Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Reviewed by Torey Lightcap

Directed by David Yates
Warner Bros.
153 min.
Rated PG (IMAX: PG-13

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrincePerhaps by now, we have arrived at the point where little backstory need be given for Harry Potter or what he’s up to by the time he begins his sixth form at Hogwarts. Perhaps by now, not much of anything helpful would be imparted by another round of detailed discussions concerning fine visual effects, earnest and well-rounded characters, or the way in which Harry is very like a gawking teenager save for that he succeeds at nearly everything he sets his hand upon. In essence, all the existing reviews—which themselves are nothing more than a click away—will nicely cover your bases.

What has maybe been left unsaid about this sixth film adaptation (there will be eight total) in the seven-book series by J.K. Rowling is this: that sometimes the fight to do good and to retain good ceases to contain subtleties, and right is right, and wrong is wrong. Sometimes, when the players have been clearly introduced to your imagination, they’re just going to do what you expect them to do.

Such blanket moralizing proves useful for the purposes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, although as we shall see both next year and in 2011, the two-part adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will reveal that judgments and suspicions are not the same as cold facts and unseen personal histories. The evildoer who’s so easy to name may not be the grotesque thug we thought; the angelic headmaster, in his death, could turn out to be less of a saint than we’d figured. The enemy you pray for, in point of fact, could be you.

But for the moment, the black-and-white sermonizing still works, still hangs the mythology together, so enjoy it. For now, the world that Harry Potter once entered as a wide-eyed first-year neophyte still retains the last of its gloss and glow, and magic can still be magical, even if Harry is already its master.

The film encourages us to take it all in this way and to trust that things are simply coming together as they should. There are no big speeches, no unexpected moments (save that the ending, after 150 thrilling minutes, skips the last chapter-and-a-half of the book), nothing visually shocking, no veiled social messages or statements about How Things Ought To Be. Pay, sit, watch, leave.

Rowling’s Deathly Hallows was tinged with so much theology—so very much of it a theology of the cross—but of course neither it nor its namesake movies will make much sense until you stack the first six books and films end-to-end and appraise them for yourself. So it may be that this little movie—this little $150-million movie that made $59 million on its opening day—is really not much more than an appetizer preceding a well-cooked theological T-bone steak.

For those of us who enjoy bellying up to this particular table, may it be so.

Copyright © 2009 Torey Lightcap.