Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Rating: 3.75 / 5

Having had ample experience with the preceeding Harry Potter films and my own reactions to them, this time I was completely prepared. Which means that I did not read the book right before I went to watch, doing this always seems to endanger my blood vessels, and so come Wednesday I was all antsy and excited to watch David Yates' latest version of my favorite fantasy series.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HBP) starts out very strong. In a brilliant sequence, we see that with Lord Voldemort gaining strength and support, the war in the wizarding world has been brought even to the Muggles, innocents dying as the Death Eaters go on a rampage in London after kidnapping the wizard Olivander from Diagon Alley.

Even Hogwarts, with the greatest wizard as Headmaster, is to be affected. For the first time, the students see Dumbledore and their teachers take strong precautions against the Death Eaters. It seems that Lord Voldemort, with the rout at the Ministry fresh in his mind, has decided to lay low until he can get Dumbledore out of the picture. And, Harry is convinced that this part at Hogwarts is to be played by none other than his bete noire Draco Malfoy with the help of Professor Snape.

As Harry protests Draco's complicity to anyone who can listen (but wont), events at Hogwarts go on as usual. There is Ron's budding romance with classmate Lavender, Quidditch matches, Hermione's bubbling anger at Ron and a newly discovered love interest in Ginny. And at Potions, after finding a used text book singed ominously 'the property of the Half-Blood Prince' it seems that Harry turns into Potioner extraordinaire impessing the new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, brilliant!).

But, amidst all the confusion of a year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore has not forgotten the war they are fighting and after the lessons learned in the previous year decides to share everything he knows about Voldemort with Harry, ultimately uncovering the secret of how Voldemort was able to survive the curse on that fatal night. Voldemort used a rare magic called a Horcrux to split his soul into 7 parts and spirit them in hidden locations. Dumbledore has been destroying Horcruxes as he finds them - one is the book which Harry destroyed in the Chamber of Secrets and the second is a ring belonging to Voldemort's parents. Dumbledore takes Harry on a mission to unearth a new Horcrux and it is on this night that all the events run together leading to the final showdown at Hogwarts.

HBP is all that the Order of the Phoenix tried to be a year ago and didnt quite come close. It 's dark, grim and much suitable for an older audience than the first few movies targetted. And a very good thing is that the kids have clearly evolved into better actors with age. This movie was the first one where I didnt cringe at the anomaly between the dialogues and the emoting. Even Michael Gambon as Dumbledore getting into the skin of his character this time around and delivering a wonderful performance. And as I swore that this review wouldnt be a litany of -but in the book- I'm quite prepared to ignore all the plot elements missing (though I have to point out the prop FAIL over the ring Horcrux which looked undestroyed) and come out and say that I quite enjoyed it.

If there is any fault it lies in the pacing, the writers and director not quite getting the tension right; Rowling does this so well in her book, we are treated to tantalising glimpses of Voldemort, alongwith the atmosphere of menace at the school with all the attempted assassinations of Dumbledore and Malfoy's creeping all culminating in the final showdown. A showdown which left everyone reading the book stunned and numb and me reading in a haze of tears. Let's just say that the movie doesnt deliver any such climax. Expecting to bawl my eyes out, I was hideously underwhelmed. And I was so irritated with the last scene given to Snape, I wanted Rickman roaring out 'DONT CALL ME A COWARD' to Harry, no such luck (boo, script FAIL?)

Instead we are treated to numerous reels of Ron-won's adolescent hormones, Hermione's angst and Ginny and Harry mooning around each other. Maybe it illustrates that these are teenagers but I would have been happier if a lot of the other material relating to Voldemort (a spooky Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and creepy Frank Dillane, both amazing!) or even Draco (a wonderfully tormented Tom Felton) or the criminally underused Professor Snape (the always brilliant Alan Rickman) were included instead of being slashed away. I do not grudge Rupert Grint his few moments on screen, he is pretty hilarious. As for the climactic battle, probably there was no time, but I'm also tempted to think that the director didn't want another wand battle ala Phoenix. After all, there's only so much you can do with fighting by pointing a stick.

But, the movie finally alienated me with it's final lines. As Harry, Hermione and Ron mull over events of the year, and regret that things which didnt make sense at the time should have been better interpreted, Harry should have been filled with despair over the tragic loss that occurs at the end in this movie. Instead we fade out with the three of them laughing over the image of Harry and Ginny snogging in front of older brother Ron. Life does go on, but, amidst the levity it's obvious that the movie versions of these characters are just transparent shadows of their richly characterized and rendered written counterparts.

And that, dear reader, is just another way of saying watch the movie because it is Harry Potter but read the book for the story that people love - that is if you haven't done so already.


Smita said...

So one movie nased on a book falling short of the book.

I have read only one HP book though liked it but didn't feel like picking any more. Saw one of the movie partially blame it to watching it on CD I found it too dark for my taste!!!

But yes that was a wonderful review!!!

Tell me if I ask u shud I read HP books now, what wud ur reco be?

couchpapaya said...

smita - i would heartily recco it!! but then knowing the books u read, it might not be ur type ... in which case i say dont force urself. why waste time on books which u cannot get into it - my new philosophy :) which part did u read btw ??

avdi said...

You know I love reading books and watching their movies. BUT this time round I havent read any of the books. I will one day. I will own all the 7 dvds of the movie and all the six books.

Not knowing what to expect, I loved the movie. The next two years are to bring the final movies to us. I have a feeling that the major portions of the movie are shot already and they are just putting them together. They got to hurry or the kids will grow up and lose the gauchy teenage look that goes so well right now.

Angel's Flight said...

I love the Books, and this is one series that I read completely!! :)

I have not seen this movie yet, but am looking forward to go n see it this weekend!

where did u see the movie?

Anonymous said...

You write on books and I don't have anything to comment.
You write on food and I don't know what to comment.
You write on movies which I don't follow hence can't comment.
Is this even a comment ?

couchpapaya said...

avdi - i'm curious, how did u react to dumbledore's death? was the scene emotional for u? for me i knew it was coming plus it was so at variance with the book that i finally had no involvement in it. and i was indignant since harry wld never have stood by and let d been killed, in the book he has to be forcibly restrained.

angel - have fun! i think it's the best movie so far, but then i love this book the best so am biased :) i caught the afternoon show this weekend, was a little surprised since the demographic was so different, all older and middle-aged couples ... for a few mins we thought we'd walked into the wrong movie!! then we were thrilled since the last couple of showings we were the old ppl in the crowd :D

uh - make ur kid watch hp :D

numerounity said...

Hmmmm Nice review!!!

couchpapaya said...

numerounity - welcome to the site! and thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I felt the same way while watching the movie, the only time, I felt a bit of "darkness" was during the inferi(sp?) scene.

My 10 yr and I are huge, huge fans and have read and re-read the books.

couchpapaya said...

asaaan - welcome here!! as u can doubtless see i'm a huge potter fan too. and while i didnt mention the inferi i think they were the best thing in the entire movie - definitely eerie and scary. i wish they had been shown longer and that the scene had the same emotional impact the one in the book had !!!

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