2009 | Director: David Yates (“Harry Potter 5”) | Writer: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter 1-4,” “Wonder Boys”)
The “Harry Potter” films—like J.K. Rowling’s books before them—are remarkable in that no single aspect of any of the movies stands out; audiences are truly receiving them as parts of the whole overarching storyline, which is a testament to Rowling’s fantastically accessible source material as much as it is due to level-headed directors and solid acting. So while David Yates’ well-done “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” doesn’t manage to separate itself much from the previous five entries, such a feat would not have been necessary, nor welcome, in a series that relies so heavily on the coming-of-age journey.
“Half-Blood Prince” begins where “Order of the Phoenix” left off, then takes Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) off with venerable Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) on a quest to piece together murderous Lord Voldemort’s past, a quest that requires the assistance of an unwilling Hogwarts potions professor (a wonderful Jim Broadbent, “Hot Fuzz”) with ties to unspeakable evil, if a devastating climax is to be averted.
Meanwhile, love is in the air, and much like in the scene in “Bambi” where all the animals go through puberty and decide that creatures of the opposite gender are sexy, the Hogwarts students start going googly-eyed for each other. Not immune to such twitterpated behavior are Harry’s buds Ron (Rupert Grint, never better), Hermoine (Emma Watson, never as legally hot), and everybody else, for good measure.
If nothing in the last two paragraphs makes sense, that’s because Yates understands that none of the “Harry Potter” films need to be able to stand alone—“Half-Blood Prince” is a serial in the best sense of the word, and the filmmakers seem to find freedom in that. Where Yates truly excels is finding balance between the great number of surprisingly humorous moments and the ever-ramping sense of dread that has picked up since “Goblet of Fire;” while this is by far the funniest Potter film, there is never any doubt that the mostly-carefree world that existed in the beginning of the series has permanently changed for the worse, exemplified by Bruno Delbonnel’s pristinely baroque cinematography.
Fans love Rowling’s series because she’s injected the universal tale of growing up, making it through school, and learning to love with elements of fantasy and the deeply satisfying undercurrent of heroism; but in a way, the filmmakers in charge of bringing the series to the silver screen have achieved even greater heights in that they’ve somehow faithfully adapted such a far-reaching, thematically-dense epic without lessening the impact it’s had on the page. In that sense, Yates may be little more than a middle-man, but his delivery is in perfect sync with Rowling’s own vision.
Rating: Four of Five Stars