After waiting on tenterhooks since last summer and enduring Warner Brothers’ 8-month delay in releasing the film, my daughter and I finally saw “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” yesterday. I went in with high expectations, and came out with mixed feelings. I’ve tried to write this without including spoilers, but if you have somehow managed to avoid either reading or hearing anything about Book 6, you may want to skip this review.
On the plus side, it’s a longer movie than any of the previous ones, so you get to enjoy Harry’s world a little longer, which is all to the good as far as I’m concerned. The cinematagraphy, art design, and special effects are excellent. The score, while not as memorable as John Williams’ scores for the first three movies, was well-suited to the action and mood.
More importantly, “Half-Blood Prince” is very faithful to many of the book’s scenes and themes (with a few notable exceptions, discussed below.) The scenes involving the ups and downs of teen love are funny and moving by turns. I found the memories of the young and teenaged Tom Riddle chilling, though I wished more had been included. The cave-and-locket sequence is appropriately intense, and the final scenes, while somewhat changed from the book, brought me to tears.
The acting was, for the most part, spot-on. Tom Felton turns in an excellent performance, portraying Draco Malfoy’s increasingly conflicted emotions and deteriorating nerve with a sure touch. Jim Broadbent is perfectly cast as Horace Slughorn, Potions professor and “collector” of famous students, and Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) is appropriately nauseating as Ron’s simpering and snog-crazy girlfriend. Tom Dillane, as the teenaged Tom Riddle, incorporates some of the same inflections and subtle facial movements used by Christian Coulson in “The Chamber of Secrets” — a nice touch which brings needed continuity to the role.
Not surprisingly, Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson have continued to grow as actors, and their performances demonstrate their increasing range. Ron (Rupert Grint) is fatuously hilarious in the scenes in which he has been bewitched by a love potion, and convincingly oblivious to Hermione’s feelings towards him. Hermione’s (Emma Watson) quiet anguish over Ron’s infatuation is very well done. The relationship between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) shows greater depth and trust. Radcliffe does extremely well with Harry’s increasing maturity and sensitivity to Hermione’s pain, and his changed demeanor while under the influence of the Felix potion shows what Harry might have been if his circumstances had been happier.
On the downside, there are several major and some minor but significant deviations from the book. Dumbledore and Harry explore fewer “memories”; noticeably absent are the memories about Tom Riddle’s parents and ancestry and about the ring and the locket. The director and screenwriter apparently decided to insert an attack by Deatheaters into the middle of the film, placing several main characters at risk. This adds dramatic tension to the film but has no basis at all in the book. The Deatheater attack on Hogwarts at the end of the book is scaled down, for some inexplicable reason; no students or teachers are involved at all except Snape, Dumbledore, Draco Malfoy, and Harry. As for minor deviations and oddities, Bill and Fleur are missing entirely, which makes one wonder how the screenwriters plan to handle the wedding scene at the beginning of “Deathly Hallows Part I.” (My daughter predicts that they’ll turn it into Lupin and Tonks’s wedding. And yes, it’s confirmed; the seventh book will be split into two movies, as there are no subplots to compress or eliminate in order to condense the action. Besides, it will make the studio twice as much money.) The “Half-blood Prince” subplot seems oddly diluted, and neither Snape nor Harry reacts strongly enough to Harry’s use of the Sectum Sempra curse (though Ginny informs Harry that he has to hide the book where he won’t be tempted to use it, and shows him where to do so — another deviation from the book.)
The film contains less violence than the previous two, and garnered a surprising PG rather than a PG-13 rating despite increasing threats in the wizarding and Muggle worlds. The tone of the movie is uneven: the lighter scenes are disproportionately prevalent in the first half of the film, while the darker ones dominate the second half, leaving me with a feeling of having been to two different movies. Much of this may be attributed to leaving so many of the “memories” out of the film, which upsets the balance. In the book, Dumbledore’s and Harry’s trip through the past is the central thread; the scenes of teenage love are interwoven with this and the Half-blood Prince subplot, providing only brief respites from the growing sense of menace.
I also found the film’s ending somewhat unsatisfying, not because of the death of a certain well-loved character (which left me tearful even though I expected it) but because, unlike the other movies, there’s no real resolution. That is, of course, true of the book as well, albeit to a lesser degree, so it would be unfair of me to fault the film on that count. I’ll just say that I left the theater feeling unsettled, slightly bereft, and dismayed that I’ll have to wait two years for that final resolution.