Film Review: 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' (2009)
Our Harry Potter retrospective continues as we come ever closer to the end of the series.
Unlike the frantic energy of Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, this one feels more relaxed. Despite the film adaptation again having significant cuts and deviations from the book, it doesn't feel rushed at all. It's also not as action-packed and exciting as Goblet and Phoenix. This is largely a character drama, more than any of the other films, and it acts as a bit of a breather. For one thing, it's undoubtedly a much more normal school curriculum without Umbridge there.
While I don't find this one to be as emotionally-charged as the prior entries, I do appreciate that it takes more time to show the day-to-day aspects of Hogwarts school life, something that was largely missing from Goblet and Phoenix. Half-Blood Prince is more like the first two movies in that regard. I think this was a nice touch. Especially since this ends up being Harry’s final school year, this was our last chance to experience such moments.
This film carries a very bittersweet air to it. There's a lot of humour, moreso than the previous film, but there's a lingering air of sadness too. After this point, nothing will be the same any more. Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a different movie altogether, with Hogwarts out of the picture entirely. Even when we return to Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it's under completely different circumstances. Half-Blood Prince really is the beginning of the end.
Like Goblet of Fire, Half-Blood Prince is also more romantic than the other films. Lavender Brown shows up and becomes deeply infatuated with Ron. She was a fairly minor recurring character in the books, but this is where we properly meet her in the films. Her crush on Ron comes out of nowhere, but Lavender is actually a fun character. She's a total ditz, but she's entertaining.
This is also where Harry and Ginny really start to fall for each other. It was obvious way back in Chamber of Secrets that Ginny was in love with Harry, but here we see that Harry has grown to feel the same way about her in return, and it's charming to watch.
It's often pointed out how the series steadily gets darker. In the case of the films, it happens literally. As the films progress, the colour palette gets more and more desaturated. While Half-Blood Prince still has a lot of gorgeous cinematography, I think this was the point when the colour palette got a bit too desaturated for my liking. On one hand, it was a neat creative decision. But on the other hand, I like the more vibrant colouring of the earlier films better.
Early on, Dumbledore takes Harry to go meet Horace Slughorn, with Dumbledore intent on convincing Slughorn to come out of retirement and resume teaching at Hogwarts. I like Slughorn. He's a bit of an oddball, but he actually turns out to be a pretty decent person. It's refreshing to have a nice Slytherin for a change. I also love how Slughorn says, "Merlin’s beard!" That's such a great catchphrase.
One other nice touch to Slughorn's introduction scene is when he and Dumbledore put the house back together, and we see Harry smiling. Even after all this time, heading into his sixth year, Harry is still wowed by what wizarding magic can accomplish.
Luna continues to be a delight. In fact, this has probably my two favourite Luna moments of the series. First, when she comes onto the train with a pair of ridiculous glasses (meant for spotting "Wrackspurts"). And then later on, to show her support for Gryffindor in the upcoming Quidditch match, she shows up wearing an equally ridiculous lion hat. They're both minor moments, but they do such a perfect job of showing you the one-of-a-kind person that Luna is.
I really like Draco's development here too. This is where he makes the transition from simply being a petty bully and starts heading down a more sinister path, ultimately becoming a tragic villain. Ironically, it's also the point when he becomes more sympathetic. You get the sense that, deep down, he didn't entirely consent to the path that was laid out for him, and that he's caught up in something far scarier and more dangerous than he has the stomach for.
More Odd Thoughts
When Draco is trying to get the Vanishing Cabinet to work properly, he tests it out on two pigeons. It's interesting how the white pigeon dies in the attempt, but the black pigeon survives. Symbolism?
Both Ron and Hermione, on separate occasions, refer to Harry as their best friend. Ron says it early on after Harry first arrives at the Burrow, while Hermione says it when she breaks down crying after the Quidditch match, shortly before her fight with Ron.
When Harry decides to use his bottle of Felix Felicis to help him obtain the memory from Slughorn, he immediately gets the idea to go to Hagrid's, much to Ron and Hermione's bafflement. Hermione protests, telling Harry that they already have a plan to acquire the memory. Alas, I would've loved to know what that original plan was.
Dumbledore: "You must be wondering why I brought you here."
Harry: "Actually sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it."
Another great exchange:
McGonagall: “Why is it, when something happens, it is always you three?”
Ron: “Believe me, Professor. I've been asking myself the same question for six years.”
This time around, Snape takes up the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. As I noted earlier in my Goblet of Fire review, the Dark Arts position is implied to be cursed, and is apparently the reason why every new professor ends up booted from their job by the end of the school year. It dawned on me when writing this review, however, that most of the DADA professors are also really terrible people, which in itself is a perfectly feasible explanation for why the post keeps changing.
Quirrel was a seemingly nice guy who turned out to be a loyal follower of the Dark Lord. Lockhart was a fraud and an incompetent doofus who tried to erase Harry and Ron's memories, and was perfectly willing to leave Ginny to die in the Chamber of Secrets. Mad-Eye Moody is actually pretty likeable and well-meaning, but unfortunately his job was taken over by an imposter who also happened to be one of Voldemort's henchmen. As for Umbridge, well, I don't really need to elaborate on that one, do I? Snape, meanwhile, was just a petty and spiteful bully (moreso in the books). Lupin is the only person who worked there who's actually a good instructor, and just a lovable guy all around… but even he turned out to be a dangerous werewolf.
Also, if it's true that the DADA position is in fact cursed, then that's one powerful curse. It seems to have reality-bending powers, as each professor was removed from the post for different reasons, all of which were based around circumstances specific to that person.
So Begins the Hunt for the Horcruxes
This has probably my favourite closing scene out of all the films. A hauntingly beautiful moment, and a bit of calm before the maelstrom. This is the lowest things have ever seemed for our heroes, and it'll only get bleaker still from here. But there remains a ray of hope and determination too.
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© 2018 Ian Rideout