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Muggle No More: ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’

Brandon has never read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the films. Believe it. But what sort of pop culture fan would he be if he didn’t immerse himself in the films that so many love? Join him as he gets his owl, heads to Hogwarts and sees what all the fuss is about. Here, Brandon looks at the 2009 film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Previously: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Plot (via iMDB)
As Harry Potter begins his sixth year at Hogwarts, he discovers an old book marked as “the property of the Half-Blood Prince” and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort’s dark past.

Harry Potter Vs. The Really Dark Lord

There’s a point towards the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when young Harry asks what could be safer than being at Hogwarts with Dumbledore. Well, if this movie proves one thing it’s that there are about a million safer places than Hogwarts and a million safer companions than Dumbledore.

Yes, things have gotten even darker for the young wizards if you can believe that. Things were looking pretty bleak at the end of Order of the Phoenix, but it’s gotten even worse now. You feel things have sunk even lower at the very start of the film. You can tell a movie is going to be dark when even the opening credits feel suffocatingly heavy. But that’s the world Harry Potter is living in now. The journey is inching closer to the end, and it’s not going to be pretty. Lives will be lost, blood will be shed, things will never be the same. Remember when I longed for this series to be pitch black in tone? Well, I’ve gotten my wish.

Understandably people aren’t so sure Hogwarts is the safest place in the world. Voldemort is on the loose, and everyone (especially Harry) is in danger. Once again, security seems much more lax than it should be aside from a special forcefield around the school and a few extra guards. Yet Harry wants to stay in school and continue learning. Meanwhile, other students — and teachers — are up to something more sinister.

An Unexpected Betrayal

That’s right, not all of Hogwarts professors are on the level. Snape, the curmudgeonly sour teacher everyone loves to hate, is actually bad. It’s revealed that he’s been working on behalf of the dark lord Voldemort. We find this out when he secretly meets with Bellatrix Lestrange and Draco Malfoy’s mother, Narcissa. It’s a bit of a shock to see Snape turn to the dark side. At the same time, it feels like there is much being left unsaid. Snape makes some sort of pact called an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa and seems almost pained when he does so. Is he simply evil? Or is there more to Snape? As Ron’s father, Arthur, later says: if Dumbledore trusts Snape against Voldemort then shouldn’t Harry and the rest of us?

Well, about that: turns out Dumbledore shouldn’t trust Snape in the slightest. You see, the final twist of Half-Blood Prince is that Snape kills Dumbledore. In a dramatic and heartbreaking scene, Snape zaps Albus off of a tower and ends his life. Dumbledore is gone, struck down by one of his closest allies. And now Harry must take on Voldemort alone. It’s pretty heavy stuff but what else would you expect from this series?

That being said, something still feels off about Snape killing Dumbledore. He looks guilt-ridden when he slays his boss. Later, when he could inflict serious pain on Harry, he instead just strikes him down and leaves him be. While Snape has done some truly horrible things, I’m not convinced he’s completely converted. Perhaps there is hope for him yet.

As for Harry, he finally uncovers a way to defeat Voldemort.

Harry and the Horcruxes

Even a Potter newbie like myself has heard of Horcruxes. Still, the film did a good job of explaining them. Basically, they allow for immortality. A person can split his or her soul into the Horcruxes, which can be any type of object imaginable. Therefore someone can live on after their body is dead. Voldemort did just that, splitting his soul into seven different objects hidden all over. So now Harry doesn’t have to just kill Voldemort, he has to find all of the Horcruxes before the dark lord will really die. Way to make things even more complicated, Mr. Riddle.

We learn all of this through a series of haunting flashbacks. The Potter series has some of the best flashbacks in movie history, and Half-Blood Prince is no exception. Looking back into memories (it’s complicated), Harry sees young Tom Riddle when he first comes to Hogwarts. Dumbledore finds him at an orphanage and even then the power in this young man is strong. So he takes him to Hogwarts, where Riddle soon gets close with Professor Horace Slughorn. It is Slughorn who unwittingly informs Riddle about the Horcruxes and gives the troubled wizard the path to immortality. If it’s any consolation, Horace feels just horrible about it.

The flashbacks are great because they slowly unravel a mystery and give us a different side of Voldemort. For being such a powerful villain, we don’t see Voldemort much. That’s a smart call by J.K. Rowling, director David Yates, and writer Steve Kloves. A lot of times bad guys are best when lurking in the shadows (case in point: Jaws). Still, I’ve grown quite curious about Tom Riddle and what led him to become the most feared sorcerer of all time. Seeing him as a young man, trouble already brewing inside, makes him seem more real and scarier too. He’s always been a shadow hanging over the films, his presence becoming stronger and stronger. There’s a fear in Slughorn’s eyes when he starts to realize just how dangerous his young student it is. It’s a relatable feeling.

Harry and Ginny Sitting in a Tree

It’s not all doom and gloom in Half-Blood Prince, though that is a lot of it. No, there is something to celebrate too: our heroes are falling in love. Harry is falling hard for Ron’s sister Ginny and Hermione is coming to terms with the fact that she’s in love with that goof Ron. This aspect of the film isn’t played like a teen comedy like it has in the past. It’s handled maturely and gently. These aren’t just silly crushes, these are deep relationships being built.

Seeing Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione get close made me realize just how near we are to the end of the series. While there are two more movies, there is only one final tale to be told: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve been watching these movies for only a few months, but it feels like it’s been a very long journey. What started as a family-friendly adventure about a kid flying around on a broom has transformed into an epic tale of good versus evil, loyalty, friendship and destiny. Like the kids at the center of it, the story has grown up.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a mammoth, bleak movie that didn’t leave me with a smile. It left me wanting more, much more, but I am a bit afraid as I embark on the final leg of the journey. Unlike many viewers, I have no book knowledge as I take the final steps. Who will die? Who will live? What will be lost? I’m curious and a bit afraid. The series has gone through many phases: childhood awe, teenage angst, and now it’s come to an end: adult reckoning. Bring it on, Voldemort.

MVP of the Film

Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn is genius casting. Like previous professors, Slughorn acts as a father figure to Harry, gently teaching him his worth and other life lessons. And like previous professors, Slughorn has a secret. But it’s a painfully human secret: that he may have inadvertently pushed Tom Riddle even deeper into his darkness. The guilt Slughorn feels is so real, all thanks to Broadbent’s terrific work.

Random comments/questions about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • Maybe Hogwarts should have decided to suspend Draco for a year or two. We don’t want to punish someone for the sins of their father, but it’s pretty dang obvious he is following in his pop’s footsteps. I thought Hogwarts was going to be extra careful.
  • Emma Watson turns in especially strong work in Half-Blood Prince. She is subtle and real, two attributes that so many young performers never master. Like many stars of the series, she has really grown into quite a performer.
  • The same has to be said for Tom Felton, who has turned a fairly one-dimensional character into something more. Plus his hair looks way better.
  • Just spitballing here, but would it be possible to turn something indestructible into your Horcrux? What’s to stop me from making the Grand Canyon mine and then effectively living forever? Is there a size limit to these things?

Check out Brandon’s exploration through the previous films in the Harry Potter series here.


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