Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment of the extremely popular Harry Potter franchise, which began in 2001 and will end in 2011, is well directed and well acted, but suffers from lack of sustained dramatic momentum.

Though containing three or four narrative threads, it very much feels like an interim chapter in the overall storytelling, sort of a preparation for better, more exciting things to come.

David Yates, who also directed the previous segment, the 2007 summer blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” tries to blend the various ingredients of the series, engaging subplots, suspense, humor, magic, acting, and special effects into a unified whole. The end result is a well crafted but dramatically uneven film that may be too long (152 minutes) for its own good, containing some slow, overly deliberate stretches in the middle. What’s unmistakably noticeable about the new chapter is its grim, foreboding mood, right from the very first scenes in which dark clouds dominate the screen. In this and other respects, “Half Blood Prince” recalls Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings,” albeit without the latter’s thematic gravitas and moral depth. The new, darker look may also be attributable to the vision of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, a two-time Oscar-nominee, (for the French films “A Very Long Engagement” and “Amelie”), who lenses his first Harry Potter film.  

The movie, initially intended for theatrical release last summer, has been pushed by Warner, due to the phenomenal success of “The Dark Knight,” and will now bow on Wednesday July 15. As previously announced, the seventh book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” will be split into two films, scheduled for release in 2010 and 2011.  

Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who scripted the first four installments of the franchise, adapted the screenplay based on the book by J.K. Rowling. As the tale opens, it’s a tense time in the wizarding world, precipitated by the return of Lord Voldemort from hiding. Empowered by the return of the Dark Lord, the Death Eaters are attacking at will; even the Muggle world is not impervious to their terror.  

In the first scene, as ominous dark clouds swirl over London, people look up, sensing an unfamiliar danger. Suddenly, three Death Eaters swoop out of the clouds and fly through the city, leaving a path of chaos and destruction. Unseen by the naked eye, they spiral around London’s Millennium Bridge, causing it to buckle and then collapse, sending hysterical pedestrians running for their lives. The anarchy wrought by Voldemort’s followers, which has previously undermined the wizarding world, is now also affecting the Muggle world.

When first seen, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in a train station coffee shop, keeping one eye on the Daily Prophet story about the bridge attack and the other on the sexy waitress, who immediately offers the time at which her shift ends. However, before Harry can follow through on his potential date, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) appears on the station platform and literally whisks him away on a mysterious mission.

Arriving in the village of Budleigh Babberton, Dumbledore takes Harry to the home of a Muggle family, which has been ransacked. It doesn’t take long before he uncovers Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), an interloper hiding amidst the mess. Once a popular Potions professor at Hogwarts, Horace had retired, taking with him memories of his best students, including Tom Riddle who showed a particular interest in the Dark Arts.

With the evil Death Eaters wreaking havoc, Dumbledore asks Harry to help persuade retired Potions Master Slughorn to return to Hogwarts. His goal is to retrieve a buried, invaluable memory from Slughorn’s past that will prove crucial in the upcoming fight against Voldemort.

Harry suspects that new dangers may lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle. Dumbledore needs Harry to help him uncover a vital key to unlocking Voldemort’s defenses–critical information known only to Slughorn. To that extent, Dumbledore manipulates his old colleague into returning to his previous post with promises of more money, a bigger office, and the opportunity to teach the now-famous Harry Potter.

When Voldemort was believed dead, memories of the boy seemed of little consequence, but now that Voldemort is proven to be alive, the history of Tom Riddle’s transformation into the Dark Lord holds the clues to his power. Dumbledore is sure that Horace Slughorn remembers Riddle well, because he had been one of his star pupils.

Broadbent is well cast as the eccentric British professor, a social climber who loves to know the best people and to name-drop celebs. Proud that many of them had taken his classes at Hogwarts, he keeps all their photographs on a shelf where he can point to them with pride. Though passionate about his work and knowledgeable as Potions master, he’s a flawed character, bearing a dark past secret that weighs heavily on him despite great efforts never to reveal it. Harry Potter “the Chosen One,” serves the bait for Slughorn to return to Hogwarts.

