The Review: So, it’s all come down to this. Ten years it’s taken, but the boy wizard has grown up and now must become a man, as his epic quest to defeat Voldemort must come to a climax. Of course, it could be six months since you saw Part 1, and that in itself wasn’t really the start of the end of the story. For that we have to look back to film number six, where we learned of the horcruxes and the fact that destroying them was essential to destroying He-Who-Has-His-Nose-Removed-In-Post-Production. Somehow, the first part of the final film not only managed just to turn up one more horcrux, but also featured J.K. Rowling’s attempt to achieve the maximum number of MacGuffins in one film as the Deathly Hallows were also introduced. If you’ve somehow forgotten all of this before going in, then good luck keeping up. You’re going to need it.
The biggest stumbling block to the flow of events is the nature of where the split took place. While the climactic events of Part 1 may have been a reasonably dramatic ending, they have resulted in a slightly fractured Part 2, which consists of two parts. The first is a trip to Gringott’s bank on the search for the next horcrux, and then the trail leads back, somewhat inevitably, to Hogwarts, where events come to a head and Voldemort and his cronies lay siege to an increasingly beleaguered staff and students. As you would expect with such an epic saga, this is where everything has to come to a head, but unlike your Star Wars or your Lord Of The Rings, where the main cast have been split into a number of different groups and increasing amounts of cross-cutting are required to keep up with events, we by and large follow the central trio as they navigate through events, and so there are never more than two real narrative strands going on.
There’s an unfortunate side-effect of this; as ever, it’s driven initially by the book’s choices and consequently there’s a lot that happens off screen in the last half of the movie. Whole swathes of characters who’ve had significant screen time in the previous chapters get blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em cameos here, some not even getting a line, and while there’s more death here of known characters than either Lucas or Jackson’s epics in their respective final chapters, almost all of it here happens off screen, and largely robs it of feeling – a clearer distinction between book and screen here, and just a little more division of focus in the right places, might have paid great dividends. The plot also takes no prisoners, so if you don’t remember your basics, like the names of the four school houses, then a lot of this will just be short people running around waving sticks at each other. The literary slavishness also extends to the epilogue; reports say they filmed it twice, but to be honest they could have filmed it a thousand times and it would never have been anything other than laughable.
But these are not huge faults, and the overall tone is kept on a tight leash; from the opening bank raid, the tension is ratcheted up, the mood is dark and the stakes are high, and there’s a suitably epic feel to scenes at Hogwarts that even surpasses the sweeping vistas of Prisoner Of Azkaban. But high stakes also require high acting, and as good as Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have become, their best moments are in earlier films. The highlights are the wonderful Ralph Fiennes, who never feels anything less than pure evil and wraps his tongue around his lines without ever making it feel pantomime, and Alan Rickman, who has excelled as Severus Snape right throughout the series and does some of his best, and most understated work, here as his true nature and motives finally become apparent. All in all a largely satisfying end to a mixed saga, but let’s hope J.K. Rowling, and Warner Brothers, leave well enough alone now, sleeping on their giant piles of cash.
Why see it at the cinema: Probably the second best of the series, the epic scope and scale of destruction wrought deserves a trip to the cinema – and it might be the last chance you get to see Potter on the big screen, outside that inevitable 25th anniversary re-release with added elves.
Why see it in 3D: There have been complaints that it’s dark and murky, but if you take the 3D glasses off you realise how much they’ve upped the light levels to compensate for the effect of the glasses. Most of the “in your face” moments happen early on, so it’s by no means essential to see this in 3D.
The Score: 7/10
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