In many ways, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the ultimate awkward romance movie for sentimentalists and lost cause types everywhere. Within its two and a half-hour runtime, there are tremendously embarrassing - and surprisingly innocent - bedtime conversations between boys about girls. There is a moment in which Harry, played as ever by Daniel Radcliffe, walks in on Ron (Rupert Grint) whose facial expression is so content, and the camera lingers on it so long, it looks like he has discovered sex (he's actually admiring the moon... fancy that). An elderly and eccentric teacher invites some of his favorite students around for ice-cream, in a distinctly paedophilic scene, and there is a strong implication that Alan Rickman's Professor Snape (who should really be given more to do), stumbling upon Harry and another male student by mistake, thinks that something gay might be going on. Parents looking to take young children along should perhaps be warned that this is by far the most overtly sexual Harry Potter movie yet.
The other significant decision in this sixth Harry Potter movie is allowing its director, David Yates, to run wild with the budget. With $250 million dollars at his disposal, he's allowed to use a wide array of different camera angles, panning and tracking camera movements, shot cuts, and slow reveals. This means that we are afforded not one but two expansive aerial shots of the Hogwarts Express chugging its way through some wilderness, and this kind of extravagance should give you some idea of the gigantic scale of the latest instalment in the series. The cinematography is excellent; we're treated to a cracking opening as some evil death-eaters fly through London, and there are other visually impressive scenes in the film. One, shot in a cornfield at about the mid-point, keeps suspense high by swooping through the swishing heads of crop as characters desperately try to locate each other, while another near the end captures the ominous natural terror of a remote sea-cliff perfectly.
Of course, the visual effects are just as impressive on a subtler level, within the tapestry of the picture. Hogwarts never fails to look great in a Harry Potter picture, but it looks particularly good in this one, embellished with all sorts of fine details and elegance. Yates mutes the colours - a handsome palette of dark greens, blues and dim yellows, with permanently overcast weather conditions - slightly for different scenes, and in doing so manages to conjure shots of formal and poetic beauty; a phoenix flying into the horizon at the film's conclusion, for example, and a scene shot from above in the snow.
This Harry Potter movie picks up where the last one left off, with Voldemort and his followers returned to power and causing chaos. This calls on it to be a dark picture. You could argue, of course, that with effects as good as this film's got, the story really doesn't matter all that much. Having read the book, it's re-assuring to say that the film-makers don't feel the need to tiptoe around it, and have been fairly liberal in their adaptation. That said, the main problem with this chapter is that it has a disproportionate balance between its two storylines. The most compelling of them, that of the world dealing with the return of the ‘Dark Lord,' technically the driving force behind the whole series, is not really given much weight compared to the trials and tribulations of love in Hogwarts. Teen crushes make fine fare for a mainstream film, yet the subject matter here seems a bit light to be taking up so much of the running time.
As an exploration of adolescent romance in The Half-Blood Prince, the actors are called upon to do all sorts of jealous boyfriend/head-over-heels over-the-top impressions. Ron, struck by a love potion, wanders around, goggle-eyed and doing slapstick, like a character out of a ‘30s silent film. That brings us to another problem with this film: the dialogue is too given over to one-liners of no substance. Though some of them are quite amusing, one gets the impression after a while that the screenwriter was trying too hard.
More than anything else, The Half-Blood Prince is a brooding film, distinguished by the anguished performance of Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Mostly forgotten from the past few films, he's given a fair bit of screen time here, looking tortured as the one chosen to carry out a secret mission against the school's Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, prominent as always played by Michael Gambon. It's worth mentioning also that Jim Broadbent, playing new teacher Horace Slughorn at the school, gives a wild but standout performance. I suspect most people are already aware of the twist at the end of this film thanks to the book. For those who are not, I will caution that the conclusion is undeniably bleak.
Kudos must also go to composer Nicholas Hooper, who dedicates a superhuman effort to maintaining suspense and a building sense of dread within the movie. The film is sad when it needs to be, it packs an emotional whallop, and I have to say that this may largely be due to his tense string orchestrations. The famous Harry Potter theme that everyone knows, the one written by John Williams, is not used once, and hindsight reveals that to be a good choice. This is an accomplished, well-made Harry Potter film all up, one that I enjoyed markedly more than the previous few installments.
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Worst Part of this Film: Script