The sixth overall film in the beloved Harry Potter film series, believe it or not, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Originally released on July 15th, 2009 via Warner Bros. Pictures, like J. K. Rowling’s novel of the same name, it was the penultimate entry into the series, with just the two parts of Deathly Hallows left to cover in 2010 and 2011. Ranked the 15th most expensive film ever made and the most expensive film in the Harry Potter film series, how does it hold up a decade later with fans?
A follow-up to 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, David Yates (The Girl in the Café 2005, Tyrant 2014) once again returned to the director’s chair, a place he would remain through 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and beyond. Additionally, it helped the film that original Potter Screenwriter Steve Kloves (Those Fabulous Baker Boys 1989, Wonder Boys 2000) came back after skipping Order of the Phoenix, thus making the story more interesting.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe: The Woman in Black 2012, Horns 2013) starts his sixth year at Hogwarts despite the rise of the Death-Eaters. While trying to get through Potions class, he comes across a book listed as belonging to The Half-Blood Prince. It helps him pass the classes. Yet neither he, nor friends Ron (Rupert Grint: Snatch series, The ABC Murders mini-series) and Hermione (Emma Watson: The Bling Ring 2013, Beauty and the Beast 2017) can figure out who The Half-Blood Prince refers to.
Fortunately, thanks to some help from Dumbledore (Michael Gambon: Gosford Park 2001, Fortitude series), Harry discovers that a young Voldemort had learned a new Dark Art in the past. If he and Dumbledore could discover just what that art was, they could put an end to him once and for all. Provided Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton: Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011, The Flash series) and Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham-Carter: Fight Club 1999, Alice in Wonderland 2010) do not stop them first.
The Potter film series in general punched up the action scenes, while expanding certain roles at the price of others; not everything could make the cut or each film would be as long as 1982’s Gandhi. Though certain excisions, such as the usual intro with the Dursleys, or the ‘prophecy vs determination’ talk, take something away from the film. There are more pyrotechnics, though there is not as much drama.
The film also focused more on young Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin: Private Peaceful 2012, After 2019) than his teen counterpart (Frank Dillane: Sense8 series, Fear the Walking Dead series) during flashbacks. Child actors can only do so much before getting too old for the roles and that is why Dillane took over the Teen Voldemort role from 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ Christian Coulson (The Hours 2002, I Am Nasrine 2012).
Luckily the now-elder cast do better than their debuts. The central characters’ actors gradually improved with each film to where they get to express complex emotions more effectively here than before. Be it Watson’s Hermione and Felton’s Draco having more conflicting feelings, or Radcliffe’s Harry being more quippy. Grint has a little less to do as Ron, though he manages to inject some levity into proceedings with his funnier scenes.
Not that there is much to laugh about, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince goes for a darker tone. There are relationship troubles, near-death experiences, a poisoning attempt, and lots of desaturated colors. That in mind, Warner Bros Studios had asked Yates to add more color to the film, but he did not want to lose the “very European” look. It is more fitting for the Highland setting, though it might make viewers check their brightness/contrast settings.
Still, its most infamous dark element was its ending: above all Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’s twists and turns, it was the end of Dumbledore that made it stand out. Yet in the film it came off as rather perfunctory. Maybe the hype had been too great, maybe Yates and Kloves should have included the funeral scene. Whatever it may be, fans had felt its emotional impact was muted compared to prior deaths in the series, such as Cedric Diggory in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
That is not to say it does not get the blood pumping and heart pounding: the cast do fine and the action looks good despite some narrative hiccups. Meanwhile, the visuals, even with the grey lighting, look grand, particularly during the pensive flashbacks or the underwater sequence in Harry and Dumbledore’s horcrux hunt. Just that, in Yates’ attempt to combine 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the mixture got diluted along the way.
That does not make it bad but it feels much more like a precis to the finale in 2011’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 than a film on its own. People said the same thing about the book, though the way it handled its drama helped it stand tall despite its cringe-worthy moments. Its film equivalent stands more with a slouch. The Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie could not include everything, though perhaps it could have stood straighter with more considerate writing.
Nonetheless it was a major commercial success, breaking the record for the biggest single-day worldwide gross. Grossing a total of $934 million, it became the 8th-highest-grossing film of all time and 2009’s second-highest-grossing film right behind Avatar. Receiving positive reviews, the film was nominated at the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and the 63rd British Academy Film Awards for Best Special Visual Effects and Best Production Design, so while fans may have some gripes, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince still stands strong 10 years later.