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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 26.98%
Average: 4.76%
Pretty Bad: 3.17%
Total Crap: 7.94%

5 reviews, 33 user ratings

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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by Erik Childress

"Did I Hear Empire Strikes Back?"
5 stars

Times are different from when we first met Harry Potter on the big screen. He’s no longer being guided by a guy who would leave Hogwarts to direct Rent and I Love You, Beth Cooper. His mentor in the films passed away and was replaced by another actor. J.K. Rowling’s stories leapt from their fantastical Hardy Boys-like mysteries into something more ambitious and lasting. And I read a book. Not my first book, mind you, but my first of the Harry Potter stories after going in cold to five movies and not getting seriously on board the series until the last two entries. After Order of the Phoenix I had the advantage over all the Potterheads out there to run out and see what immediately happens next. My first Potter book quickly turned into a second and I wondered how the next movie would feel. Finally, I would get to join in on all the talk about what was changed and share in the snickering of what was missing. That might have to wait though because walking out of The Half-Blood Prince, I couldn’t imagine changing a thing.

Picking up soon after the tragic events of the last film, Voldemort’s Death Eaters are on the rise terrorizing the Muggle world and leaving casualties in their wake. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has been easing his mind riding trains by his lonesome and enjoying the growing benefits of attraction that come with being The Chosen One. In the middle of Harry’s solitude, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) tasks him with a new journey to convince Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent in the best guest teacher performance since Kenneth Branagh in Chamber of Secrets), a former teacher at Hogwarts with a penchant for collecting teacher pets based on their potential success rate, to return. Nothing is ever as cut-and-dried with Dumbledore, as Harry has clearly accepted by now, and he means to form a relationship between student and teacher in order to retrieve the truth over Slughorn’s sessions with a young Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort.

Harry is soon reunited with his pals, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) who return to the school grounds where the severe lockdown isn’t the only thing-a-changin’. Ron’s sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright) has taken up with another boy drawing disapproving glances from her brother – and Harry. Ron becomes the object of a fulfilled crush by a none-too-subtle Lavender Brown (hilariously played by Jessie Cave) and an unfulfilled one by Hermione herself who is being wooed by Aqua-Velva-in-training, Cormac McLaggen (also nicely played by Freddie Stroma). Harry is prepping to getting besieged by love potions, holding on to a vial of liquid luck for the right time and getting a little assistance in class from a vigorously outlined potions book noted as the property of the Half-Blood Prince. Just what is that nefarious Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) up to sneaking around the grounds. And why is Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) offering Draco his undying protection and making bonds in the presence of Bellatrix LaStrange (Helena Bonham Carter), the very Death Eater who killed Harry’s godfather?

These are questions that readers already know the answers to, a group that I happily became a member of, albeit trailing the bandwagon by a few years. Would I now be distracted in a manner that I never was before carrying around such knowledge of the current events on screen plus how they will affect events in the final chapter(s)? One of the many remarkable things about what director David Yates (who helmed the fifth film and is thankfully on board to finish things) and screenwriter Steve Kloves (returning to adaptation duties after taking the fifth film off) have accomplished is enrapturing readers and non-readers alike in everything that’s taking place beneath the surface rather than the major beats we expect in the plot. In many ways the sixth Harry Potter film plays more like a Merchant Ivory production than something with bright special effects and big set pieces.

The “M” and “I” words don’t exactly inspire a rousing time at the movies, but there’s something wonderful about scaling down the mystery elements of the story to invest time in the true mysteries of the journey into young adulthood. Yates is all-too-careful never to tip the hands of the characters nor create big sweeping reaction shots to reveal their true feelings to the audience. We know who likes who and it’s the subtleties in the performances by Radcliffe, Watson and Wright that have our hearts go out to the ones that are breaking. A key moment on a staircase between Harry & Hermione where many of the lovelorn secrets find their crossroads could have resorted to big confrontations and tearful shouting. Instead it’s a beautifully performed scene that only needs a couple lines and a couple stares to communicate volumes of built-up pressure.

Much of The Half-Blood Prince is like that. Yates and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) construct shots of pure cinema, leisurely pulling us into settings and increasing the suspense from the romantic foibles to the revelations of what’s behind Malfoy’s nervous schemes and Snape’s interest in him. Of all the performances that outclass anything our imaginations connected to the actors we have come to associate with the characters, Alan Rickman, dryly funny as always, this time out brings some real conflict behind Snape’s usual dead eyes. The final act, as devastating as it is in the book, is triply so here leaving us with the type of climax that may not be uplifting for audiences in a purely emotional vein but will have a certain faction uttering the word “Empire” as they leave the theater and heading to their computers to look up the dates of the final two installments.

