Though critics say Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is entertaining and well acted, they also worry that its teenage stars are now too attractive.
Half-Blood Prince opened today and has already earned $22.2 million from midnight showings last night, making it the biggest midnight gross of all time, according to Variety. Criticism of the film is unlikely to influence the film's revenue at this point, but many reviewers noted that if you haven't read the books or seen the previous films in the series, The Half-Blood Prince wastes no time filling viewers in on the back story (though expecting an explanation of the last five films seems pretty unreasonable). According to critics, screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates, who have both worked on previous Harry Potter films, had a hard enough time adapting just what's in the exposition-heavy book, but managed to preserve the major plot points. Basically, Harry finds the anonymous Half-Blood Prince's potions book with helpful notes written in the margins and begins private lessons with Professor Dumbledore, during which Voldemort's past is revealed Voldemort. Meanwhile, the kids discover the opposite sex: Harry develops a crush on Ginny Weasley and Ron starts dating Lavender Brown, which leads to much teenage angst for Hermione.
Since every other chapter in the book was a flashback about Tom Riddle (who becomes Voldemort) and there isn't much action until the end, Half-Blood Prince may have been the most difficult book to adapt to film. Even the book is mostly setting up for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now that the final book has been split into two films, critics say this installment feels even more like filler. New cast members Jim Broadbent (Professor Horace Slughorn), Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Tom Riddle Age 11), and Frank Dillane (Tom Riddle Age 16) were all praised in reviews. As for the rest of the cast, critics found their remarkable transformation from children to attractive teenagers in the past eight years most notable. Below, reviews for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The film's sacrifice of Horcruxes in favor of hormones yields some comic highlights: The three leads, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione), give their most charming performances to date. Ron is particularly funny under the addling effects of a love potion, and Hermione is sad and sweet in a moment of romantic disillusionment, sitting at the bottom of a set of stone stairs, conjuring a flock of twittering birds to circle above her head...
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, though not without its excellent moments, doesn't tell the two stories that, at heart, the book tells. It doesn't present a compelling portrait of the birth, life and descent into inhumanity of the villain who has haunted this series from its opening scenes: Voldemort. And it doesn't make the budding romance between Harry and Ginny feel inevitable and true.
Screenwriter Steve Kloves-who adapted earlier Potter tomes with excessive reverence-sat out part five and is in fighting form, cutting a droll path through Rowling's verbiage. Apart from the fact that no one who hasn't seen parts one through five will have a clue what's going on, this barely feels like a sequel. Director David Yates creates Orson Welles–ish multiple levels of action, and when the camera sails around Hogwarts' turrets, it's as if the CGI is an extension of the wizards' magic.
Our three protagonists are taller, more polished, more charismatic-after all, they're movie stars now. But Emma Watson's Hermione has turned out disappointingly. It's not Watson's fault she grew up so pretty, so poised, with such luscious tresses. But someone ought to have reminded the filmmakers that in this boy-centric universe, Hermione is the nerdy-wonky cutie with whom all girls, hot and not, could identify. Now she's just another cover girl. I found myself wishing for more of the washed-out blonde Evanna Lynch and her glassy singsong as the space case Luna Lovegood, the last female reminder that Harry Potter began as a universe of misfits.
But assessing the romantic entanglements is not nearly as much fun as simply beholding the big physical changes in the young actors, whose onscreen maturation will have been documented across the span of a decade when all is said and done. The biggest change since Phoenix two years ago has been registered by Tom Felton, who plays Malfoy; he's now a tall stringbean in the Jimmy Stewart mold, with a face that's come to resemble that of Jonathan Pryce, and he towers over Daniel Radcliffe's Harry, who looks to be the shortest person in the cast (not true when Imelda Staunton was around). Rupert Grint, as Ron, has always looked a tad older than the others and continues to while showing more character. Emma Watson, perennially appealing as Hermione, has become a very attractive young woman, and Bonnie Wright's Ginny intrigues as the sort of initial plain Jane who keeps growing on you.
