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Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) 

Directed by: David Yates

Premise: The sixth film in the Harry Potter series. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) joins with Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to discover the secret of Voldemort’s power while Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) gets involved in some dark magic.

What Works: In its best moments, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince shows a steady hand by the filmmakers, maintaining the work done on previous films. On a technical level the film looks and sounds great. The visuals are top notch and the film maintains the dark, washed out look of the recent films in the series, which nicely complements the growing seriousness of the story. After five pictures, the filmmakers trust the audience to be actively involved, making reference to characters, locations, and institutions of the Harry Potter universe without stopping to explain things. While newcomers to the series might be lost, it is a smart storytelling style that rewards fidelity and intelligence on the part of the audience. The excellent casting, most of which goes all the way back to the first film, pays off in this chapter as the actors do quite well. Of note here is Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Harry’s rival at Hogwarts. Malfoy gets into the dark side of magic and although Malfoy’s story is underwritten, Felton’s performance largely makes up for it. The finale takes a big risk that, like the ending of The Goblet of Fire, raises the stakes for the following film.

What Doesn’t: The narrative of The Half-Blood Prince is weaker than the other Harry Potter films produced since The Prisoner of Azkaban. This film has a lot of narratives to balance: the romantic triangle between Ron, Hermione, and Lavender Brown (Jesse Cave), the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, the mystery of Voldemort’s past, and Draco’s mission. The film does not prioritize these subplots very well. The romance is foregrounded when it should be in the background and it is very predictable and lacks the texture, humor, or insight into adolescence featured in The Goblet of Fire. Similarly, Harry’s collusion with Dumbledore ought to have more challenges to it but the subplot does not have the kind of confrontations, character beats, or political weight of The Order of the Phoenix. Harry simply has nothing to do in this film except tag along with the adults and bump into plot points, magical secrets, and emotional beats without any volition. The other narrative strands are incomplete. The mystery of the Half-Blood Prince’s identity does not really lead anywhere or have any consequence when it is finally revealed. Malfoy’s corruption is underwritten, missing some golden opportunities to explore the relationship between Malfoy and Harry and lead to more interesting issues about good and evil that the series needs to address before moving into the final confrontation.

DVD extras: The two disc edition includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and a preview of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Bottom Line: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has a lot going on in it and the film is so busy trying to keep all of its narratives afloat that none of them actually go anywhere in a meaningful way. The Half-Blood Prince is not bad but it is below the standard of excellence that has marked recent entries in this series.

Episode: #247 (July 19, 2009); Revised #349 (July 24, 2011)