The Half-Blood Prince
30 July 2009
The latest installment in the Harry Potter series left me quite optimistic for the upcoming two-part ending to the film adaptation, but left me cold in its own right. My reasons for being hopeful for the future are mostly to do with the fact that Steve Kloves seems to have finally understood that the Harry Potter stories are hugely character-driven, and that adaptations should have that in mind instead of just rushing through the Major Plot Points (and his previous adaptations, which essentially crippled the film series and kept it from reaching its full potential, don't even cover the Small Plot Points which become Major Plot Points in later installments of Rowling's tightly-plotted fantasy saga).

Indeed, those bits really work here, it translates much of the charm of the sixth book, rooted in the characters dealing with their hormones, to film very well. David Yates and his editors prove excellent at capturing the comedic aspects of the film, which are plentiful, and the actors delight in performing them. The main three actors haven't just grown out of their young awkwardness, but have truly become their characters, so much so that everything they do here seems to be second nature. The presence of seemingly natural comedians and comediennes in the main and supporting cast really helps the film's teen comedy, which is genuinely sweet and good-natured and fun.

Where the film fails is in maintaining the right tone, which was always going to be tricky for this particular book in the series. The Big Action Set-Pieces are messily woven into the bigger picture, a fault of the screenplay probably but Yates doesn't help keep the film's tonality from wavering constantly. Credit to Yates for staging the Big Action Set-Pieces quite nicely, though, particularly the washroom battle between Harry and Malfoy, which is spatially coherent despite being quite hectic. The actors perform earnestly during the Big Dramatic Scenes, but the film has several scenes towards the end which drag on far too long for their own good, and the film does feel its length.

Steve Kloves harmed his own film with the quality of his earlier adaptations, but this was a superior effort when compared to his previous attempts, but still inferior, I thought, to the well-paced and enjoyable adaptation of the fifth book, penned by someone else whose name I'm too lazy to look up right now. In terms of tone, structure, and the strength of the performances, "The Half-Blood Prince" is a step in the right direction, and the movie does a lot right only to fall apart in the final half hour. For now, I'm willing to write this movie's failures off as a misfire and hope for the best for the future. I can't say I'm sorry to see that cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel isn't coming back either.
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