Now that I am on this side of the turned page, it will be very curious to see how the readers will respond. Toned down are many elements of Voldemort’s murderous past. Again, just a line and a stare are more eerily presumptuous than any crime scene we could have revisited. (Some of which would not be surprising if they saved it for the two-part Deathly Hollows in Nov. 2010 and July 2011.) A deadly injury to a third-tier character towards the end has been jettisoned. My personal favorite in the book, a joyous reveal and reaction involving Ron, Harry and Ginny was disappointing to see go. But there are more than enough other joyous and very funny moments to make up for it. The Half-Blood Prince could easily be construed as just a bridge to establish the final go-round. So are our teenage years though and there’s too much going on with our hormones, friendships and discoveries to merely dismiss them as prequel. This is a film that stands on its own, opening with the first of many silently-effective shots (involving an arm and a hand) and concluding as the best of the Harry Potter series to date. The Half-Blood Prince is the purest example of virtuoso storytelling we have seen all summer and maybe all year joining a short list that includes Up, Away We Go and The Hurt Locker. The only thing missing is the ability to experience The Deathly Hollows immediately after it ends.

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originally posted: 07/14/09 01:28:57
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User Comments

2/15/15 enicmatic al lord of the rings is far better 1 stars
7/12/12 Aimee Fontenot Finally getting better as far as the movie series goes... 5 stars
6/10/12 Gob mediocre sums it up, but it ain't aimed at me so cool for kids 2 stars
8/04/10 Lana Fun, cute, emotional, angsty and funny. followed the book closer than I had expected 4 stars
1/17/10 Dr.Lao Highlights from the book loosely strung together, perfect for those with no attention span 3 stars
1/16/10 jethro Finally, the writers have foregone the imbecilic pacing of the previous 3 films. Bravo. 5 stars
12/13/09 Micah They replaced nonstop action with some effective drama so that's a worthy enough entry. 4 stars
9/02/09 charles ive lost so much respect for peter after reading this. 1 stars
8/19/09 Night1836 So-So. Was different from the book but leads to the same place. 4 stars
8/10/09 David A. mediocre to the max! 3 stars
8/01/09 MP Bartley Beautifully filmed with a sense of craft so often lacking in kids' films. 4 stars
7/30/09 Kay Funny, dark, wonderful. Lots of lines directly from the book, too. 5 stars
7/29/09 Knightfox21 These children have grown to become awesome actors...I thought the intensity was excellent! 4 stars
7/27/09 smitty We had to have this wordy movie to flesh out the relationships for the conclusion.Well done 4 stars
7/26/09 David Not much action but still damn good. 4 stars
7/26/09 Bryan Darker, richer, with welcome humor. 4 stars
7/24/09 Nachiket Iam avid fan of books, yet this was best potter film. 5 stars
7/24/09 alice Best of the series, but not great if you haven't read the books. 4 stars
7/24/09 Toni Liked the humor, disappointed how much it diverged from the book 4 stars
7/23/09 Val Best HP film period. Best film of the year period. Best film in quite a long time period. 5 stars
7/22/09 Gummby3 Never read the books, but have enjoyed the movies 4 stars
7/21/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Drab. English. Yawn. 3 stars
7/21/09 Mishyana Ignore the uber fan nuts, and go see this great movie. Captures the book very well. 5 stars
7/21/09 Blondii aka alex. x ¢¾ I love all the Harry Potter Movies. i mean WOW! seriously its a must see. TRUST ME.x 5 stars
7/21/09 renee I'm not sure this reviewer has actually read the books. 5 stars
7/21/09 Flounder The best Potter adaptation since Prisoner of Azkaban 5 stars
7/20/09 Andrew Worst Movie ive ever seen PERIOD 1 stars
7/20/09 bob This was without a doubt the worst of all the movies. The cinamatography was the worst I 1 stars
7/19/09 millersxing The franchise gains depth and poignance with each film. It transcends Skeeterish quibbling. 5 stars
7/19/09 michael mann harry potter is childish magic bullshit.LOTR is better 1 stars
7/18/09 pin best of the lot 5 stars
7/16/09 Stephanie Grant I went to see this last night at the midnight showing and WOW it was amazing! 5 stars
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  15-Jul-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2009


  DVD: 08-Dec-2009

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