Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

What It Is

The sixth film based on J.K. Rowling’s books is more grown-up than earlier installments, from the first scenes showing violent attacks on London streets to Harry’s increasingly difficult decisions. As Voldemort hovers above the action in the form of a very grim cloud, the Hogwarts students struggle against frightening forces, by discovering long-held adult secrets and negotiating their own adolescence and, in Harry’s case, his notoriety as “The Chosen One.” While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is again punctuated by glorious special effects —including the requisite Quidditch interlude—these are used this time to portray internal dilemmas more than youthful fantasies. Much of the 153 minutes running time is given to exploring Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) evolving sense of responsibility to his fellow wizards and mostly hapless Muggles, his loyalty to Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), and his attraction to Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). All that, and he must also decipher flashbacks to a previous era, when another gifted student, Tom Riddle, became enchanted by the dark side, and eventually became Voldemort (these days, “He who must not be named” is named repeatedly). As Harry learns more about the history of Hogwarts and wizarding, he has his own choices to make, about whom to trust and how to do good.

Why It’s Fun

First and foremost, the newest Harry Potter returns fans to the incredible world of magic they’ve been eagerly awaiting since last fall, when Warner Bros. put off its opening date. Happily, it does so without going through the usual motions: rather than return to the Dursleys home at 4 Privet Drive, the film starts in the city, where swooping Death Eaters throw fire and blow up buildings, leaving citizens feeling beset and afraid. As Harry reads the ensuing headlines in a café (where he also flirts with the pretty waitress [Elarica Gallagher]), he’s interrupted and swept away by Dumbledore, who needs him for an urgent mission.

That mission—to entice potions expert Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to Hogwarts—is part of Dumbledore’s plan to fight Voldemort. The retired professor possesses a key memory of young Tom Riddle that may lead to the unraveling of Voldemort’s current, seemingly unstoppable power. This again puts Harry on two tracks at once—saving the world and growing up. At school, Harry is now a leader among his peers when it comes to magic and battling the Dark Lord. But he’s less sure of himself in matters of the heart, even though both Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) ask his advice regarding their amorous miscommunications.

Aside from the magic and the romances, however, The Half-Blood Prince also slows down the action, less concerned with including every episode in the book on which it’s based than with creating a compelling emotional arc for its hero. Moreover, it gives Harry quality screen time with the teachers who have shaped that arc—Dumbledore, of course, but also Horace and Snape (Alan Rickman, who gives yet another delicious performance), not to mention a brief and excellent exchange with Professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith, sublime as ever). As Harry heads to the end of his Hogwarts education, these more adult relationships are increasingly rewarding.

Who’s Going To Love It

Fans of the books and the movies will love this movie, if only for its pronounced focus on Harry, and parents will appreciate it too. The franchise’s return to a PG rating—after two PG-13 films—suggests an appeal to younger viewers. But keep in mind that the actors and characters have aged (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which introduced its 11-year-old stars, was released way back in 2001). Along the way, the movies have become more morally complicated and more violent: this one follows along that path.

What To Be Aware Of

The film opens with frightening attacks on London, not unlike terrorist bombings. It also includes a couple of scenes where Harry’s nose is bloodied (as well as broken and fixed, crunchily), another where a favorite antagonist is violently injured (lots of blood on a white shirt), and still another where a girl is tossed violently by a bad, invisible force. Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) holds a funeral for a treasured friend (a giant spider), after which Harry watches him and Horace get ripping drunk. Most affectingly, a favorite character dies, and Harry and his friends react to that loss with great emotion.

The film’s focus on romance is mostly chaste, with references to “snogging” and a few shots of couples kissing, suggests the students’ changing interests. And though Hermione and Ginny are plainly smart and capable, they do tend to wait for the boys to make first moves and decisions on their relationships.

See-It-Again Points

7 out of 10

Film Information

Film: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Director: David Yates
Screenwriter: Steve Kloves
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2009
Rated: PG
US Premiere: July 15, 2009 (General release)
UK Premiere: July 15, 2009 (General release)
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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