Let me put this out upfront – I'm a Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books, most of them multiple times. I’ve seen all the movies multiple times too, and went into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with high expectations and a healthy dose of excitement.
And I was rewarded.
The Half-Blood Prince is fantastic film in its own right, and a decent translation of the book. That’s pretty par for the course for the six movies so far, and really what I was expecting. Translating a 700+ page book to a 2.5 hour movie is no easy feat, but Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves managed very well. Sticklers and fanatics of the book will notice the changes, including some minor characters being removed, some scenes being slightly rearranged, and one sequence leaving entirely, but all of this seemed clearly done to make this work better not just as a stand-alone movie, but as part of a series.
It’s amazing to see just how much the actors have grown over the course of 6 films. Here we have a truly breakout performance by Tom Felton, in the role of troubled Draco Malfoy. Draco is intensely conflicted in his mission throughout the film, and plays a much deeper character than the one-note foil of the previous chapters. It’s a remarkable transformation for Draco and a fantastic performance for Felton, as you can clearly see his agony in many dialogue free scenes.
The other standout in a field of solid actors was once again Alan Rickman in possibly the best casting choice in movie history. As Professor Snape, he has a slightly smaller role for the majority of the film, merely popping in here and there (until the end, that is), and the dry wit and ambiguous morale nature comes off perfectly, maybe even better than the previous movies. The other principle actors are all very clearly comfortable in the roles they’ve been playing for years now, and it gives a great sense of realism to this world of fantasy.
The story takes a continually darker turn, and the direction reflects that. There were moments during the movie that were directed and shot more like a horror movie than a fantasy or teen drama. There were also very funny comedic moments to balance the tension a bit, and a considerable focus on the romantic relationships developed during this part of the story. The focus on that may seem a bit heavy to some, but when you step back and realize you’re watching characters that are 15 and 16 years old, it only makes sense that they’d begin reaching out to each other more, even as their world becomes increasingly chaotic around them. The contrast of the joyful and comedic moments underscores just how bad things get, particularly right at the end.
Those who’ve read the books know that this is kind of the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Harry Potter series. It ends on a particularly down note, and even knowing that was coming, it was still quite emotional. There were new visual touches that were added to the film that were great choices by the writer and director; they truly added to the sequences, making it very emotional. The sheer range of emotions the audience will run through this movie is a testament to Rowling’s original story and this particular adaptation.
Fans of just the movies will find Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the absolute best of the series so far. Everyone involved seems more comfortable in their respective positions, taking new risks, and resulting in a better movie. Fans of the books and movies alike will also enjoy this, provided they can look past the changes, big and small alike. None of the changes take away from the story the movies are telling, which seems the most important part of an adaptation. This is a great movie, and fans should be excited for this installment. I plan to see this again in the theater, and have already started my countdown to November, 2010 for the first part of Deathly Hallows.