×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The students at Hogwarts are forced to grapple with heavy issues of mortality, memory and loss.

With:
Harry Potter - Daniel Radcliffe Ron Weasley - Rupert Grint Hermione Granger - Emma Watson Bellatrix Lestrange - Helena Bonham Carter Professor Horace Slughorn - Jim Broadbent Rubeus Hagrid - Robbie Coltrane Professor Albus Dumbledore - Michael Gambon Professor Severus Snape - Alan Rickman Professor Minerva McGonagall - Maggie Smith Wormtail - Timothy Spall Remus Lupin - David Thewlis Argus Filch - David Bradley Professor Filius Flitwick - Warwick Davis Draco Malfoy - Tom Felton

Kids’ stuff is a thing of the past in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Suddenly looking quite grown up, the students at Hogwarts are forced to grapple with heavy issues of mortality, memory and loss in this sixth installment in the series of bigscreen adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Potter tales. Dazzlingly well made and perhaps deliberately less fanciful than the previous entries, this one is played in a mode closer to palpable life-or-death drama than any of the others and is quite effective as such. Delayed by Warner Bros. from a late 2008 release date so as to spread the wealth after “The Dark Knight” scored so mightily last summer, this “Prince” is poised to follow its predecessors as one of the year’s two or three top-earning films.

After sitting out “The Order of the Phoenix,” screenwriter Steve Kloves happily returned to once again skillfully condense a massive book into manageable dramatic form; among many tough narrative decisions, he has cut back on the violent mayhem surrounding the murderous climax and put off the introduction of Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour until the next episode.

Popular on Variety

Director David Yates, after a prosaic series debut on the prior film, displays noticeably increased confidence here, injecting more real-world grit into what began eight years ago as purest child’s fantasy; messenger owls and chattering house elves have been superseded by a frank Underground tea-room flirtation, school security checks and raging teenage hormones. The sets have been stripped down to reduce Hogwarts’ fairy-book aspects and emphasize its gray medieval character, and even the obligatory Quidditch match is staged with greater attention to spatial comprehensibility than ever before.

As the overarching story ramps up toward one major character’s death at the end of part six and the final confrontation between Harry and archfiend Voldemort in the climactic “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which is being shot as a two-part film, this increased seriousness is all to the good. It’s hard to imagine watching “Half-Blood Prince” as a “Potter” virgin without a clue as to what’s come before, but it’s a formidable entry with a heft and cinematic texture compromised only by a certain lack of dramatic modulation.

With the villainess of the last picture, Dolores Umbridge, out of the way but the unseen Lord Voldemort in the ascendant, neither London, subject to a startling opening-scene Death Eater attack, nor Hogwarts itself can be regarded as safe from the Dark Lord’s gathering storm. While Dumbledore takes Harry along to recruit former colleague Horace Slughorn to return to Hogwarts as new potions professor and, he hopes, to provide crucial revelations about Voldemort, Harry’s student nemesis, Draco Malfoy, prepares to commit a heinous crime designed to pave the way for Voldemort’s comeback.

While Harry remains mindful of his status as the “Chosen One,” he is not entirely exempt from the lusts, jealousies and intrigues that preoccupy his fellow teenagers as never before. While Harry’s growing fondness for Ron’s sister Ginny is slowly developing, Ron is a sitting duck for the attentions of the irrepressible Lavender Brown. But, as we know, the brilliant Hermione unaccountably loves the comparatively slow-witted Ron, and she has only Harry’s shoulder to cry on when he’s not squiring space cadet Luna Lovegood.

But assessing the romantic entanglements is not nearly as much fun as simply beholding the big physical changes in the young actors, whose onscreen maturation will have been documented across the span of a decade when all is said and done. The biggest change since “Phoenix” two years ago has been registered by Tom Felton, who plays Malfoy; he’s now a tall stringbean in the Jimmy Stewart mold, with a face that’s come to resemble that of Jonathan Pryce, and he towers over Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, who looks to be the shortest person in the cast (not true when Imelda Staunton was around).

Rupert Grint, as Ron, has always looked a tad older than the others and continues to while showing more character. Emma Watson, perennially appealing as Hermione, has become a very attractive young woman, and Bonnie Wright’s Ginny intrigues as the sort of initial plain Jane who keeps growing on you.

Joining such returning stalwarts as Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Warwick Davis among the Hogwarts staff is Jim Broadbent, who makes a terrific disguised entrance and is then simply grand as the eccentric old prof whom Harry presses for crucial insights into Voldemort; latter’s student incarnation as Tom Riddle is seen in two crucial memory sequences.

It’s this chapter in the Potter saga that obliges the always nasty but ambiguously motivated Severus Snape to show his true colors, and the indispensable Rickman delivers, as always, with line readings that are delicacies of the infinitely mordant kind. He is periodically egged on by the insidious Bellatrix Lestrange, a role Helena Bonham Carter plays with such mesmerizing abandon that one hopes the role fully pays off in the final chapter.

The particulars of Dumbledore’s final quest with Harry could prove a bit confusing to the uninitiated, although there are unlikely to be many of those in the audience at this stage. Otherwise, the film is clear-headed and clean-lined; now that he’s at home with the material, Yates has made a “Potter” picture that is less desperate to please than any of its predecessors, itself a sign of series maturity.

