When the quietly haunting notes of Nicholas Hooper’s score begin to play a little past midnight on July 15, cueing the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, my heart feels like a hot cauldron bubbling with a jumble of emotions: excitement, anxiety, and even a slight trace of fear, in case things — god forbid — go horribly wrong.
And who can blame me? The movie has a hell of a lot to live up to (especially since I’ve crowned Half-Blood Prince my favorite book of the series). Plus, it’s been a long time since any movement has been made on the Potter front, with both the fifth film and final book having come out two years (basically a lifetime) ago, and my poor, deprived self has been aching for some long-overdue magical nourishment. (Re-watching the first five films and re-reading the series can only go so far.)
As the camera scours the ominously dark, foggy sky now emblematic of the Potter movie franchise and begins its descent upon London, I take a deep breath and settle into my seat. Two hours and thirty-three minutes of laughter, heartache and near-tears moments later, my heart is full once again, but in a good way — a cauldron that has simmered into something tranquil and content, kind of like the Felix Felicis Harry wins in potions class.
The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince lives up, all right — to the book, to the hype, to my expectations. (And it’s a good thing it does, because I swear I would’ve wreaked havoc on the film’s producers if it didn’t.) The movie is a cinematic beauty, a film with visuals as magical as the storyline itself. But above all, it’s a film that truly captures the heart and soul of the book, even when it strays from the actual text.
Like its predecessors — hell, like every film adaptation — the sixth film cuts and pastes from the book as it so pleases. And many fans and hard-nosed critics have trouble living with this (immature, if you ask me). But, moreso than previous films, the changes and deletions make a lot of sense — at least cinematically speaking. And since director David Yates filmed this one with the final two installments in mind, every alteration was crafted with the future films in consideration.
Even with the changes, the film manages to capture the main aspects of the novel. A surprising amount of dialogue even comes straight from the book, a rarity in preceding Potter films. Sure, the movie leaves out a lot of Tom Riddle memories, but it also brings two of the most important ones to life. Yes, it spends a lot of time on comedy and the characters’ love lives, but in doing so, it emulates the book’s juxtaposition of the dangers of the outside world with the lighthearted drama occurring inside Hogwarts. And yes, a few battle scenes are rearranged here and there, but this doesn’t jeopardize anything hugely important.
Of course, it can’t hurt that the cast members are at their best. Dan Radcliffe (Harry) finally appears settled in his starring role, displaying surprising depth and an even more surprising knack for humor. Emma Watson (Hermione), thankfully, has toned down her over-dramatic, eyebrow-wiggling tendencies and developed into an elegant, mature actress. Rupert Grint (Ron) has never been funnier — and that’s saying something. And both Tom Felton (Malfoy) and Alan Rickman (Snape) step up to their larger, darker roles in this movie with incredible acuity. Despite the slightly annoying new additions, namely Ron and Hermione’s love interests played by Jessica Cave (Lavender) and Freddie Stroma (Cormac), the cast sparkles, making even the film’s dullest of moments shine.
More than anything, the plot of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince emphasizes this universal truth: Things don’t stop in times of war. People don’t stop living, or loving, or laughing. Life goes on, despite the darkness. And while the book expresses this message in 652 pages, the movie manages to successfully convey it in less than three hours.
And for that, I only have two words: bloody brilliant.