I was chosen for this! Out of all others – Me! And I won’t fail him.
As mentioned, the film’s main story line is a sub-plot during a pause break from the series’ overall arc, that of Voldemort and his attempts to kill Harry, and at the same time trying to rise back to power. The plot does tie in to the main arc subtly, however. At the end of the last film, Voldemort attempted to trap and exterminate Harry, but was intercepted by Dumbledore while the Order battled the Death Eaters. In which the Dark Lord learned that in order to get to Harry once and for all, he would first need to get to Harry’s protector.
Most of the Death Eaters were captured by the Order of the Phoenix and sentenced to Azkaban by the Ministry of Magic in the events following the climactic battle of the last installment. Because of this, Voldemort has given a vital mission to Lucius’ son, Draco Malfoy. Authoritative figures of Hogwarts have taken measures to secure safety at the school, especially since the school is remaining open in the face of danger. A protective force field now shields the grounds, acting as a barrier to any potential outside attacks. Because of this, Voldemort needed someone on the inside to fulfill his assignment.
Before the term proceeds, Dumbledore takes Potter along with him to re-recruit an old colleague of his, Horace Slughorn, to once again take up teaching at the school. Once the term begins, we learn that Slughorn will not be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, as all other British guest appearances in the series have done, but instead will fill Snape’s former role of Potions master, while Snape finally gets the chance he’s been waiting for throughout the entire series and gets bumped up to Defense professor. Unfortunately, we never get the chance to see this, resulting in an unsatisfied payoff for Snape fans. As a matter of fact, we never see ANY classes besides Potions with Professor Slughorn. I felt this was not right. Through the course of the film franchise, we see each year in the lives of the Hogwarts students, and what it is they come to learn that year. Sure, new things happen in their lives as well, which may be the main plot of a certain installment, but we are still treated to the classes, especially Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Professor McGonagall instructs Harry to have Ron accompany him in the Potions class, as he is having way too much fun in his free period standing in the halls and gawking at all the pretty girls. Potter never had the chance to buy his textbook as he was under the impression that Snape would be teaching the Potions class this year, and scores from his O.W.L. Test, taken last year, were too low to enroll. As well, Ron does without because Harry was instructed to bring him along on the spot, and therefore, Slughorn instructs them to borrow used books for the year. Ron beats Harry to the book that has been well-treated, and Harry gets the crappy book. In which he soon learns has been altered by footnotes and annotations that are required to successfully attempt to recreate the recipes contained within it. Also doodled in are spells that Potter has never heard of.
Throughout the year, we learn that Harry is now Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team, and Ron and Ginny try out for auditions. Ginny, largely eyeballing Harry in the last installment, now seems more comfortable about herself, to the point where she plays a bigger role in this film. That was welcomed whole-heartedly. Ron also adapts an obsessive girlfriend, Lavender Brown, which breaks Hermione’s heart and later makes her disgusted to be around them. Harry also realizes that he has feelings for Ginny, knowing full well that she has liked him since she was a little girl, but now in her fifth year he sees her as more grown up and more an equal than before. Though he is weary of Ron, since that is his little sister and he wouldn’t want to betray his friend. In my opinion Ron, throughout the last few films, seems indecisive, as he should know well by now that feelings he has for Hermione are reciprocal, especially after her episodic breakdown in “Goblet of Fire.” However they do subtly begin flirting in this film, especially in the Three Broomsticks pub scene.
A lot of people have said that the romantic story arcs in this film are too much, and weigh the film down. While I do agree that these scenes are abundant, I must disagree with weighing the film down, as I feel that this is the perfect film to portray these side stories, with HP6 taking a break from the main plot and acting as a prelude to the Final Battle which is to come in the next two films. “Deathly Hallows” will have so many resolutions and payoffs that it was almost necessary to build everything up in this one.
One of the real treats was the character of Draco and his arc, which allowed for more screen time for Potter’s rival equal and gave so much depth and growth for the character. There is a story there which allows us to feel the boy’s pain and makes us feel sympathetic. This film was a combination of devotion to the characters of Draco and Dumbledore, to which Draco rightly steals the show.
I must say, however, that even though I am oblivious to the novel’s story, I did feel as a film viewer that the sixth year of Hogwarts was largely rushed. As I mentioned above, only one class for the year was shown, and nothing save Harry learning a disastrous dark spell was shown revolving around what the students were learning this year. This coupled with the fact that explanations are left out and cause the viewer’s mind to wander bring this installment down some. Examples of this are found throughout the movie. Whether it is a new Death Eater we have yet to be formerly introduced to, even though you may catch his name on a Wanted flier, or wondering just when Harry and Draco learned the non-verbal magic used in their mini-battle that only the adults have been seen to use in the series, or even what exactly happened to the Death Eaters like Draco’s father (Lucius) that were surrounded by the Order in the last movie, none of it is explained. And that is a very bad move on the writers’ part. Hinted is the fact that Harry learns some sort of Disapparation from Dumbledore, but none of the other students do and it has yet to pay off. And even though we know that Hermione is supposed to become this very powerful witch, there is no preparation for it in this movie, which is a let down.
