Released: 15 July 2009
Certificate: 12A (TBC)
Director: David Yates
Screenwriter: Steve Kloves
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 153 mins
Awakening us from the nap brought on by The Order Of The Phoenix, this sixth Potter feature captures the senses immediately. As the godfather-less boy wizard stands with Dumbledore by his side, the flash of cameras signal impending troubles are on the way. The incandescent flickers draw us into a movie that has all the hallmarks of being another dark experience. Yet, in a U-turn from the norm, The Half-Blood Prince refrains from wallowing in doom and gloom.
Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves are clearly aware that the culminating events in this picture, and its forthcoming two-part sequel, are going to be bleak. With this is mind the glare of flash bulbs soon floats away and we are treated to a magical element from JK Rowling’s books, one that has not been fully realised in a Potter film before: humour. There’s no more bumbling around with the Dursleys at Little Whinging, and early exposition is presented in the form of a Death Eater attack on London’s Millennium Bridge. Following this, the first half of the film chugs along and takes a massive tonal shift. There’s a real sense of playfulness about proceedings – something that has been missing in the franchise since its beginnings. Enjoying a stud-like period in his youth, Rupert Grint tones down the silly expressions and is exemplary as Ron Weasley. The same goes for Emma Watson who, as well as flowering into an able starlet, turns in a conflicted portrayal instead of her usual bookish one. However, the award for the most surprising performance – other than Jim Broadbent as the mirth-inducing Professor Slughorn, that is – goes to Daniel Radcliffe. Channelling just enough of his awkwardness, his Potter has transformed from angsty to almost edgy. So with all this in check, fun and games ensue as Ron embarks on a relationship with the excitable Lavender Brown. Improper advances made towards Hermione by the sleazy Cormac McLaggen are cheekily handled, and furthermore we see Harry stumbling into a joke-milking situation as he makes a play for his best mate’s sister, Ginny Weasley. All of these subplots glide along, melding with one another, and are great fun.
But, just because Hogwarts’ brightest and best are maturing, the same can’t be said for Kloves and his knack for narrative. In short, the pacing is a mess. Much of The Half-Blood Prince’s action takes place during an emotionally charged climax. However, en route to the film’s downbeat end, Kloves and Yates have taken some liberties. Firstly, all the teen romance and smart humour comes at a price. For the majority of the picture Voldemort and his evil minions are threats mentioned only in dialogue. A randomly implanted scene where Bellatrix Lestrange and wolfman Fenrir Greyback attack the Burrow is atmospheric, but ultimately pointless. Aside from said finale, the limited baddie action lies on the shoulders of Draco Malfoy and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape. Book fans will have a head start regarding the latter and his character arc, but for the most part the script handles the forged bond between these Slytherin brethren clumsily.
The big question on many lips, though, is regarding a certain death that closes this story. Does it match up to Rowling’s prose? Do you really give a damn when it happens? In the literary scheme of things this event only really increases in resonance during the next instalment, The Deathly Hallows. So the feeling you are left with at the end of The Half-Blood Prince is akin to encountering a joke without a punch line. Everything has been set up well: the humour, the nostalgic calm we encounter at Hogwarts, and the general interplay between its three stars. All of these points form an enthralling build up to what should have been a lightning bolt denouement. But where was the skirmish between the Death Eaters and the pupils at Hogwarts? And why was there no grand funeral to round events off? Although these faults won’t be apparent to those not au fait with the source novel, the rushed nature of the film’s final act and the scenes leading up to this – the hyped Inferi battle is basically summed up in the trailer – is plain to for all see. But by injecting some teen romcom elements into the mix, Yates has proved that he is the man to take the Potter franchise to the next level of wizardry wonder. This is by no means a work in progress, and next to The Prisoner Of Azkaban this deserves to be classed as a second best in the franchise. All that’s needed is an extra sprinkling of magic, a more balanced narrative flow, and, dare we say it, some more of that darkness.
The Half-Blood Prince is Potter at his most unusual. Rushed in parts, elegantly handled in others, the book fans out there will moan, but get past the gripes and there is a lot of fun to be had with this strong franchise entry.