Welcome to This Could Get Hairy, where each week I will review one of the seven Harry Potter movies released thus far in anticipation of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 this July. I’ve seen all of the Potter films before, but revisiting them in order, with having not watched some of them in quite some time, should be interesting. Share your comments and thoughts as we prepare to bid farewell – assuming Warner Bros. doesn’t foolishly attempt to “reboot” the franchise in five years – to Harry and his friends for good.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Release Date: July 15, 2009
Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves
Runtime: 2 hrs 19 mins
Gross: $301,959,197 (domestic); $632,000,000 (foreign); $933,959,197 (total)
The Potter series has finally arrived. With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we see the promise of the Harry Potter franchise finally come to fruition. I adore this movie, and in my opinion, it is easily the best of the first six. This is truly a brilliant piece of filmmaking, even with its shortcomings. Surprisingly, it’s also probably the funniest of all Potter films.
I think Half-Blood benefits a lot from being the first film created after the seventh and last Harry Potter book was released. It gives David Yates and Steve Kloves more leeway to craft the remaining two acts of the entire Potter story. Yes, there are drawbacks to this (talk to any devout Lord of the Rings fan), but all in all, I feel like this movie has a much stronger narrative than the ones immediately preceding it, and the cinematography is breathtaking.
The film starts with an attack on the Millennium Bridge in London. This is a lame choice in bridges to attack. Seriously, it’s pedestrian-only, and goes from the Tate Modern over to the City of London. However, in the book it is alluded to that the Death Eaters take down the Skye Bridge, which wouldn’t really have the same cinematic effect. “Look! We destroyed a bridge in the middle of the Highlands with no one around!”
Post-bridge destruction, the Death Eaters trash Diagon Alley and abduct Ollivander. This isn’t in the book as far as I know, but again, Yates has some wiggle room because of knowing the full outcome of the saga.
We then travel to an old, shabby-looking town and are greeted by Bellatrix Lestrange and a blonde woman – Draco’s mother – who wind up visiting Snape. Draco Malfoy has apparently been given a mission by Voldemort and Snape swears and unbreakable vow to protect him and carry out the mission if he fails. Sooo, I guess Snape is a bad guy, eh? Already, the atmosphere of Half-Blood is a lot more mature than its predecessors.
The Dursleys get skipped again in this installment, so rather than have Dumbledore pick up Harry in person from Privet Drive, as in the book, we meet Harry hanging out at a diner within the labyrinthine passages of the Underground. In this scene we see a flashback of the end of Order of the Phoenix with Dumbledore putting his arm around Harry in a very paternal sense. This sets up the concept of he and Harry drawing closer throughout this installment.
As Harry reads the paper, a hot chick with a ‘fro wants Harry’s sweet wizard love, but alas, Dumbledore appears across the way, standing in front of an advert for a perfume called “Magic.” I liked that little touch.
Harry and Dumbledore apparate (teleport, basically) to a little street. I love the dialogue between the two: D-dore: “You must be wondering why I have brought you here, Harry.” Harry: “Well, sir, to be honest, after all these years I just sorta go with it.”
This is a key feature of Half-Blood Prince. The relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is at the center of the book. This is attempted in the film, but it never quite gets over the hill. No matter how much they are together, Dumbledore always seems a bit aloof and he and Harry never quite seem completely engaged and at ease with one another. This could have been better, despite the improved acting on the part of Daniel Radcliffe.
D-dore and Harry convince this guy to return to Hogwarts and teach:
His name is Horace Slughorn. He seems to be obsessed with the show going on and pleasing some sort of Duke. It’s very out of context for a Potter film, especially considering the French connections, but who are we to argue? Regardless, Dumbledore tells Harry that Slughorn’s return to Hogwarts is crucial. This isn’t just a matter of filling a faculty spot. Dumbledorn warns Harry that Slughorn will try and “collect” him, or bring him into his elite circle of prized individuals. Harry consents to allow it to happen.
Sidenote: is everyone short in the Potter franchise? I feel like Jim Broadbent towers over everyone like a monster, so I assumed he is 6’3″-6’4″, but I looked it up. He’s 6’1½”, basically a centimeter shorter than me.
As Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Diagon Alley to obtain school supplies, they see Draco and his mom, Narcissa, acting suspiciously. Surreptitiously, the gang stalk him and see him tinkering with something and meeting with some Death Eaters.
Harry, being the brazen fool that he often is, decides to spy on Draco on the Hogwarts Express, hiding atop the luggage rack with his invisibility cloak. Draco isn’t an idiot, so after the train pulls into Hogsmeade Station, he freezes Harry and stomps on his in retribution for Harry having causes Lucious Malfoy to be arrested at the end of Order of the Phoenix.
