As the film begins, the Death Eaters rampage has spilled over into the Muggle world while forces appear coming to a head in the wizard world. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) collects Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) before the semester has begun to help coax former professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to Hogwarts. Dumbledore believes Slughorn, a former teacher of Tom Riddle before he became Lord Voldemort, may have some insight into the Dark Lord's magical powers, and that Harry is the key to getting Slughorn to open up.
Narcissa Malfoy goes to see Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), requesting his assistance because Voldemort has given her son Draco (Tom Felton) a very difficult assignment. Snape submits to an Unbreakable Vow spell showing his commitment to protect Draco and to complete the task if the boy is unable.
Back in school, Harry also finds a potion textbook previously used by someone known as the Half-Blood Prince, who was such a talented wizard he made corrections to potion recipes and wrote spells in it. When Dumbledore isn't away on secret missions, he submits Harry to the Pensieve where he learns about Riddle from people's memories. As the school year comes to a close Dumbledore seeks Harry assistance on a dangerous mission that will strike at Voldemort's power.
As if preparing to battle the Dark Lord and his followers wasn't enough for a teenager, Harry, as well as Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), all have to deal with the range of emotions brought on by infatuation and hormones. Harry is attracted to Ron's sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright), who seems to share his feelings but is in a relationship. Hermione has to fend off Cormac McLaggen's advances while Ron is oblivious to her feelings towards him, in part because he is distracted by the overwhelming affections of Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave).
Based on how well the storylines come together and how well the film is executed, Half-Blood Prince could well be considered The Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter series. It is arguably the best adaptation of the series up to this point and does a great job setting the stage for the series' conclusion, which will be two films based on the final book. Under the guidance of director David Yates, the entire cast and crew perform brilliantly as they return filmgoers to J. K. Rowling's world.
Coming back to the series, screenwriter Steve Kloves does a very good job cutting down the massive book and presenting the essentials required to move the plot and the characters along and ties them up nicely. As in previous films, Half-Blood Prince doesn't shy away from the cost and sacrifice required to do the right thing and stand up to evil. The only issue I had with the film is the revelation of the HBP's identity. Harry is never concerned with who the person is and doesn't seek the information out. Out of the blue and at an odd moment, the character makes the announcement to Harry; however, it just feels tacked on because the secret is never a pressing matter.
The film looks fantastic. Production designer Stuart Craig's team continues doing a great job bringing Rowling/Kloves words to life. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's camerawork and lighting/color schemes, particularly when differentiating the memory scenes, are masterful. The special effects make the magic look more natural with each installment, yet they never overwhelm the story because it's the characters and their relationships that are the key to the series' success.
The entire cast excels as usual. The lead trio of young actors each has a range of emotions to convey, including when under spells, and they do so quite believably. Snape has a higher profile in the story, and more Alan Rickman is always a good thing. Broadbent is welcome addition because he is brilliant in his role.
Fans and non-fans alike should be very happy with Half-Blood Prince. Potterphiles who want to compare differences in the film and novel can check the film's wikia page.
Article first published as Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Blogcritics.