Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

2009, PG, 153 min. Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 17, 2009

Before, the films were just garnish, really, to a marvelous text that continued to mature simpaticolike with its hero Harry Potter (Radcliffe), the orphan wizard predestined to battle dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). But now, with author J.K. Rowling having shut the proverbial book (all seven of 'em) on the Potterverse, the films are all we have to go on, which is why we want so very much for the filmmakers to get it right, Rowling's potent mix of the cozy and the calamitous. Yates returns as director after his superlative Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (besting, in my book, even Alfonso Cuarón’s artful, toil-and-trouble Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). From its terrifying first tangle with soul-sucking Dementors to the tragic last-act death of Harry’s godfather, The Order of the Phoenix was tonally true to the deepening sinisterness of Rowling’s books: This is, after all, a world at war. The opening frames of The Half-Blood Prince further the series’ urgency and panic: Voldemort’s agents, the Death Eaters, have launched a full-scale assault on both wizards and Muggles (regular folk, that is), sacking shops and laying waste to the Millennium Bridge in an opening volley that plays like a vise grip on the lungs. But why then, when the students return for a new term at their beloved Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, does it all feel like business as usual? Gone is any escalation, the ever-thickening, ever-sickening sense of dread; The Half-Blood Prince would rather flush pink with its lovesick teens than forward-thrust toward the mammoth battle of good vs. evil. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a giggling good time, watching adolescent boys try to work out their feelings, and the film’s leading trio – Radcliffe as tormented Harry; Grint as his lunkheaded best friend, Ron Weasely; and Watson as their tart Gal Friday, Hermione Granger – has grown from stuttering child actors – mere babes! – into confident, even subtle performers with an easy rapport. But with all the hemming and hawing over love stuff, the action and the epicness have gone missing. The films have always had a revolving door for cast and crew, which has led to some delightful discoveries: This year's vintage is Broadbent as an overpuffed potions instructor, his bushy, cocked eyebrows doing most of the work. But that revolving door also means the loss of earlier talents; The Order of the Phoenix had two that now, in retrospect, proved integral to that film’s success, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (who previously shot for Kieslowski, ’nuff said) and scripter Michael Goldenberg. Despite the occasionally arresting visual, new director of photography Bruno Delbonnel’s work tips toward murky and undistinguished (which may have something to do with a reported rejiggering of a radical color palette the studio had gripes with). And after a one-film breather, screenwriter Steve Kloves has tapped out something both sprawling and yet weirdly slight. Fidelity to the source – all 757 pages of it – was of course an impossibility, and we get that certain subplots would have to go (fare thee well, Fleur and Bill, Tonks and Lupin). But Kloves inexplicably guts the book’s last 100 pages – you know, the part you wept your way through – torching major plot points and character motivations, a thrilling battle, a state funeral, and a heart-in-your-throat declaration of self-sacrifice. It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of Potter, and when looking back at the just-competent first outings, well, baby, you’ve come a long way. But still: Where’s the magic, huh?

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More David Yates Films
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald‎
Fewer beasts, but a much better story, make this sequel magical

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 16, 2018

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
A delightful return to the world of Harry Potter

Josh Kupecki, Nov. 18, 2016

More by Kimberley Jones
The 355
International crime-fighting with Jessica Chastain’s superspies

Jan. 14, 2022

We Have an Issue: What’s Next?
We Have an Issue: What’s Next?
Adapting to Omicron and everything else life throws our way

Jan. 14, 2022


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, David Yates, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Warwick Davis, Tom Felton

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle