Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted on December 13, 2009 at 7:58 am

In his last two movies, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was becoming an adolescent. In this gripping and atmospheric film, based on the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter is becoming a man. He knows who he is and what he must do. He is angry and at times he is still impatient. He is developing confidence and judgment. But he is not yet ready to admit to himself, much less to Ron Weasley’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) that he likes her very much.

Once again, author J.K. Rowling and screenwriter Steve Kloves expertly blend the most intimate and personal of teenage feelings with the grander concerns about the fate of the world. Indeed the two themes do more than blend; they complement each other. The threats deepen and become more complex as the children grow up. The personal is political, and vice versa.

As the film begins, the disturbances in the wizard world have become so pervasive that even the muggle society is affected. In an early scene that highlights sleek, post-industrial London, we see a bridge collapse due to a form of terrorist attack by the Death Eaters, the followers of He Who Must Not Be Named. But then we are back to the Victorian intricacies of the wizard world of Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. Harry is reputed to be the “chosen one” who can defeat Lord Voldemort. But there is another chosen one. Draco Malfoy, his father disgraced and in prison, returns to Hogwarts having undertaken some task so dangerous that his mother and aunt have visited Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) to insist on his unbreakable vow to provide support and protection.

Director David Yates and “Amelie” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel brilliantly evoke the magical world, narrow, constricting spaces emphasizing the dire circumstances and adult awareness closing in on the characters. The special effects are organic and absorbing. Oddly, just moments after a beautiful transformation from easy chair to wizard, the one effect that does not work as smoothly is the simplest, as the footage is run backwards to magically restore a room that has been trashed. But the more complex effects and the overall look of the film are superb.

There is a new teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts, of course. This time it is Snape, his Potions class taken over by Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who shows a special fondness for “collecting” star students like Harry but whose memory holds a crucial key to Voldemort’s strength — and his vulnerability. An exposition-heavy entry in the book series that sets up the powerful final volume (being split in two for filming) is absorbing on screen due to its control of tone and atmosphere and some truly creepy moments involving Helena Bonham Carter, happily gruesome as Bellatrix Lestrange and a couple of marvelously-staged action sequences.

There are classroom scenes as Harry finds help in an old potions textbook with an inscription that says it belonged to the “Half-Blood Prince” and extensive annotations that help him become a top student. There is a Quidditch game and a battle in one of the huge Hogwarts bathrooms. But increasingly the activities of Harry and his loyal friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson).expand beyond the classrooms. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) relies on Harry for help in exposing Voldemort, their relationship developing into more of a partnership. Dumbledore’s most important lesson may be that Harry can do some things that even Dumbeldore cannot. This makes us, as well as Harry, all the more eager to see what comes next.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Series/Sequel

41 Replies to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

  1. Easily my favorite in the film series so far. LOVED IT! How 4 and 5 got a PG-13 rating and this one didn’t is beyond me, though; this was also the most violent and mature. Blood was actually shed, and there was sexual innuendo, too. The MPAA must be sleeping again…

  2. Thanks, Nell. I am also really looking forward to seeing this movie (I’m supposed to wait until July 25th to see with a group but I think I might sneak over to the theater tomorrow night)!
    Along with “Chamber of Secrets” and “Prisoner of Azkaban” this book is my favorite of J.K Rowling’s books because of the blend of humor and the characters’ personal stories and the larger themes of the coming battle with Voldemort.
    Can’t wait!

  3. Remember “Billy Elliot”? That one was rated R but could’ve gotten away with a PG-13. I’m going to see HP6 on Sunday and after reading the review on TIME.com I was REALLY looking forward to it. After reading this review I’m REALLY looking forward to it X 10.

  4. Thanks for a great comment, Annapurna! “Billy Elliott” got an R rating primarily for language (even though many of the words could hardly be understood by Americans). I’d love to know what you think of “HP and the HBP” after you see it, so please come back and let us know.

  5. Your review has now confirmed my seat in the cinema. Harry Potter here I come (booked the tickets!)

  6. Oh goodness! I can’t wait. Very excited to see new stuff about the movie. Even though we should already have seen the movie itself by now! But.. I bet it will be worth the wait! 🙂

  7. I wait to read your reviews before I take or choose NOT to take my daughter to anything. We are off to see HP; thanks for your notes! You help me make viewing decisions so much easier. I always read to my daughter exactly what you say, and she considers you the authority on what is and is not acceptable for her. Thanks for the help!

