IN SHORT: WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE THIS MOVIE? If you have never seen or read any Harry Potter book, then don’t bother since you won’t know what is going on. If you are a Potter fan, then see this in theaters it is by far the best adaptation in the series.
The problems with all of the Harry Potter movies so far have been that the director hasn’t had complete control over the project because not all the books were out, so the complete story wasn’t known. That meant that should a detail that becomes important at the end be left out, massive problems could be caused. This gave the Potter films a very rushed and very complex plot, which alienated audiences. Half Blood Prince is the first movie out since the final book was released, so director David Yates had complete creative control, and let me be the first to say the improvements are incredible.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is entering his sixth year at Hogwarts, and now that Lord Voldemort has announced his return to the world, war has broken out. The movie starts with the Death Eaters (Voldemort supporters) attacking a muggle (non-wizard folk) bridge, killing many people. Harry then returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and must struggle with two different things: Malfoy (Tom Felton) plotting something against Hogwarts after joining Voldemort, as well as what all 16 year old boys struggle with, women. Harry and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) also explore Voldemort’s past in order to try and find out his weaknesses.
The main improvement made to Half Blood Prince is definitely the writing. Writer Steve Kloves returns to the series with much improved dialogue and this time around the jokes are actually pretty funny. The characters are much more real this time, for example Helena Bonham Carter as the cynical Bellatrix Lestrange seems much creepier this time around since she has more screen time. Yates uses his creative control as he shifts the focus mostly onto the love triangles and adolescence instead of Voldemort and Malfoy like the book did. This isn’t a bad thing at all, since Yates has added scenes to really flesh out every character which causes the audience to actually care about the story. While the pacing faltered a bit at the ending, it did succeed in producing a similar feeling of hopelessness and mystery which reminded me a lot of Empire Strikes Back. Let me warn you now, not that it’s a bad thing, the movie ends with a big TO BE CONTINUED?
Michael Gambon also makes a dramatic improvement to his acting in Half Blood Prince. His last attempt to play the quirky but brilliant headmaster was a disaster, as he failed to capture the lightheartedness and warmth that Dumbledore conveys in the books, fans went as far as dubbing him Angrydore. Gambon is in much better form this time around, as well as all the other actors. Unfortunately Radcliffe gets overshadowed in most of his scenes, but it’s hard to shine with a cast like Gambon, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and newcomer Jim Broadbent who plays the new Professor Slughorn. The special effects have also improved with this film as the spells and magical objects look even better, and when our characters explore the Weasly twins wizard joke shop the visuals are astounding.
While many of the flaws of previous Harry Potter movies were fixed, like the plot is actually understandable to non book readers this time, Half Blood Prince is not flawless. Most of story that Yates changes or leaves out are great improvements for the movie, there are a couple that he definitely should not have touched. The climax in the cave is brilliant, but instead of leading to an even bigger climax like the book did with an epic battle, the movie completely leaves this part out. There was a lot of build up for a massive battle, but it seemed to be for nothing.
Overall Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is leaps and bounds ahead of all the other Potter films, but what stops it from true greatness is the anticlimactic ending. It is ¾ of a great movie, which makes it still worth while. Since the next and final Harry Potter book is being split into two movies (which allows more time to connect with characters and subplots), I expect more great things from David Yates with this series.