It is never an easy task to take a book—especially a book as long as 652-page Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—and turn it into a cohesive film. Director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves give a valiant effort, but the film never realizes the full potential of the subject matter.
For those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, HBP finds the students of Hogwarts in grave danger. Voldemort, the most evil dark wizard of all time, has been resurrected and is setting into motion wizardly ethnic cleansing. A half-breed himself (half human, half wizard), the self-loathing Voldemort believes any wizard not born in a pure-blood fashion deserves to die. Voldemort’s followers, the Death Eaters, have the greater wizard community living in a state of terror.
The film opens in a futuristic office building as the sky darkens ominously and black smoke starts flying all over the place. Suddenly, the head Death Eater (Helena Bonham Carter) and crew wreck some bridge for no apparent reason (I suppose this is to show how evil they truly are, but the scene feels utterly pointless, other than to show off some CGI).
Meanwhile, Harry and his gang, now in their sixth year at Hogwarts, have finally discovered girls—a turn of events that becomes all too vivid as everybody starts making out with everybody else and one that shows, wizard or no, these are indeed real people who are just as susceptible to the pitfalls of love and hurt and murder as any muggle. But Daniel Radcliffe seems to have grown too comfortable in his role as Harry, and has trouble conveying the emotional pain we are expected to believe has plagued him his entire life.
There are exceptional performances from most of the supporting cast, most notably Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Felton has evolved his character from a smug little bastard into a mature and dark character who struggles with his own evil intent, but is not yet ready to commit murder. Michael Gambon is brilliant as Dumbledore, the only wizard who could possibly stand up to the evil Voldemort.
But attempts to make comprehensible the ongoing larger saga of Voldemort’s assault on the wizard community, Harry’s emotional development and his date with destiny as Voldemort’s nemesis fail.
For viewers who haven’t read the books, the movie will make no sense. For avid readers, the film holds true to the story line but fails to capture the darker subtext of JK Rowling’s magical realism.
Of course, rabid Potter fans will no doubt see the newest installment of the film regardless, but will probably feel angry when they realize its release was delayed for eight months, and we could have been bitching about its shortcomings since last November.