Among the always outstanding production values and top-drawer visual effects, special note should be made of series newcomer Bruno Delbonnel’s exceptionally atmospheric cinematography and Nicholas Hooper’s emotionally churning score, which contains only the slightest trace of John Williams’ original themes.

After two PG-13-rated entries, this one has won a PG, matching the first three. At 153 minutes, “Half-Blood Prince” is the third-longest feature in the series and seems just about right; “Order of the Phoenix,” at 138 minutes, actually felt too short.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Heyday Films production. Produced by David Heyman, David Barron. Executive producer, Lionel Wigram. Co-producer, John Trehy. Directed by David Yates. Screenplay, Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Bruno Delbonnel; editor, Mark Day; music, Nicholas Hooper; production designer, Stuart Craig; supervising art director, Neil Lamont; senior art director, Andrew Ackland-Snow; art directors, Al Bullock, Sloane U'ren Neely, Gary Tomkins, Hattie Storey, Martin Schadler, Martin Foley, Molly Hughes; set decorators, Stephenie McMillan, Rosie Goodwin; costume designer, Jany Temime; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Stuart Wilson; supervising sound editor, James Mather; re-recording mixers, Stuart Hilliker, Mike Dowson; visual effects supervisor, Tim Burke; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, the Moving Picture Co., Double Negative, Rising Sun Pictures, Cinesite (Europe), Framestore, Luma Pictures; special effects supervisor, John Richardson; makeup and creature effects designer, Nick Dudman; assistant director, Jamie Christopher; second unit director, Stephen Woolfenden; second unit camera, Mike Brewster; casting, Fiona Weir. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, July 1, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 153 MIN.

With: Harry Potter - Daniel Radcliffe Ron Weasley - Rupert Grint Hermione Granger - Emma Watson Bellatrix Lestrange - Helena Bonham Carter Professor Horace Slughorn - Jim Broadbent Rubeus Hagrid - Robbie Coltrane Professor Albus Dumbledore - Michael Gambon Professor Severus Snape - Alan Rickman Professor Minerva McGonagall - Maggie Smith Wormtail - Timothy Spall Remus Lupin - David Thewlis Argus Filch - David Bradley Professor Filius Flitwick - Warwick Davis Draco Malfoy - Tom FeltonWith: Gemma Jones, Natalia Tena, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Bonnie Wright, Dave Legeno, Jessie Cave, Alfred Enoch, Evanna Lynch, Anna Shaffer, Georgina Leonidas, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Frank Dillane.

More Film

  • Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and

    Film News Roundup: Leonardo DiCaprio Presenting Robert De Niro SAG Life Achievement Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Leonardo DiCaprio will present Robert De Niro with his SAG Life Achievement Award, the Oliver Sacks documentary finds a home and UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television gets a new dean. AWARD PRESENTATION Leonardo DiCaprio has been selected to present Robert De Niro the SAG Life Achievement Award  at [...]

  • KARNAWAL

    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • (center) George MacKay as Schofield in

    From "1917" to "Jojo Rabbit," Composers of Some of the Year's Top Scores Talk Shop

    “1917,” Thomas Newman The 20-year collaboration of director Sam Mendes and composer Thomas Newman has encompassed midlife crisis (“American Beauty”), crime in the Depression (“Road to Perdition”), the Gulf War (“Jarhead”), marriage in the 1950s (“Revolutionary Road”) and two James Bond adventures (“Skyfall,” “Spectre”). Now they’ve tackled World War I, with “1917,” but Mendes’ much-talked-about [...]

  • Billy Magnussen Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Spinoff With Billy Magnussen's Character in the Works for Disney Plus

    Disney is developing a spinoff of its live-action “Aladdin” with Billy Magnussen reprising his Prince Anders character. The unnamed project is in early development for the studio’s recently launched Disney Plus streaming service. Disney has hired Jordan Dunn and Michael Kvamme to write a script centered on the haughty Prince Anders, one of Princess Jasmine’s [...]

  • ROAD TRIP – In Disney and

    Disney Boasts a Bevy of Hopefuls for Oscar's Original Song Race

    When the Academy announces its shortlist for song nominations on Dec. 16, you can be certain that at least one Disney song will be on it and probably more. Disney songs have been nominated 33 times in the past 30 years, winning 12 of the gold statuettes. This year, the studio has at least four [...]

  • Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    It’s next to impossible for a documentary score to be Oscar-nominated alongside the dozens of fictional narratives entered each year. But it did happen, just once: In 1975, composer Gerald Fried was nominated for his music for “Birds Do It, Bees Do It,” a documentary on the mating habits of animals. Fried, now 91, perhaps [...]

  • Ron Leibman, Jessica Walter'Mary Stuart' Play

    Ron Leibman, Tony-Winning Actor Known for 'Angels in America' and 'Friends,' Dies at 82

    Ron Leibman, an Emmy-winning actor who garnered a Tony for his work in Broadway’s “Angels in America” and played the father of Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green on “Friends,” died on Friday. He was 82. Robert Attermann, CEO of Abrams Artists Agency, confirmed the news to Variety. No further details were immediately available. Leibman, a native [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content