I left the midnight showing of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ disappointed. Few critics consider any Harry Potter movie a masterpiece, but I enjoy every one. Understandably, significant scenes in the books must be altered or deleted in the film version. However, the changes made in this movie make the film far more tedious than the methodical but intriguing sixth book. The film’s portrayals of some aspects of the story are spot on, but the film fails to build up to a satisfying climax.
The movie begins with a poignant shot of the young wizard Harry Potter being photographed by journalists after the traumatic death of his godfather Sirius Black. Further successfully sinister shots of graying sky ensue as black wisps soar through a skull-shaped cloud.
Unfortunately, this dark mood is never matched during the rest of the film. A sense of danger is never developed, and personal conflicts are far less acutely depicted than the outstanding special effects. Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe) has even less personality than usual, and his love story with Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) is ridiculous and unrealistic, even for a story about wizards. Instead of teenage sexual tension and a likeable, bold heroine, we get a vixen who is suddenly in love with Harry because … the script said so. Ginny whispers lines as though she is some sort of teenage temptress, yet there is no chemistry there.
Hermione (Emma Watson) is yet again made to look very much like a stereotypical girl, weeping over her good friend Ron’s (Rupert Grint) apparent rejection of her amorous affections (while she is emotional but far more plucky and resilient in the books). Much more interesting than Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny are the two other love interests, Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) and Cormack McLaggen (Freddie Stroma). Brown’s infatuation with Ron is amusingly over the top, but Stroma’s brief role as the boorish Cormack pursuing Hermione is absolutely hysterical.
Michael Gambon’s caring portrayal of headmaster Dumbeldore is gently moving, and Jim Broadbent is excellent as Slughorn, giving depth to Harry’s well-intended but batty and deeply flawed potions teacher. As Professor Snape, Alan Rickman is as always subtle, but his portrayal differs a bit from the book, arguably giving less impact to the character's ultimate role in the story. The death-eater and werewolf Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno) makes an appearance and looks fantastically threatening. Unfortunately, he is not given a single line or action to convey any aspect of his depraved nature. The character of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has vastly improved from his previous sniveling incarnations. In nearly every scene Felton and cinematographers convey his isolation, and he is as pitiable and dangerous as any terrified adolescent criminal.
Other highlights of the film include flashbacks about the evil Voldemort, known in the past as Tom Riddle. The two actors who portray him not only greatly resemble each other, but are spot on in their depictions of snakelike evil. The youngest Tom’s (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) subtle expression of delight at a display of power is chilling. The older Tom (Frank Dillane) possesses a sinister intelligence and serpentine manner.
‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ was probably the most difficult of the series to adapt because of its lack of a driving plotline, and the movie is thematically unfocused and at best uneven. Though I’ve read the books, I was frequently confused. There is much potential here, but little payoff.