The core three return, of course, and each does exceedingly well. It seems that Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have perfected their roles of Potter, Ron and Hermione, respectively. Harry comes into his own adulthood even moreso than HP5, but I must praise the acting from Grint and Watson especially. While Grint shows us more of the same comedic relief, he also has an air about him that is quiet and subtle yet rich, while Watson gives us some emotionally-charged scenes that add to her range of talents.
Tom Felton exceeds the previous pretty-boy smack-talker role with his Draco Malfoy. I feel that he steals this episode, and converts our ideas about his character right in front of us. Brilliant acting on his part, and I look forward to the rest of his arc in “Deathly Hallows.”
Sir Michael Gambon is my favorite Dumbledore. He has grown on me since his inception in HP3 when he took over the role from the late Richard Harris, a sad victim of Hodgkin’s disease, and has perfected the role with each film. In a sense, this is largely Dumbledore’s movie, and the scene with the dark potion was so well done. Hats off to Gambon for an amazing talent.
Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley was a fan favorite of mine in this one. After re-watching “Order of the Phoenix” before I went and saw this, I caught all her subtle looks and quiet personality that led up to her performance in this one. I was expecting a bigger role from her, and that’s exactly what I got. Bravo.
Jim Broadbent was insane as the new guest appearance professor, Horace Slughorn. He provided a lot of comic relief of the movie, and later his serious scenes were equally as driven. I felt he was perfectly cast. “Hands on deck, Granger!” Haha that was hilarious.
Helena Bonham Carter plays a perfect Bellatrix LeStrange. She is evil and crafty, everything a hocus pocus type witch should be, though she is a dark one. One of my favorite Death Eaters, right under Lucius Malfoy. She gets a bigger role in this one, too.
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape was overshadowed in this film by the other characters, but shined in every moment he had. There was simply too much side story to tell, but I expect much more from him in the next two installments. I only wish they would have shown how he teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Helen McCrory is a newcomer to the cast list as Narcissa Malfoy, Draco’s mother as well as Bellatrix’s sister. Originally cast as Bellatrix in HP5, she had to drop out due to being pregnant, and I’m glad. She plays an excellent Narcissa, although she is not given much screen time at all, and doesn’t even mention Lucius or where he is for the moment. I hope to see more of her next time around.
The rest of the cast either had nothing much to do, were not present at all, or were largely overshadowed by the arcs of the other characters. It’s sad to miss them gracing the sixth year, but it works out and I think in the next two films it will all be paid off.
David Yates returns to the franchise after successfully taking the series further into the dark with HP5’s “Order of the Phoenix,” and is the right man for the job. I wouldn’t say, however, that I would wish he had taken step in the Director’s Chair from film one, because it just would not be fit right. No, he is the right man to take the franchise down a darker path, and he is succeeding. I can’t explain what he does right in order to accomplish this, but whatever he is doing, it is not without excellence. I can only hope in the next two installments in which he will return to helm, the long-awaited battles will not disappoint, for it is the reason most of us adults have stuck around to witness the story advance further – those of us who have not read the J.K. Rowling books.
“Half-Blood Prince” is a spectacular visual delight. The awesome teal hues used in this film were unbelievably and successfully achieved with absolute precision. The brilliant computer-generated images such as the Disapparations of the Death Eaters and the Dumbledore fire sequence in the Cave was absolutely spellbinding. Also the Pensieve memory sequences were just as delighting. I was looking forward to at least one more battle such as in the climax of “Order of the Phoenix,” but we are not treated to one here. The closest this film came to one was the field scene at the Weasley residence, but sadly it never twisted into that. The visuals we do get are nonetheless astounding.
The sixth film had some missteps, but it was still an enjoyable installment, and as a side story it also works as a precursor to “Deathly Hallows” Parts I & II, which influenced the final draft of “Half-Blood Prince.” There are some obvious setups for the following films which the foundation is laid here, and a very sad cliffhanger which adds to the darkness of this film. As far as the “Dark Secrets Revealed” as marketed on the posters, there is really only one revelation, and it is what moves this story forward. The last half of the film follows its predecessor as it is grimly dark-themed, and achieves praise in my book for doing so. I felt somewhat cheated the first time around, but after a second viewing I feel that there was no other way to handle this point in the series, and the stuff included was the right material. The resolution will come, and we must keep in mind that there are still two more installments to go.