Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

2009 #84
David Yates | 153 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceBy this point I imagine everyone has a pretty clear idea what they think of Harry Potter, and this latest film certainly isn’t going to change that. That’s not to say it’s bad — in fact, it’s rather good — but Harry Potter is what it is, and nothing’s going to change that, least of all these thoroughly faithful adaptations.

This particular entry is well adapted from its huge source. I remember the novel as being somewhat turgid, a 600-page slab of flashbacks and exposition provided so one could understand the events of Deathly Hallows (for the uninitiated, that’s the final book, arriving as two films in 2010 and 2011). Thankfully, returning screenwriter Steve Kloves (who has adapted every Potter bar the previous one) and director David Yates liven it up considerably.

Adapting a 600-plus-page book is always a gargantuan task, something the Potter series has struggled with before (at times, Order of the Phoenix felt like an hour-long highlights montage), but Kloves manages to keep the thrust of the dark primary plot while peppering it with humour- and romance-based asides. (Calling it ‘romance’ may be a little generous — ‘teenage snogfest’ seems to be the preferred term by critics. And it is that, really. But ‘snog’ is such an ugly word, so I shall stick to ‘romance’.) The film could have been all Dark and Grim — and people doubtless expected, and probably would have accepted, that — but the sizable amounts of humour and romance keep the tone more appropriate to the series’ kid-centred roots, as well as adding light to the shade in a way that should please everyone. The titular Prince, however, is barely a subplot, but that’s a flaw of the novel rather than Kloves’ work.

Yates pitches the humour right, though the romance is occasionally overbearing for my taste, but the action sequences are well handled. Unfortunately, while entertaining in their own right, the majority are an aside to the main plot, which is perhaps where the two-and-a-half-hour running time comes from. The return of Quidditch is welcome to some fans, but would surely have been dropped without the fan pressure. That said, it feeds into both the Luck potion and romantic subplots, as well as providing its own doses of humour and action. Still, it’s a missed opportunity to further establish the character of Katie Bell, who has a moderately significant part to play a bit later on.

Worse is the opening bridge attack, which feels fairly pointless. Again, in itself it’s a dramatic event, expanded from a passing reference in the novel, but it bears little relation to the rest of the plot. In the novel it has a point — the wizarding world is finally impacting on the normal one — but that thread remains unexplored by the rest of the film, rendering the opening a visually exciting but empty sequence.

The still-young cast are intermittently believable. Rupert Grint still has a talent for comedy — enough to fulfill his role here, anyway — while Tom Felton is finally treated to a decent part as Draco. Formerly just an irritating bully, here he has a larger and more complex part to play, allowing Felton room to become one of the few child actors who can still live up to their part now. The adults are excellent as ever, particularly Jim Broadbent in a guest-star-level part and, naturally, Alan Rickman, who remains underused but may yet be treated to some material worthy of his talents in the final films. Additionally, Julie Walters conveys more with one expression in her brief cameo than some actresses can manage with half a dozen scenes.

With numerous plot elements left brazenly gaping ready for the next instalment (just as in the novel, of course) — including at least one thrown into the mix in the closing seconds — and Yates’ promise of an ‘urban thriller’ style for at least Part I (a genre he mastered in the outstanding State of Play), the two-part Deathly Hallows is a relatively tantalising prospect. Just eleven months to go…

4 out of 5

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