In two or three flashbacks, we see intriguing uncovering of Voldemort’s past and its implications for the rest of the story and its characters. These flashbacks, which depict interactions between Tom Riddle and his professors, are among the film’s scariest sequences, and knowing that Tom Riddle would evolve into the evil Lord Voldemort adds much needed fear and suspense. Riddle is shown at age 11 (played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and then at age 16 (played by Frank Dillane), but in both cases he’s way smarter than kids his age.  

With advanced adolescence, love is in the air, and most of the tale’s humor revolves around the teens’ erotic yearnings and expression of tentative feelings. All the students feel the effects of their raging hormones. Harry’s long friendship with Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) is growing into something deeper and more meaningful, but standing in the way is Ginny’s boyfriend Dean Thomas, not to mention her big brother Ron (Rupert Grint).  

Meanwhile, Ron’s romantic entanglements of his own to worry about. Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) lavishes affections on him, leaving Hermione (Emma Watson) simmering with jealousy yet determined not to show her feelings–up to a point. And then a box of love potion-laced chocolates ends up in the wrong hands and changes everything.

As romance blossoms, and first real kisses are exchanged inside and outside of the corridors, one student, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), remains aloof, preoccupied with more important goals, determined to make his mark even if it’s a dark one. Always observant, Draco unveils a precious object in a mysteriously appearing and vanishing cabinet.

Each of the films (and books) chronicles a different year in Harry’s life. The fifth film found Harry at a difficult stage, tormented by dreams, full of self-doubts, beset by personal demons. Now a year older, he has to face new issues and responsibilities, and most of the proceedings unfold as a coming-of-age tale with all the rites and rituals involved.  

In this film, more than in the previous ones, there are several narrative threads, which are more plot than character-driven, only few of which are interesting. The academic sessions, dining hall conversations, and party sequences are not as engaging as the dramatic ones, which revolve around secrets. At least three of the main characters harbor secrets, and there’s also the mystery of unveiling the meaning of the picture’ title, namely, who is the half-blood prince?

Fortunately, “Half Blood Prince” improves as it goes along and the last hour, which centers on the risky journey that Harry Potter and Dumbledore embark on, indicating a new kind of relationship, is quite engaging and touching. It’s in these sequences, which deal with loss and mortality, that “Half-Blood Prince” recalls, both thematically and visually, Jackson’s trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.”

In former chapters, the interaction between the duo was limited to that of a headmaster and a student, but now it borders on genuine friendship and collaboration, and as such involves mutual trust (give me your word that you’ll obey me at all times”), taking greater responsibility, facing physical and emotional dangers, in short putting to test Harry’s personality. 

For the record: Unlike some of the previous chapters, which were PG-13, this one is rated PG.


Harry Potter – Daniel Radcliffe
Ron Weasley – Rupert Grint
Hermione Granger – Emma Watson
Bellatrix Lestrange – Helena Bonham Carter
Professor Horace Slughorn – Jim Broadbent
Rubeus Hagrid – Robbie Coltrane
Professor Albus Dumbledore – Michael Gambon
Professor Severus Snape – Alan Rickman
Professor Minerva McGonagall – Maggie Smith
Wormtail – Timothy Spall
Remus Lupin – David Thewlis
Argus Filch – David Bradley
Professor Filius Flitwick – Warwick Davis
Draco Malfoy – Tom Felton



Warner release of a Heyday Films production.
Produced by David Heyman, David Barron.
Executive producer, Lionel Wigram.

Co-producer, John Trehy.

Directed by David Yates.

Screenplay, Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.
Camera: Bruno Delbonnel.

Editor, Mark Day; music, Nicholas Hooper.

Production designer, Stuart Craig; supervising art director, Neil Lamont; senior art director, Andrew Ackland-Snow; art directors, Al Bullock, Sloane U’ren Neely, Gary Tomkins, Hattie Storey, Martin Schadler, Martin Foley, Molly Hughes; set decorators, Stephenie McMillan, Rosie Goodwin.

Costume designer, Jany Temime

Sound, Stuart Wilson; supervising sound editor, James Mather; re-recording mixers, Stuart Hilliker, Mike Dowson.

Visual effects supervisor, Tim Burke; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, the Moving Picture Co., Double Negative, Rising Sun Pictures, Cinesite (Europe), Framestore, Luma Pictures.

Special effects supervisor, John Richardson.

Makeup and creature effects designer, Nick Dudman.
MPAA Rating: PG.

Running time: 152 Minutes