Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- Film Review
An air of foreboding has most definitely settled over Hogwarts in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment of Warner Bros.' fabulously successful series. David Yates, in his go at the helm, throws the emphasis on the gathering storm clouds even as Harry and his fellow wizardry students make further discoveries involving the opposite sex.
In fact, the rapidly approaching confrontation between Harry and the forces of unyielding evil led by Lord Voldemort tends to overshadow moments of comic relief or romantic escape.
Yes, the end is in sight, and yet so much still needs to be developed and resolved for Hogwarts' students, faculty, friends -- and enemies. Which only means this picture, opening July 15 in select theaters in 35mm and Imax, will be eagerly greeted and dissected by millions of fans worldwide.
The movie begins in a rush. The Death Eaters lay siege to the realms of both wizarding and the Muggles. Diving from the sky in dark, spiraling vapor trails unseen by Muggle eyes, these demons wreak havoc on London, even collapsing the Millennium Bridge.
Abruptly, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) appears on a railway station platform to intercept his prize student, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, looking older but more unsettled), who is on the verge of an impromptu date. Dumbledore demands instead that Harry accompany him on an urgent mission.
Holding on to the professor's arm and traveling in a kind of "Star Trek" warp speed, they arrive in the dead of night in a small, isolated village and enter what appears to be a thoroughly ransacked house. Here Harry meets the new guest star/visiting professor of the upcoming school year, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a former potions professor.
Dumbledore means to lure Slughorn back to Hogwarts so that Harry might dislodge a key clue regarding the Dark Lord from the professor's resistant mind. Seems Slughorn once had a star pupil named Tom Riddle, a child wizard who turned into -- you guessed it -- Voldemort.
All this has a hurried feeling. Shouldn't there be repercussions to the collapse of a London bridge? The movie never stops to ask. Steve Kloves, who scripted the first four installments but skipped the fifth one, is back to scoot audiences through major events that transpire in a twinkling.
This film series always has been marked by a tension in its filmmakers over how to address an audience larger than novelist J.K. Rowling's readership. The early films feared to leave out a semicolon. The middle two -- directed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell, respectively -- discarded chucks of bloat and sought out the emotions. The most recent two, under Yates, have boiled and distilled with abandon, but the nonreader often is left puzzled.
There seldom is a quiet moment of reflection here. Those that do occur are devoted to unfulfilled romantic yearnings more than the contemplation of an oppressive destiny.
But those romantic yearnings do offer up relief from the dark doings. Harry is growing closer to Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), but a boyfriend stands in the way. Among his best friends, Hermoine's (Emma Watson) secret admiration of Ron (Rupert Grint) has developed to a full-blown crush. But Ron is too smothered by his romantic "stalker," one Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), to notice.
Over on the dark side, Harry's longtime nemesis Draco Malfoy (perennially glowering Tom Felton) is acting strangely even by his standards. Charged with an unnamed task by the Dark Lord, he sneaks off to a lonely storeroom in Hogwarts castle to experiment with an ancient Vanishing Cabinet. The task so weighs on him, causing his smug veneer to all but melt away, that his mother intervenes and asks Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) to help her son. Severus scoffs, as only Severus can.
In the second half, with a few revelations behind us and battle lines taking shape, the film finds better footing. Harry's identity as the "Chosen One" is firmly established, while Dumbledore increasingly puts the burden on him to defend both wizardry, and presumably the Muggle world, against the Dark Lord.
This reaches a climax when the two whisk away once again, this time to a cave deep inside a windy and forbidding sheer cliff. Their pursuit is ill defined, and the whole episode is something of a cheat because it's really a false climax leading to the real confrontation between Dumbledore and Malfoy and Severus, who no longer troubles to disguise his true allegiance.
This does put Harry on the bench, as it were, for the confrontation. Dumbledore has forbidden his involvement. This will all pay off in another couple of films (the last Rowling novel will throw off two films), but for now he has been left in a physically -- and narratively -- weakened position.
Composer Nicholas Hooper, cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and designer Stuart Craig deliver a singularly muscular and vigorous chapter while all the visual and digital effects have now blended seamlessly into the package.