  8. I’m surprised to see Harry Potter on the beliefnet pages. They are filled with evil. I hope that the movies and books would no longer be around at least for the children’s sake.

  9. Hi, Your Name. I’m sorry you feel that way. Of course, I have no way to prove this, but if the great Christian theologian and lover of fantasy C.S. Lewis were alive today, I think he would adore the Harry Potter books.
    If you don’t want to believe J.K. Rowling (a Christian) when she says that her books have nothing to do with the occult whatsoever, you might consider that a couple of the greatest Christian writers of the past century wrote fantasy novels and read fantasy novels. Presumably, they didn’t become Satanists as a result.

  10. Your Name,
    I am also sorry that you feel this way. There is a HUGE Christian allegory to these books, most evident in the last volume.
    I have yet to meet anyone who has read these books or seen these movies that feels the way you do. IT’s a classic good vs evil coming of age type of story. THe fact that it’s set in an academy for wizards is almost irrelevant.I believe it makes the story more interesting, with it’s magical cratures and the spells that are done. But it’s fiction. It’s no more evil than sci fi stories or fantasy books.
    I’d suggest you actually see or read these stories before condemning them. They aren’t evil, they are extremely good reads, and very good movies.

  11. Thank you so much, Jenny! My best to you and your daughter and I hope you will let me know what you think of the film.
    Your Name, all truly great stories are about conflicts between good and evil. Stories like Harry Potter are powerful teachers about the opportunity each of us has to choose good over evil and the importance of loyalty, integrity, and love. The most important reason for their worldwide appeal is not the magic and fantasy but the characters and the moral choices they make. Beliefnet has an excellent discussion of the lessons from Harry Potter. Many thanks to Alicia and Nisha for your thoughtful responses.

  12. It’s interesting to compare the reviews of those who read the books to those who haven’t. Full disclosure: Have you read the books?

  13. Sorry, Your Name but there is nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books or the movies. These stories are about characters learning trust one another to achieve your goals and overcoming evil by taking the harder path. The best part of about the series is that starts off tame enough for children to read them and grows up later on. Saying that “evil” should be censored is absurd. You might as well start a new clean version of the Bible and eliminate any violence that is mentioned.
    “Evil” things happen in this world everyday. Hiding it from children will not do any good – they will be exposed to it one day…if you wait too long then they will be terrified once they find out that flowers do not sing and the most evil thing in the world isn’t some kid taking two scoops of ice cream when he was only supposed to take one.
    Finally – JK Rowling herself is a great inspirational story. A woman that was on welfare who is now richer than the queen.

  14. Oh, I did see the movie last night. I thought it was okay. I felt like the movie kept bouncing around too much and it didn’t seem to really have any idea what it wanted to accomplish. I thought they spent too much time on the romance aspect of the book and very little on the climax.

  15. Thanks, Steve! I often say that stories — including movies — are a dress rehearsal for our emotions and decisions, and your point here is just what I was talking about. We can best protect our children from evil and bad judgment by exposing them to stories and examples that guide them in the right path. These are the parables of our time.

  16. Overall, this was a disappointment. The direness of the entire situation and many events that was so prevalent in the book is greatly watered down in the movie. The actual plot takes a back seat to the characters’ love lives. The viewer cannot possibly understand the atmosphere of impending doom felt in the book by watching the movie. The book and the movie differ especially toward the end. Dumbledore’s death is passed over as a sad, but ultimately inconsequential event, but really it changes everything. The mood at the end, and throughout the whole movie, really, is light, almost hopeful, quite the opposite of the book. And what was with the scene at the Weasleys’? Honestly, I wish they would just go with the books.

  17. Your Name strikes me as one of the many Christians who has disdained the Harry Potter books without reading page one of the series. They have an overarching theme of magic (not to mention their rabid popularity with the impressionable), and as such there are those who deem them to be “evil”.
    Of course it doesn’t help that for a long time, J.K. Rowling was pretty tight-lipped about her own faith (she actually is a Christian herself). After all, these same people who trash Harry Potter for its inclusion of magic hold up the writings of theologians like J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) as paragons of “healthy” literature, even though their books are just as rife with sorcery and fantasy, if not moreso.
    It would be nice if people would base their trashing of books on having read the book, not a synopsis.

  18. Thanks, Your Name. I agree. I am always taken aback by people who think that they are somehow immune to corrupting influences but other people are so susceptible that they must be protected.

