In many ways, it might be best to concentrate on this film AS a film and not a book adaptation. After all, it is rare for a film, let alone a series, to be this well-cast with actors (both known and new) who immerse themselves into their roles and become the characters they portray so well. The fact that this film was largely cast way back in the year 2000 in the pre-production stages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, makes the fine cast work in this film all the more noteworthy. Rarely does a movie series stay quite this good, consistently, on its sixth entry. Whether you're a Harry Potter fan or not, take a look at the quality of this film as compared to most "Part Sixes" out there and see how well it matches up.
Of course, much of the degree of excellence in this film has to do with the fact that it isn't simply a film, but a version of J.K. Rowling's 2005 book, which is, itself, a part of a great series that seemed only to get better as time went on. Such a well-thought-out and realized mythology is hard to ruin without trying really hard. Luckily, this isn't the case, as the screenwriter was Steve Kloves, who also adapted the previous five films and the next two (yes, I said "next two")! Likewise, being at the helm of both The Order of the Phoenix and BOTH PARTS of the upcoming The Deathly Hallows, director David Yates had more than a little interest in continuity and narrative flow, considering the series is in his own hands until the final credits roll in 2011! By the same token, clearly some things had to be changed from page to screen and those things may or may not sit quite right with the purists who are the core of the Stalwart Hogwarts fans!
After the latest vicious battle with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is attempting to settle back in to normal life... or as normal as "The Chosen One" or "The Boy Who Lived" could possibly expect to settle back into. Naturally, every time Harry thinks he's out, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) pulls him back in again. And none too soon as a trio of Death Eaters are wreaking havoc all over both the wizard and muggle worlds! But it's a second trio of Death Eaters who gain most of the audience's attention as sisters Bellatrix Letrange (Helena Bonham Carter, oozing with Goth-Chick Sex Appeal) and Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory) force a third wicked wizard to take "The Unbreakable Vow" to both protect and back up young student of evil Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) in his sinister mission for the Dark Lord himself. This is particularly chilling in that the third Death Eater is one Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Hogwarts School Professor and, we've been led to believe, scary-but-good guy! Well, so much for that idea.
Enter the new Potions teacher Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who just happens to also be the OLD potions teacher before Snape himself. How "old"? Well, he happened to be the potions teacher under whom Lord Voldemort studied back before the dark times... back when he went by the more innocuous name of "Tom Riddle"! Dumbledore's plan involves returning Slughorn to his old post and moving Snape back to the rotating position of "Defense Against the Dark Arts" teacher! What more to this plan there might be depends greatly on the many supernatural variables herein and, of course, just what the quest of the Death Eaters and their monstrous leader might be!
Of course, there is a lot more to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince than merely trying to figure out the mysteries of the evil wizards as they battle against the good wizards. While the mysteries are always fascinating in "Harry Potter", the more human side of the stories is what makes these tales so endearing. Joining Harry are his closest allies, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) both of whom, like Harry, are dealing with their romantic and... well... hormonal sides while still advancing in their studies and keeping vigilant against the dark forces surrounding them.
To wrap all these varied strings together is Harry's discovery of a heavily notated textbook with all the special potion shortcuts cribbed on each page and a strange scrawl in the inside back cover that reads "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince." Herein lies what might be the deepest mystery of the entire film.
One of the main drawbacks to this adaptations and its predecessors is the condensed nature of the story which leaves signs that there is most assuredly a layer or two missing. While on one hand this can make the viewer want to read (or re-read) the source material, this also causes an uncomfortable combination of scenes and an almost obligatory inclusion of characters packed into frames like extras in a Where's Waldo page because those same character's developmental scenes are missing. We get a bit of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), Professor Filius Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Wormtail (Timothy Spall) and Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) to keep us from forgetting who they are before the next film and we're introduced to erstwhile important characters like Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), Katie Bell (Georgina Leonidas) and Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch)!
Lest we forget we also get Lupin (David Thewlis), Tonks (Natalia Tena) and Clan Weasley: George (Oliver Phelps), Fred (James Phelps), Arthur (Mark Williams), Molly (Julie Walters) and, most importantly, the fast-growing Ginny (Bonnie Wright).
See what I mean? The film is positively top-heavy with major characters to the point that the film comes close to toppling over.
But this isn't the same old story over again. There is no Lord Voldemort just waiting to spring out of a Horcrux-in-the-box, no "Oh, 'you know who' was here the whole time" and no impossible near miss. In fact this is much less Lord Voldemort's story as it is Tom Riddles (in flashback, at least, where he's played by both Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane). This time out we're looking at losing some of our most precious blood. In many ways, this is the Empire Strikes Back of the series, dark, cold and bleak, but suggesting a richer quest and final resolution is coming up around the bend!
The music by Nicholas Hopper (with the familiar themes by John Williams) enhances the action, adventure, fantasy, mystery, romance and deep, deep horror. Similarly the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel and Special Effects by... just about everybody in the industry help to deliver a very interesting and often quite scary film. And yes, this is a horror film in most places. You'll find blood, sacrifices, supernatural suspense and even an army of zombie-like Inferius attackers along with the usual spate of scary scenes and Death Eater frights. While it's true that the "scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality" only afforded this film a PG rating, be aware that in the theatre I watched the film in there were adults jumping in surprise and children actually crying in grief. The film is nothing if not engrossing and once it's got you it can (and will) shuffle your emotions here and there.
Luckily, the emotions are not all (or even mostly) bad. There are a lot of laughs here and some really good feelings. Still, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is not without its flaws and many of the best parts still fall flat, but take note of this film and its position as the sixth film out of eight known. How many sixth chapters are this good? How many adaptations (flawed as this one might be) cut what they must, but still turn out to be good films? It happens, but it takes a good deal of wizardry to make it so. Four Stars out of Five for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the imperfect, but high-quality sixth film in the Harry Potter film series. It's missing a lot.. but it still has a lot to offer and ultimately becomes an enthralling success.
With any luck the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows won't carry with it the stigma of so many cuts as that final tale is being released in two parts, the first half in 2010 and the second in 2011. Beautiful gesture on the part of Warner Bros. or wise marketing decision in the wake of the end of the series? Until you fork out the bucks for two tickets instead of one for The Deathly Hallows, you can count on the fact that I'll see you wizards, witches and death eaters in the next reel... muggle though I may be!
The Magical Sorting Hat has decided...
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Yes... once again, I must ask too much of you readers!
Yes, the young ladies of the series are definitely filling out pretty well.
OH and don't miss the DIE HARD scene. Heh, heh!
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