Once the term starts, Harry and Ron are basically forced to sign up for potions, since Slughorn is now the potions instructor and Snape has moved over to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Since neither of them have books, Slughorn tells them to take some of the ones owned by the school. Two books sit in a cupboard. One is new, the other is quite old. Harry and Ron fight over the new one as friends do, and I love the dynamic between the two of them for these brief moments. Harry winds up with the older book, but the book is coated with directions, tips, and original spells by someone named “The Half-Blood Prince.” Potions has always been Harry’s worst subject, but by following the Prince, he winds up becoming the best in his class, winning a vial of Felix Felicis, a sort of luck potion that comes into play later on.
After He Kicked the Habit of Hookers
Jim Broadbent is outstanding as Professor Slughorn. I’ve been continually impressed by the crop of British acting nobility that the Harry Potter series has managed to employ. Broadbent is nearly Oscar-worthy in his portrayal of Slughorn as a pompous, status-obsessed man with a dark and shameful secret.
Ron gets a bit more love in this film. Quidditch is finally back in the plot on a school level (seriously, we haven’t seen it since the third film), and Ron is intent on trying out for the team as a keeper. Hermione jinxes the other try-er-outer, the creepily sensual and pompous Cormac McButterface, and Ron winds up making the team.
Per Potter tradition, Ron freaks out about his responsibility and lack of any real ability at much of anything, so Harry, in all his devious genius as captain, makes Ron think that he’s been slipped some of the Felix Felicis before the match. Ron plays like a rock star and becomes a Quidditch phenom, and Harry only reveals to Hermione that he fakes the use of Felix. Hooray placebo effect!
After victory, Ron starts snogging it up with a chick named Lavender Brown, who is, well… childish? She calls him “Won-Won” and has obsessions that would make Rebecca De Mornay and Robert De Niro jealous.
Yes, we deal with a lot of teen hormones in this film. Perhaps a bit too much weight is given to it with respect to the more important overall story about Voldemort (yeah, remember how Snape is bad and Draco has some mission?), but all of these scenes are expertly crafted. There’s one particular shot that I love. It is a moving exterior shot of the castle. Ron and Lavender are seen through the window of a tower, making their way up a staircase and making out, before the camera swings upward to reveal Draco Malfoy leaning over the railings of the Astronomy Tower, looking pensive and troubled. It’s great.
I forgot to mention. Beforehand, a girl was given a necklace to give to Dumbledore and after touching it, is raised to the sky with her arms outstretched, screams, then plummets to the earth. Something fishy is going on. We also see a few scenes of Draco messing with some sort of cabinet in frustration.
Now we get an added scene where the kids are home for Christmas (Don’t get me started on the complications of clearly atheist wizards celebrating a Christian holiday. I know, I know… cultural) and some Death Eaters attack the Burrow. It’s pretty OK. It didn’t really need to be there in the first place, but since Half-Blood is rather short on action to begin with, Yates figured why not have Bellatrix and the unnamed-sort-of-werewolf-dude-whom-we-all-know-is-Greyback-but-his-character-receives-no-actual-introduction trash the place? Good times in Ottery St. Catchpole!
Also, apparently Lupin and Tonks are a thing? I know this from reading the book, but I guess I’m just supposed to accept it at face value in the film.
By this point, Dumbledore has shown Harry a few memories, one of a young Tom Riddle, and another of a teenage Tom Riddle, speaking with Slughorn. The latter memory has clearly been tampered with.
It falls on Harry to somehow get the true memory from Slughorn, which eventually ticks off Slughorn and causes him to ignore Harry.
Not until Ron accidentally ingests some pretty strong love potion does Harry get a chance to sit with Slughorn again. Ron also nearly dies after Slughorn gives the boys some mead (I love how underage drinking is totally appropriate in the wizarding world), but the mead is poisoned and Ron starts going rabid. Harry saves him. Ron goes to the hospital where his
stalker girlfriend, Lavender, shows up, only to storm out in tears as a mostly comatose Ron calls for Hermione.
So much more to discuss! Harry follows Malfoy to a bathroom, ticked about Ron, the mead, the cursed necklace, and Malfoy’s cool wardrobe, and the two duke it out. Harry tries a spell called “Sectumsempra,” which the Half-Blood Prince wrote in his book. The spells causes Malfoy to bleed profusely. Snape somehow shows up and fixes him. Harry is forced to ditch the book by Ginny, who has been teasing the poor lad with her ginger locks. They awkwardly make out. I like the book version better in establishing them as a couple.
Also, what the H ever happened to Cho?
Eventually, Harry decides to use his Felix Felicis to get the correct memory from Slughorn. And thus we begin the funniest part of the movie. Harry catches Slughorn stealing some stuff from the greenhouse and as Harry bids Slughorn farewell, Slughorn stops him: “Harry!” Then Harry says, “Sir!” in this hilarious, slovenly, half-drunk sort of way. Slughorn protests that he cannot just venture off to Hagrids hut alone. Harry’s response: “Well then come along, sir!”, again in this loopy, almost bratty sense. It’s great.
