Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review
This review does not contain spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince itself, but does for previous films in the series – which the makers assume you have seen in any case.
Order of the Phoenix was, at just over a quarter million words, the longest Harry Potter novel to date. Even J.K. Rowling thinks it needs editing, and it was good to see that the last two novels were shorter than it. The usual adapter, Steve Kloves, took a sabbatical during the film of Phoenix but is now back with Half-Blood Prince to show us all how to boil down a still fairly hefty novel into two and a half hours of screen time.
David Yates returns as director, and the film opens with Voldemort's face appearing in the London sky, with devastating effects on the Millennium Bridge. (This sequence will play in 3D at IMAX showings.) And shortly afterwards, Professor Dumbledore whisks Harry away to meet previous Master of Potions Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). As he taught Voldemort, or Tom Riddle as he was then known, Slughorn's memories may hold the key to defeating him.
As I said at the end of my review of Order of the Phoenix, things are getting darker. Very much darker, and ending with the death of someone close to Harry. (If you don't know who that is, I won't spoil it for you.) And with the foresight of having read Deathly Hallows, don't expect everyone to reach the end of that forthcoming film (shooting now, and to be released in two parts, in November 2010 and July 2011) still alive.
Half-Blood Prince exudes confidence. Yates's direction approaches the sheer visual flair Alfonso Cuarón showed in Prisoner of Azkaban, Bruno Delbonnel's atmospheric photography being a big plus. Meanwhile, there's plenty of business on screen to keep us watching. The three leads have grown into their roles, with Rupert Grint increasingly being used as comic relief. So also have grown the supporting cast of youngsters. Most alarming is the change in Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) who now towers over Daniel Radcliffe, and whose move over to the dark side is a major plot thread this time round. Meanwhile, Hermione and Ron bicker – while Ron is chased by Lavender Brown and Harry by Ginny Weasley. Quidditch was excised from the last film, but it makes a reappearance here, for the last time. Of the adult characters, many of them appear only briefly. Helena Bonham Carter continues to give a startling performance as the evil Bellatrix, and it's nice to see Warwick Davis being given a little more to do this time.
Two and a half hours of this is a little long, and no doubt some will miss favourite scenes and bits of business. More to the point, the story is mostly a curtain-raiser for a grand finale in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I and II. That said, credit is due for the filmmakers for maintaining their quality control.