Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is stubbornly un-Hollywood. It is talky, quite presumptuous (characters, new ones and vaguely familiar ones, walk in and out without much less of an introduction), and the CGI, except for the wonder-filled action sequence at the opening, is mostly used for tone. TONE.
Coming from the mildly amusing but numbingly dull CGasm of Transformers 2, the new Potter film is like a breath of fresh air, but a chilling one at that. Director David Yates' palate remains saturated casting a more dream-like quality---a filmy hazyness, which usually means your eyes are glassy from smoking pot or you're straddling between waking and sleep---a nod to Alfonso Cuaron's atmospheric Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There is always something sinister lurking behind the fog that envelopes the scenery, making the relationships more precious than they are.
And relationships is what the Half-Blood Prince is all about.
Harry and Dumbledore's have been handed the Luke Skywalker-Obi Wan Kenobi fate, albeit with quiet tenderness: Dumbledore lays a protective hand over Harry's chest, asking him to step back and hide during the movie's finale; Harry laying a hand over Dumbledore's still chest.
Under the stormy skies of Hogwarts, Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny go through the motions of their own stormy, passive-aggressive teenage love affairs. Yates reminds us that even with the impending gloom-and-doomyness, we are still watching kids who yearn and are quite desperate for some normalcy: love, popularity, a good laugh. I did not find the flirtation and the awkward confessions trivial at all; the darkness of the film only heightened every lovelorn sigh.
More calamitous than the love potion mix-up is Draco's internal conflict. Written as a bratty villain all through out the series, Draco finally went beyond playground bullying and faced the most difficult choice that anyone ever has to make in the Potter-verse. In the end, he couldn't muster the courage, or the malice, to kill Dumbledore. Snape, bound by the Unbreakable Vow made with Draco's mum, took Draco's place as murderer of Hogwarts' headmaster.
SPOILERISH NO MORE.
I read the book years ago and I remember it being quickly paced. Yates' deliberate pacing may turn-off some viewers who are used to blockbusterish hit-and-run storytelling but it does have its merits. Instead of the clunky and chunky expositions of the book, we get a series of well-plotted reveals that build up. The mood, if a little monotonous, is also consistent all through out and successfully digs its grimy claws into one's psyche. There's that Empire Strikes Back heaviness that is quite difficult to shake off, and the movie's coda shows no effort in clearing the skies.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban still is the best installment but Half-Blood Prince comes a close second, with love among the ruins as the greatest magic of them all.