Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens just moments after Order of the Phoenix where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) participated in a battle against the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is leading him out of the Ministry of Magic as photographers snap a few shots at the badly beaten boy who is coming to realize his destiny in this magical world's war of epic proportions. I suppose by doing this, the Potter series reminds us of its interconnectedness which has always been a struggle for the critics and even some fans.
There have been several different directors on the series. Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) handled the first two installments which although initially liked by audiences, have been looked back upon as childish when compared to the potential they had to be more mature, even with characters that were so young. Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men) finally took a step in the right direction with The Prisoner of Azkaban and almost set up a manifesto of how to handle the series with a more serious mood. Mike Newell (Four Weddings and Funeral) continued his work with the fourth film, and now David Yates (Sex Traffic, The Girl In The Cafe) has become the official series director having directed the fifth and sixth and eventually the seventh and eighth Potter adventures (Deathly Hallows will be split into two films). And just as a note, Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) is responsible for the writing for the films (except the fifth) which makes me wonder if he himself also took a while to get the hang of things.
So despite the variety of styles, there has been this more dark tone in the last several installments of the series. Yates/Kloves seem to finally understand the way to include J.K. Rowling's teenage angst, fantasy-driven wonder, light humor, and growing epic drama without having one element fully overshadow the others. The series has finally taken the full 360 degree turn from where it started back in 2001 in the early days of Harry's stay at Hogwarts. Perhaps it was because Columbus and co. did not know where Rowling was going to take the series, which is a shame because the story-line of the series at large would really benefit from a distinct direction both in style and tone. If all of the films had been handled in the same manner, perhaps The Half-Blood Prince would feel more penultimate.
I mean, we've been with these characters for six films in over eight years, and sometimes I still feel like the relationships between everyone has been rushed because before Yates these films could've been separate entities (and I really think Cuaron and Newell did good jobs with what Columbus left them with). Maybe I'm too quick to blame the director but it is there job to ensure the quality of the project. Rowling handled The Half-Blood Prince as if it was the climax of the Potter series. She was able to ensure how we felt about these characters because her words of description were so strong when it came to explaining how Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermoine (Emily Watson) felt. Instead the plot of the film version of Half-Blood Prince exists only to work towards those final two installments (which come out in 2010 and 2011 respectively).
I suppose because the series should be looked at as a whole, the feelings I have are more overarching but now to look at Half-Blood Prince on it's own, it's actually the pinnacle of dramatic development in the series. Instead of a climax that takes place in the shocking betrayal that occurs in the final minutes, the true climax lies with the evolution of these characters. Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson have grown into their roles so well that they are the embodiment of their characters in the minds of fans. I love how when the credits role, I'm able to recognize each name because the Potters series has managed to gather some of the greatest modern British character actors. Alan Rickman's Snape is always a sight to be seen and Michael Gambon's Albus Dumbledore could give Ian McKellen's Gandalf a run for his money (in fact the Harry/Dumbledore relationship has much similarity to the Frodo/Gandalf relationship in that they both go from student/mentor to a friendship of equality).
However, Jim Broadbent steals the show with one of his most lively performances since 1999's Topsy-Turvey. There is a scene in Hagrid's hut where Slughorn fondly remembers Harry's mother and the way Radcliffe handles Harry at that moment leads to one of the most endearing moment's of the entire series. A final commendation should go to the art design and the cinematography, two elements that have always been handled well by the Potter crew.
When the series comes to an end two years from now, I think I'll be able to make more adequate and accurate statements about the individual films and the series as a whole, but for now, I'll sit back and just think about how the emotion that flows from Rowling and her memorable creations.