Summer ’09 – Blockbuster #9 – HPATHBP

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is a really long title to use for a blog post, hence my acronymization. (Also, it's a little ridiculous to write a "Summer Blockbuster" review in mid-September, but I'm behind, and I want to catch up.)

The Harry Potter series has been a huge anomaly in the history of film adaptations of novels. Not only have they been churning them out very quickly, not only have they maintained the same cast (barring one sad death) through six films, but the films are of uniformly high quality. (Even the fifth film, "Order of the Phoenix", which I found to be the least impressive of the novels, but one of the best of the movies.)

So, "Half-Blood Prince" is a good movie. I can't give it a thumbs down. But I also can't rave about it. It's easily the least involving of the six films to date. I'm not exactly sure why I think this. It has, objectively, a lot going for it. Ron playing quidditch! Harry kissing Ginny! Dumbledore with an extra-crispy hand!

I think the problem is that, after the pressure-cooker of "Order", this one feels a little less dire. The central problem this time around is to find a hidden memory, locked inside the self-important head of Horace Slughorn, a new teacher at Hogwarts. True, the memory is important, and certainly creepy, and vitally important to their fight against You-Know-Who, which will figure prominently in the following films. But it seems a bit of a breather, after all that's happened up until now.

I have to give props to Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy. There's more subtlety in his performance this time around than in all the previous films put together. We've known for a long time that the Casting Gods had smiled on this series, with Radcliffe, Watson and Grint growing into excellent actors. (And I have a sense we'll be seeing some great things from Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, in the series finale.) But who knew Felton would be so good.

On the other hand, the set piece that happens near the end of the film, with Harry and Dumbledore entering a cave and finding a talisman hidden on a lake… That whole thing I didn't even like in the book.  Rowling has done an amazing job of writing a modern fantasy, that doesn't rely on hoary old Tolkienesque cliches.  Except for that scene, which didn't fit in the rest of the series, either book or film.

My last problem with the film revolves around the ending, which I won't spoil here. The reveal of who the Half-Blood Prince is, is, sadly, something of a footnote to the story. After all the horror that Harry has undergone, that moment wasn't nearly charged with enough anger, or despair, or whatever Harry should have been feeling.

I look forward immensely to the final two films. I just hope they bring back the (pardon the pun) magic.

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