From the moment the opening credits start to roll and we hear that telltale theme song, there's one thing that’s very clear about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: this is not the bright, shiny Hogwarts we came to know back in the first movie.
For one thing, the wizard world has been turned on its head by the Dark Lord and his followers, and now everyone knows it. The Death Eaters have been wreaking havoc, and the chaos has gotten so out of hand that it's even affecting the Muggle (nonwizarding world). To see what else you can expect, just read more.
The movie picks up right where The Order of the Phoenix left off. Harry’s godfather is dead, and he finds himself lonely, confused, and angry as he heads back to Hogwarts during a time of crisis. As usual, he finds solace in his friendships with Dumbledore, Ron, and Hermione, but Harry's relationships and loyalties are about to be tested in ways he never imagined.
The film wastes no time pulling you right into the action, twisting and turning right along with the most evil of wizards as we watch the mania spread. While losing yourself in the magic world is what makes these movies so special, I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of Harry’s realm with a few shots of London’s most famous landmarks. The visual effects don't stop there, and the audience stays immersed in fantasy throughout the film. The cinematography is, in a word, dazzling.
When he gets to school, Harry's duties as "The Chosen One" weigh heavily on him. He and Dumbledore are trying to unravel Lord Voldemort’s mysteries, and Harry finds himself tracking his arch nemesis Draco Malfoy in his free time. On the other hand, Harry's role as a student comes with its own set of responsibilities — picking a Quidditch team, dealing with new professors, and playing mediator between Ron and Hermione. As far as classes are concerned, Harry finds help from "The Half-Blood Prince," whose old, heavily annotated Potions book sends Harry to the top of the class.
The comic relief of the film lies in the fact that the kids aren't exactly kids anymore. They’re growing up. They’ve got raging hormones. Their soapy, teenage world is a refreshing break from movie's heavy overtones. We can all relate to Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s angst and jealousy, plus everyone loves to see a little snogging. The chemistry between the characters is heating up, and the children we've watched all these years have emerged as solid actors.
I feel obligated to mention one thing, especially for families and kids: the movie is kind of scary. Along with the stunning visuals, there are a few scenes that get a bit graphic as the dark magic gets more intense. Though I knew what was coming I still had goosebumps and found myself jumping out of my seat — and I could see certain parts being a bit much for Harry's pint-sized fans.
The bottom line: The Half Blood Prince packs exactly the right amount of action, effects, and laughs — though it's definitely not my new favorite Potter movie. At two and a half hours it’s a lengthy journey, but at the end of it all you're left feeling more ready than ever for the epic two-movie finale.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.