the humour with the usual enjoyable gormlessness; Harry makes a great ‘straight man’ to all of this silliness, and even gets to have some sweet moments of friendship with Hermione, and his own budding romance with Ginny Weasley. This slow burning section of the film, with only a little Quidditch to liven things up, will embarrass and downright bore anyone under the age of about twelve. But the adults watching the film all seemed to find something to laugh about!
By the third act, and coming into the climax of the film, writer Steve Kloves has attempted to develop the complicated and essential mentor/student relationship between Dumbledore and Harry, but it feels shallow and contrived when compared to the rich bond that develops in the book. The dramatic sequences here are splendid to look at (especially the creepy, harrowing cave scenes) but the finale is so lacking in emotional punch that the film ends before you realise it. One of my biggest complaints with the film franchise is the pace- the films usually race along, pausing only to inject a joke or action sequence, then race onto the climax, rush through it, and then attempt to wrap things up in a neat and vaguely philosophical way. The story threads in HBP, while not always satisfying, at least develop at a more intelligent pace- until about the last twenty minutes. The lack of impact and closure, to a true fan of the books, is almost unforgivable. If Kloves had put as much effort into the mystery and drama elements of the story as he did the rom-com sequences, it would have been a much stronger film.
Performance-wise, Michael Gambon as Dumbledore does some very cool wizarding in the course of the movie, but still lacks the quirky warmth of the ‘written’ Dumbledore. Dan Radcliffe is solid, likable, subtle and as good as ever, but it never feels like he’s given enough of a challenge here. Rupert Grint is an excellent comic foil and gets some great action moments during the Quidditch sequences. Emma Watson, (who I feel overacts to the point of distraction) is considerably less annoying than usual- it seems that the more Hermione is ‘dumbed down’ in the films, the more believable Watson is, a sad irony considering how plucky and intelligent Hermione of the books is. Jim Broadbent is affable and interesting as Horace Slughorn. Tom Felton, who up to this point has simply been a smirking, smarmy bully spends most of his time gazing anxiously at a cupboard, but when called upon to be more than just Harry’s rival he rose to the occasion quite nicely. Jessie Cave is suitably flouncy and silly as Ron’s first love, Lavender Brown. Alan Rickman is horribly under-utilised as Professor Snape- and that is a huge shame considering how important he is to not only this story, but also its next instalment.
All up, the film is a lot of fun; the special effects are fantastic, the overall look of the film is gorgeous (with some great cinematography) and there are enough laughs in the middle sections to be worth the price of admission. Clocking in at an ambitious two and a half hours, the slower pace that will likely please enthusiasts, but will almost certainly bore the robes off under 12’s.