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

The new Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is by far the most enjoyable, fully-realized and total experience that the series has yet to offer. There are a number of reasons why this is so. By a total experience what is meant is a feeling of being there, completely immersed in this world which Miss Rowling has created. It does not necessarily imply that it is the most faithful adaptation; in fact, It most certainly it is not. However, that matters not at all. Keep in mind that all the films have been on average two and one-half hours in length while the books became more titanic – starting at just over 300 pages and reaching as many as 700 or 800 pages depending on the volume. Cramming all of that detail into a film is not only impossible but can be counterproductive. It’s a case of be careful what you wish for. If only Erich Von Stroheim had shot a page-for-page adaptation of War and Peace way back when no one would ever have complained about cinematic adaptations again.
Almost every scene of the film starts with either a unique camera movement or some sort of visual signature (the Weasley’s stair case, Luna’s POV through glasses, the apparition of the memories, the crane over the three to the Death Eaters’ Secret meeting and the move from the Lavender-Ron kiss to Malfoy lurking). The series has most definitely gotten more kinetic and enveloping, moving as far away from the steady, cold and at times stagnant hand that in hindsight we now see that Columbus wielded.
The camera moving about as it does allows the fan’s eye to wander about and catch characters they know by name from the book just being involved as part of the action albeit quite indirectly. This film uses the featured extra better than many you will see and what a fantastic setting in which to use them so well. One thing the series had kind of lost was the tapestry of supporting characters that Rowling weaves so well and it became too much about Harry, Ron and Hermione so seeing Dean Thomas, Crabbe, Goyle, Seamus, Romilda Vane, Professor Flitwick and first years is helpful so that it is not as if they are walking about Hogwarts on their own.
The strength of this series has always been in its cast. In this installment more so than any others that was the case. The ensemble has always been exceptional, however, never have they all rose to such heights all in unison regardless of the amount of time they were allowed to play in this particular installment. Stand-outs from the supporting squad are Alan Rickman, as always incredible, but now especially as Snape becomes increasingly the center of focus and people begin to wonder about him in the story, he has never been more apt, understated and downright perfect. The man who steals the show in this film, however, would have to be Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn, in each Potter film a new professor has come into the fray and been one of the lynchpins that would allow the film to either sink or swim and perhaps no one else has so brilliantly stepped into the function as Broadbent. All the supporting cast could have their merits spewed ad nauseum, however, the last who deserves noting for his exceptional contribution is Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore. With the passing of Richard Harris following The Chamber of Secrets this critic was terribly worried about the fate of the franchise, would this replacement forced upon the production by fate cost it? Indeed, it has not. Gambon has put his own stamp on the part and affirmatively become Dumbledore and both he and his material were the best they have been to date.
As for the lead cast what more can be said? Daniel Radcliffe was his stoic usual self, he got to play humorous while “under the influence” and that was one of the best parts of the film, while his most emotional scene was somewhat lacking the filmmaking and the moment took over. Emma Watson is a movie star and there are just no two ways about it; and this film furthered what she had established a few films ago already. Last but certainly not least Rupert Grint might’ve had his best turn and his best material to work with to date. He was absolutely hilarious.
The film itself also has tremendous scenes that standout greatly and come immediately to mind when thinking of the title and will likely stand the test of time: The Unbreakable Vow, The Love Potion, Harry on Liquid Luck, Harry and Dumbledore in the Cave. The most compelling of these was most definitely the Unbreakable Vow in which all those in the scene were just dead on in every word, gesture and action.
Kloves’s script for this particular film may well have been his best as well because not only were events within this film effectively foreshadowed but also those in the two which will comprise The Deathly Hallows. The tweaks also worked great such as Dumbledore asking about Harry and Hermione’s situation.
As enjoyable as the other films were there was always something minor or intangible that held them back just slightly. For The Prisoner of Azkaban it was the freeze-frame ending with Harry’s voice over declaring “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.” This film is uninhibited, unhampered, comfortable, certain in itself, its actors and its material and there’s nothing not to like. When Dumbledore was taking Harry on the mission to find the Horcruxes this critic was surprised that point had been reached because the film just flew. It was fantastic.