Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Time Out New York Project: Issue #720, July 16-22, 2009
Dir. David Yates. 2009. PG. 2hrs 33mins. Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
There’s no rhyme or reason to the merits of a Harry Potter film, no easily applied evaluative equation along the lines of “every even-numbered Star Trek” or “only the Sean Connery Bonds.” It’s a franchise that’s often as awkward as its adolescent wizard protagonists Harry (Radcliffe), Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), though even by that standard, this ploddingly dull sixth installment is something of a series nadir.
Initially, director David Yates builds off the fleet-footed imagery of the terrific fifth film, Order of the Phoenix, showing a bruised and beaten Harry assaulted by paparazzi flashbulbs. Yates then segues into a late-night tête-à-tête between the bespectacled chosen one and a subway café waitress, a memorably melancholy encounter that’s intruded upon by exposition-bearing Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Gambon).
It’s all downhill from there, save for the introduction of scatterbrained potions professor Horace Slughorn (an excellent Jim Broadbent) and a few hilarious, sexually-tinged fan-service gags. (Personal favorite: Dumbledore asking to borrow a girlie mag because he loves looking at “the knitting patterns.”) As in the other, lesser Potter films, pretty much everything else feels perfunctory, though this is the first time the principals seem as if they’re entirely going through the motions.
Radcliffe, in particular, comes off bored and distant, more hitting the marks than baring the soul. This is especially unfortunate given Half-Blood Prince’s game-changing climax, which screenwriter Steve Kloves has significantly and detrimentally reduced from J.K. Rowling’s source novel. What should be a near-apocalyptic free-for-all instead plays as a half-baked, throat-clearing placeholder for the upcoming two-part finale, Deathly Hallows. Here’s hoping for a last-act rebound.—Keith Uhlich