Our heroes find Hagrid mourning the death of Aragog, that giant spider from Chamber of Secrets. Hagrid has dug Aragog a grave. I love Harry’s random line, talking about what made Aragog unnverving: “The pincers! (odd pincing sound and click click with jaws).” This whole part is hilarious. But don’t take my word for it.
A slightly drunk and frightened Slughorn gives Harry the memory, which Harry then watches with Dumledore. The two learn that Tom Riddle was interested in Horcruxes, or magical objects in which one can conceal a part of one’s soul by killing someone. Voldemort likely did this a number of times because of his fear of mortality. Horcruxes are difficult to destroy (hence Dumbledore’s black hand), but Harry and D-dore set off on a quest to obtain and destroy another of them. Two have already been nixed – the diary from Chamber of Secrets and a ring.
The men apparate to a cave that looks like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It’s very quartzy. There they find an island with a potion that makes Dumbledore scream in agony and beg for death, but only through drinking it can the Horcrux be obtained. You see, Voldemort would want to weaken anyone who found his Horcruxes.
Harry is unable to conjure water to help an ailing Dumbledore, and once he touches the water of the lake inside the cave, a bunch of zombies attach them. Dumblefore then comes alive!
The two get the heck out of Dodge, appear back on the astronomy tower, and after Harry hides, Malfoy appears to do his job – kill Dumbledore. Malfoy can’t go through with it. Other Death Eaters show up. We learn that Malfoy had been mending a vanishing cabinet and linking it to a twin cabinet in Diagon Alley, thus allowing the Death Eaters to enter Hogwarts and bypass security.
Still pleading for his life, Dumbledore meets Snape. Snape then proceeds to kill Dumbledore and the Death Eaters trash Hogwarts. There is no battle here, as in the book (Yates felt that putting this right before the climactic Battle of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows would seem redundant), but Harry chases after the Death Eaters, casting curses at Snape.
Want to see one of my favorite shots in the film?
The way Snape mercilessly lays into Potter is amazing. We also learn that Snape is the Half-Blood Prince, though we never receive any explanation as to why he’s called that, which is sort of a let down.
I don’t like the scene that follows. The students surround Dumbledore’s corpse and slowly, but together, raise their wands to the sky in some sort of demonstration of righteous happiness. This causes the Dark Mark to disappear and is meant to move all of us. It’s more cheesy than anything else.
Half-Blood Prince is brilliant. It definitely has its problems. It’s long and feels long, but I don’t particularly mind. More could have been done with Tom Riddle’s backstory (his family, the sad story of his parents, his obsession with important magical artifacts), as there are things in there that really show what drives Voldemort, and a few other things are lost on me. (In the book, Harry ditches the Half-Blood Prince’s potions book in the Room of Requirement by himself, noticing a bust and a diadem along the way, which has HUGE implications in Deathly Hallows. In the movie, Ginny gets all lusty with him and hides it herself. I’m not sure how that will be reconciled in the final film.)
But the positive far outweighs the bad. This is so far the only Harry Potter film to receive an Oscar nod for cinematography, and deservedly so. I can’t praise the visuals enough. So many shots are wonderfully constructed. Bruno Delbonnel really knows how to frame stuff. He doesn’t shy away from broad shots, close-ups, or sweeping vistas (like the one I mentioned earlier). Also, the color and tone is far bleaker and even more sepia than the other films.
I feel like the three main stars finally hit their stride with acting this time around. Radcliffe has been the weakest of the bunch for awhile, but he really brings his A game to this movie. And Alan Rickman is just gripping as Snape. The man tends to chew up scenery, but this time around it is something to behold.
Tom Felton brings a far more multi-dimensional portrayal of Malfoy. It’s great to see his growth as an actor and the nuance he brings to Draco’s character, even looking progressively more gaunt and disturbed as the film goes on.
The relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is better, but it’s never quite believable that this is the master/apprentice sort of relationship that we seem to be told we are supposed to believe in. In the book I feel like Dumbledore is Harry’s idol and that Dumbledore greatly adores Harry. They just seem sort flung into it together in the film, with little between them.
I also love the music here. We have the same composer as Order of the Phoenix, Nicolas Hooper, but he’s ditched the neo-Celtic motif and gone with far darker, more brooding themes. Good for him. My hat bows to thee, sir.
This stands as a serious achievement for the Potter films. Aside from some nitpicking on material left out from the book, this is a great, entertaining, dark film. It does feel a bit like a setup for the last act, and I’m pretty sure Yates has got some serious ‘splainin’ to do in both Deathly Hallows films, but I am extremely impressed with Half-Blood Prince.
Only one more to go before Deathly Hallows Part 2!