The Review: I can’t speak as a complete authority on the subject, having never felt compelled to read the books, but from what I understand on the subject, the Harry Potter films have been some of the most faithful book to screen adaptations seen in recent years. Consequently, they have also been subject to the same formula that the books have since the start; Potter gets in trouble with the Dursleys, then travels to Hogwarts for another year of magic and mayhem in which slightly more information will be revealed about Harry and his relationship to Lord Voldemort. After six years, familiarity hasn’t quite bred contempt but certainly the series was starting to feel stuck in something of a rut, so the biggest benefit from the off is that the plot necessitates keeping away from Hogwarts and also keeping on the move.
So we track Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run as they head across country. We’ll ignore the fact that it’s never entirely clear to them where they’re running to for large periods, as it’s just good to be out of the house, y’know? The main consequence of the direct nature of the adaptations is that they’re vulnerable to any idiosyncrasies or oddities of J.K. Rowling’s writing, and while certain awkward subplots of previous efforts have been successfully excised, the key problem here is with the title itself. Half-Blood Prince goes the effort of setting up the horcruxes and the complex method behind them; the fact that the trio are working to find them without clues makes their quest a little aimless, on top of which the Deathly Hallows themselves feel like just another MacGuffin, and unfortunately having seven horcruxes and three hallows will make it very hard to anyone to keep track if they’ve not brought their scorecard with them.
The other stumbling block to that, of course, is the fact that this is only part 1 of 2, and it’s a split that Rowling never intended. While there never feels like vast chunks of plot that could have been sacrificed, the fact that there’s no sense of closure to anything in this movie might leave a few feeling short changed. What does work on its own in this part is the chance for the three young leads to have a significant amount of screen time to themselves and to explore their various friendships and other possible methods of acquaintance. Ratcliffe, Watson and Grint have all come on in leaps and bounds and the thing which will keep most of their fans coming back to this in future years is their scenes together, and they’ve all never been better than they are here. Very few others get chance to make a serious impression here, although Fiennes and Bonham Carter continue to do sterling work for the side of evil.
But what we’re left with is half a film, which feels more like a big screen episode than a self-contained unit than any of its predecessors. Only time will tell if the split has been made in the correct place, but director David Yates especially does his best to make the big moments stand out and give Part 1 a sense of occasion – while he’s always felt a good choice for the series, he probably delivers some of his best work for it here, and in particular the real world, with Potter and friends on the streets of London, feels strangely alien and detached, a sure sign that we’re empathising more with the wizards than the muggles. A slightly downbeat feeling (and a very downbeat and ominous ending) will hopefully get the crowds returning for part 2, though.
Why see it at the cinema: The scope is certainly the biggest since Prisoner Of Azkaban, so enjoy the wide open spaces and the sense of drama on the largest screen you can find.
The Score: 7/10