I’ve always wondered whether J.K. Rowling was aware of the arcane sex magik applications of the legendary “Philosopher’s Stone” when she wrote the first installment of Harry Potter (the most successful young adult’s literature series ever produced). Perhaps this is what precipitated the prompt change to “Sorcerer’s Stone” for an American audience — although I’m not aware of too many tweens familiar with the ins and outs of sacred alchemical sexuality. Perhaps part of Rowling’s genius is her knack for adapting serious mystical subject matter into easily digestible and, let’s admit it, highly entertaining literary candy.
This particular volume of the Harry Potter saga has all of the trappings of the other books in the series. In The Half-Blood Prince, just as in every other Harry Potter book, we’re introduced to a seemingly innocuous object that later becomes deadly significant. In this case, it’s a cabinet in storage at the legendary Hogwart’s academy. We meet the familiar Harry Potter crew just as they’re finishing up their summer vacations and ready to head back to Hogwart’s and inhabit a grandiose leitmotif critiquing the British Public school system. While at school, Harry has girl problems, remains the enemy of a freakishly blonde malcontent named Draco (Tom Felton), and has to battle the forces of evil and attempt to avenge his parents’ death, natch.
The Half-Blood Prince’s story exists simply to connect the previous Potter volume to the next. There’s no commentary on society to match the indictment of bureaucracy that made Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix a passably intelligent and meaningful movie. Missing are the grand statements about human nature that ran throughout the first couple of films in the series. And, on top of this, in the Half-Blood Prince, the familiar actors play their roles with an almost tongue-in-cheek sensibility, some of them totally phoning that shit in. It seems, at this point in the Harry Potter story, there’s not too much left to do except prep the audience for the adaptation(s) of the final Potter book... and make age jokes about how Harry needs to shave to address the fact that Daniel Radcliffe is looking a little long in the tooth these days.
The task of director David Yates in putting The Half-Blood Prince on screen was surely a difficult one. With each successive Potter film adaptation comes an increasingly problematic situation. As the mythology of young Master Potter becomes increasingly convoluted and verges on absurdity, directors are given less of a self-contained story to work with. There's not much he can do to keep the story moving, disregarding the development of ancillary characters, which, to someone not familiar with the franchise, would seem a lazy choice for a director to make. Maybe it is, but I can’t say that I blame the man, dealing with as much baggage from the first five films as he must.
Ultimately The Half-Blood Prince indulges in the same trite foreshadowing as every other Harry Potter book/movie. If there’s one literary device that J.K. Rowling has absolutely mastered, it’s the art of foreshadowing. Every single Potter story moves along solely by foreshadowing. However, there’s a way to incorporate a modicum of subtlety into this omni-present foreshadowing, and herein lies the truly fatal cinematic flaw of The Half-Blood Prince: every time we’re introduced to something that will bear even minor significance, the dark, ominous string music starts and at least one of the characters sports a look ranging from mortification to slightly pensive consternation. The result? All sense of mystery is lost.
That being said, it’s a mad decent kids movie.