Science fiction and fantasy
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
directed by David Yates
Thanks to his family connection with badness, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been given an important mission by Voldemort. But is Draco enough of a villain to carry it out? His mother is worried enough about him to try to enlist the help of Professor Snape (Alan Rickman). But the former Potions Master has sworn off his Death Eater ways, and is trusted by the headmaster Dumbledore (Alan Rickman). Is Snape about to betray them all, or is he merely setting up an elaborate ruse in order to fool the Death Eaters into trusting him?
Tom Felton is convincing as the tortured Draco, steeling himself to do something terrible. But unfortunately the tension of this situation is played down. What's more, Snape's role in the story is made far more obvious than it is in the book. In the novel there's a lot of fun to be had trying to work out which side he is really on by piecing together all of the clues. However the film more or less hands you the answer on a plate. So much for mystery.
Nor is there all that much excitement. The ending has none of the racing around that happens in the novel, when the characters take part in a desperate chase around Hogwarts. This part of the movie is actually very sedate by comparison. It's not often that can be said of a movie.
Like many previous Harry Potter films, a hatchet has been taken to the plot in order to shoehorn the story into a shorter duration. Out goes Kreacher the house elf, the Dursleys, most of the story between Remus Lupin and Tonks, and many other aspects of the book. There are hints of the Death Eater's impact on the lives of muggles, such as wanted posters and the destruction of the bridge in the opening scene. But the oppressive atmosphere of Voldemort's return and the start of his reign of terror simply doesn't come across.
Instead David Yates has chosen to focus on life going on as usual. Ron (Rupert Grint) blithely enjoys a romance with Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), to Hermione's consternation. Meanwhile Harry's feelings for Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) are growing. Jim Broadbent plays a larger-than-life Horace Slughorn, the new professor of potions. Slughorn displays a distinct favouritism towards famous students, and he comes over as just as preposterous as any of Rowling's characters. Rupert Grint's comic timing has improved, providing slapstick humour in all the right places. So this movie isn't short of a few laughs.
What it does lack though is suspense. It's relatively understated, and the sad tone comes to dominate every other possible emotion. Unfortunately this interpretation doesn't seem to work very well. Too many of the good parts from the source material have been discarded, and what's left is something of a let-down.
If you like this, try:Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Mike Newell
Harry discovers the joy of Yule Balls. The fourth film in the Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by Alfonso Cuaron
Will Harry's third year at Hogwarts see his worst fears realised?
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by Chris Columbus
The boy wizard begins his second term at Hogwarts.
Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about David Yates