  19. Just saw it – wasn’t prepared for the length (it was pretty long), but enjoyed the story! And just when I think special effects can’t get any better, they do. This movie had some spectacular ones! AND the best part was the humor! I LOVED the Love Potion scene! GREAT Acting!! ha!
    And like so many “series” movies, you are left looking forward to the plot resolution at the end. But it’s all good. More to come.
    And Nell, your review (which I read before going, of course)was right on the money. If only Transformers II had this much “good” story!

  20. Just saw the movie tonite. I really liked it. Except for maybe the end. They basically cut the big battle at Hogwarts between the deatheaters and the Hogwarts students. Also they added a gratuitous attack on the Weasley household by the deatheathers (not in the book).
    Now I know that good movies are not necessarily slavish retellings of the exact plot of the book. But for a movie that doesn’t have so much “action” as some of the others, skipping the final climax seems a little odd.
    I did really enjoy the humor of the movie though as did my two sons!

  21. Thanks, Grok. The film-makers said they added the attack on the Weasley house for pacing and to demonstrate the ruthlessness of the Death Eaters. I think we’ll see more action in the next two movies.

  22. Saw it yesterday and loved it! Will definitely see it again. My only disappointment was the wooden quality of Bonnie Wright’s acting– hope she livens up in the final two films.
    I too have been confounded by the shunning of the HP stories as against Christian values by some Christians. I have a coworker who shuns HP, and holds up Lord of the Rings as a “good” example of a Christianity-respecting fantasy. Yet the Ring Trilogy takes place many centuries BC, and the HP stories are quite Christian-centric, with the mention of the holidays, and Christmas trees all over the place in December. There are a few students of other faiths at Hogwarts, but Harry Potter and the Weasleys are definitely celebrating Christmas each year. Of any faith that might take exception to HP, I didn’t think it would be Christianity.
    My religious background includes Judaism, Christianity, and now atheism. I have never felt that the Harry Potter saga is anything but (assuming children read each book when they are old enough to handle the issues of the type of challenges Harry faces) a wonderful story of how an extremely gifted child is taught to use his extraordinary gifts. The strongest message of all, I think, is that the gifts must be used for good and fair reasons only, and never for evil, no matter what the temptation or duress may be.
    I can’t wait for the final two films!!!!
    By the way, I really did enjoy the irony of the destruction of the pedestrian bridge in London at the start of the film. That is the Millenium Bridge that goes across the Thames from the Tate Modern Gallery to St. Paul’s Cathedral. When it was first opened in 2000, it was wobbly and had to be shut down. I think it took over a year, and a cost of several million dollars, before the retrofit was finally completed so that it was safe to use. I have walked across that bridge several times. It’s lovely! I did enjoy the twisted (pun intended!) humor of choosing that bridge to be destroyed. (It also looked to me as if all the folks on the bridge made it off safely, making me feel not so bad enjoying it a bit.)

  23. MarjorieM, very interesting about the bridge. I thought the way it twisted around was very well done. And I agree with you that the HP books and movies are very respectful of faith and very supportive of values.

  24. Saw the film and loved it! The ending did feel just a tad rushed and anti-climactic (I wish they had shown the funeral scene), but the acting was superb (particularly Alan Rickman) and there was a perfect balance of drama/tragedy and comedy. I missed Luna and Neville. Even though the Burrow scene was added, it was a nice touch to show Remus and Tonks, and the length to which Ginny is willing to help Harry.
    Also, in case anyone is interested, there is a new set of Harry Potter Life Lessons: http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/Harry-Potter/09/06/Life-Lessons-from-Harry-Potter.aspx

  25. Thanks, Sherry! Entertainment Weekly says they did not show the funeral scene because of the expense of bringing in so many of the other actors for just a brief moment on screen. I missed it, too. And I agree about Rickman, one of my very favorite actors ever, and perfectly cast.

  26. What’s really funny about the bridge scene is that, in the timeline of the books, it wasn’t even built yet. Half-Blood Prince is set between 1996 and 97.
    This one was nowhere near as incoherent as the film of Goblet of Fire (don’t get me started on the Crouches). But they’ve still left out a lot of the important details that are meant to pay off in Deathly Hallows. It doesn’t tell you what Dumbledore believed the other horcruxes are, for a start.

  27. I’m going to reread the last 2, as well. I haven’t read them since they were first published.
    It is interesting that the bridge that was destroyed hadn’t been built at the time when Half Blood Prince takes place. The “Gherkin” building hadn’t been built then, either, but there it is in the London skyline… These things did not bother me. I’m glad they didn’t airbrush the city, and as I mentioned before, I do think it was an inspired choice to twist the Millenium Bridge out of existence. I also enjoyed the roller coaster ride through Trafalger Square.
    One of my treasured possessions is a large poster from the first film, called, of course, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in the UK. I was lucky enough to be in the UK around the time the first film was just released, and I got to see Alan Rickman in “Private Lives” on the London stage (he was excellent!!), and waited at the stage door afterward, to get his autograph on the poster, which has all the major characters on it, including Snape. He was very gracious. I fell in love with him in “Truly Madly Deeply” and have loved him ever since. His timing and tone of voice were just impeccable in this latest HP film, I think!
    I thought Rupert Grint especially shone in this film, also– those lovesick scenes!! And the scene in which his character nearly dies. He wasn’t just saying “wicked!” in this film– he had a lot to do and I thought he did it very well indeed. It’s been fun to see the characters grow up and to see the actors grow with the roles, as well. Just saw the film for a second time today and again I think it was very well done!

  28. I was deflated by this movie. The others didn’t always include everything I would have liked, but this one took the cake. I didn’t mind some of the beginning being missed, but the end really killed it for me. The fight seen and the funeral were a huge part of the book and which brought out all of the emotion Dumbledore evoked in his followers. Disappointing.

  29. How could you give it an A?! I know, the critics are suppose to look at it as a movie and not really compare the book, but this movie is so disjointed and leaves out so much and misses the main story line..
    the main story line IS NOT the romances and snogging, but the good vs. evil battle; finding the truth, overcoming extreme challenges. My 13 yr. old who has read every book 5 times (a girl BTW) and we own all of the movies (except the last) and we just watched them yet again.. hated this movie and has sworn off the next 2 movies. This movie was based on a book that almost 700 pages yet they made one movie that was just as long as the first movie which was based on a much shorter book. They put in things and left out crucial elements and the final battle was important! The director was even quoted as saying that he left it out because there is one in part 2 of Deathly Hallows!! Seriously!! He didn’t want to be redundant .. what a moron.
    This director is terrible. Where is Christopher Columbus when you need him?

  30. Thanks, Kathy. I am sorry you and your daughter were disappointed. I loved the book, but it is a difficult one to adapt for film because it is very exposition-heavy. Books have room for a lot of internal information and a lot of explanation but movies have to be visual (and this movie did a beautiful job of conveying a lot of what was going on with images). And even a big, big-budget film like this one cannot afford to fly in all of the relevant actors for the funeral scene. Given what they had to work with, I thought this film worked very well as a movie and not as a paragraph-for-paragraph rendition of the book.
    I really appreciate your taking the time to write and I know your comments will be of great help in guiding other parents as they consider whether this movie is right for them and their families.

  31. I finally saw the movie on Saturday, and I can’t wait to see it again (and to see the final two-part version of Book 7).
    Yes, it is very different from the book, but it included my favorite parts from HBP, especially the Love Potion/Ron stuff. The Bill and Fleur and the battle at the end would have killed the movie, because there was just too much of it, and I thought the adaptors did a good job of introducing the evil werewolf character.
    Alan Rickman was great as Snape, as usual. And mmmmm…. he’s wonderful. My personal favorite scene was Ron in the Hospital Wing after almost dying, as Lavender Brown makes a scene. The adult witnesses (Snape, McGonagall, and Dumbledore) were so much funnier because they basically maintained straight faces while this comedy was playing out in front of them.
    Jim Broadbent was brilliant as Slughorn – so fragile and touching. What great acting. And Michael Gambon, ditto. Since seeing the movie, I’ve reread Books 1 and 2.

  32. This is a pretty good movie, but it leaves out a lot. It doesnt always explain whats going on and sometimes it gets boring. The beginning and middle is intense, but then it gets sad when someone dies. I reccomend this movie for people who are Harry Potter fans and for people over the age of 10. I think this movie deserves 3 and a half stars.

  33. After rereading the book, I think I’ve decided what bugs me most about the movie: they left out the scene where Dumbledore explains the self-fulfilling prophecy to Harry, and how the only reason he’s “destined” to kill Voldemort (or be killed by him) is that no one else is more committed to personally destroying Voldemort than him. I seriously hope they have some variation on this, maybe with Ron and Hermione, somewhere in Deathly Hallows.

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