That goodwill comes in handy around the midpoint, when you begin to recognize this episode's chief flaw: the absence of a juicy villain. Ralph Fiennes' spectral Lord Voldemort appears only as a cloud formation looming over the proceedings; his evil designs on Harry are carried out mainly by the remarkably dull Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), a fellow student who, having defected to the dark side, sulks around the halls of Hogwarts like a high-school Goth fresh from a spree at Hot Topic. Helena Bonham Carter pops up at intervals as the far scarier Bellatrix Lestrange, but her screen time is so limited that her character remains frustratingly vague. For example, why is she pregnant the first time we see her but not thereafter? Has she given birth to some awful creature that will haunt the final episodes?
There must be a factory where the British mint their acting royalty: Hero, who plays the dark lord as a spectrally pale, creepy child of 11, is Ralph Fiennes's nephew, and Frank is the son of the terrific actor Stephen Dillane (Thomas Jefferson in the HBO mini-series John Adams). The younger Mr. Dillane, who plays Voldemort at 16, conveys the seductiveness of evil with small, silky smiles he bestows like dangerous gifts on Jim Broadbent's Horace Slughorn, a professor whose trembling jowls suggest a deeper tremulousness. When Slughorn, the fear almost visibly leaking from his body, shares the secret of immortality with Voldemort, you feel, much as when Ralph Fiennes raged through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, that something vital is at stake. If that sense of exigency rarely materializes in The Half-Blood Prince, it's partly because the series finale is both too close and too far away and partly because Mr. Radcliffe and his co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, as Harry's friends Hermione and Ron, have grown up into three prettily manicured bores.
The filmmakers have certainly honored the book, which is famously dark, though with bright spots provided by the stirrings of teenage romance. And that chiaroscuro is enhanced by some very funny moments in the movie; the director, David Yates, has lightened his touch since the previous installment. But the book's dramatic challenge is its overall sense of incipiency, rather than immediacy-great events aren't happening quite yet, they're soon to happen. (While the death of a major character is momentous, it's mainly symbolic as a passing of the torch.) In a mythical analog to The Gathering Storm, the stage is being set for the final, epic battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort. For those who've lived with the series for more than a decade, this fateful pause may heighten the suspense. For a Muggle like me, the storm does gather slowly.
It risks annoying some fans by axing one significant character and a potential action show-stopper, but it's actually the overarching storyline that feels skimpy; the movie is replete with lovely, inventive design details and idiosyncratic effects work, while Yates' reluctance to pump up the bombast might be counted sweet relief after the latest bout of blockbusting overkill.
The Half-Blood Prince introduces Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn, the new, extravagantly dithering potions professor. The performance is a lovely concoction of tics, stammers, and squints. But the character is a device, something to be unlatched and opened so the plot can move to the next locked door. Sadly, that door is in the next movie. There's enough cliffhanging to give you vertigo... An hour or so of interesting character development followed by 30 minutes of boredom, then an hour of plot development. That second hour always feels as if Kloves just remembered that he has to lay the groundwork for the subsequent movie. The individual installments become extensions on a lengthening fuse.
The Half-Blood Prince does remain true to the book's hormonal action... Lust in this movie is far freakier and more exciting to these kids than magic. There are moments when the actors in this movie look like they want to be ravaged as much as Kristen Stewart does in Twilight.'
In this sixth film in the series, the cinematography is stunning, and the story unfolds in a stately and unhurried fashion. Captivating from the first frame, this Potter feels more epic than previous films, which had a less mature, more madcap quality. Yates finds an artful way to meld the teenage romance and inherent humor with a sense of impending doom. Half-Blood Prince conveys some of the rich texture and depth of J.K. Rowling's book, but it takes a lackluster turn at the end. In a key scene, Harry is rendered more ineffectual than his literary counterpart as a result of plot revisions.
The Half-Blood Prince suffers from what I call "setup syndrome," meaning that much of its plot and energy is devoted not to telling a self-contained story but to establishing threads that will have a payoff in a future installment. As a result, there's little doubt that The Half-Blood Prince will fare better when the entire series is available. At this point, however, it has an incomplete, unfocused feel. It is easily the least structured of the movies. Fortunately, it ends with a bang, both in terms of visual and emotional impact. The final half-hour is good enough to make one forgive the somewhat meandering nature of the two hours that precede it. For anyone unfamiliar with the novels, some of what happens during the climax may come as a surprise. The Rowling faithful, however, will be interested to see whether the movie does the written word justice with these particular scenes, and I can assure them that it does.
"Harry Potter" Pulls In $22.2 Million [Variety]