Harry Potter and The Half-Bood Prince (2009)
The Power of Cinematography in Harry Potter and the 'The Half-Blood Prince'
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (2009) may be the most captivating of the series. Revisiting it ten years later, Half-Blood Prince’s impact on the franchise as a whole and the quality of the filmmaking is unequivocal. It is not necessarily superior to the others. Instead, it does immerse the audience into a new facet of the world of Harry Potter that is more esoteric and multifaceted. The exploration of darker motifs, character development, and strikingly alluring, haunting cinematography are some of its most accomplished features found.
The standout performances of Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), additionally create a more profound experience. Each helped to bring the magnificently melancholy Half-Blood Prince to life. The sixth installment is also admirable because it heightens the increasing threat of the fifth film, explores dark allegiances, and prepares us for what is to come in the two-part finale. Visually with its style and the stories turn.
Quick jump to the following sections:
From the opening credits, we know the wizarding world we were so familiar with, in the last five films is no longer. The music is now slow and cumbersome while the camera glides past a grim colorless, Warner Bros. logo. Before the movie even really starts, the combination of the music and hollow images elicit a strong and piercing reaction. It embodies a novel Harry Potter experience and one that many have been waiting to see. Thus, the Harry Potter movies have always dabbled in unpleasant or dark characters and images. As in the reveal of Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) when he is sickly a part of Professor Quirrell. However, the sixth installment completely is engrossed with sharp, ominous features and beautiful but somber color grading within every frame.
It also basks in the complexities of shame, repentance, loss, and violence. With the brilliant work of Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel in The Half-Blood Prince, he can show us the many aspects behind each emotion through color or lack of color, framing, lighting, depth of field, and camera movement. Delbonnel’s notable works include Amelie (2001) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). Therefore, the most apparent of the cinematography devices that exemplified the many emotions in the Half-Blood Prince was the use of color. The entire film is draped in hues of black, gray, beige, brown, and pops of green and red, designing a more serious and whimsical mood and setting.
As with the shots of Draco, Delbonnel chooses to fill his scenes with dark colors and strategically but sparse, use of light to further suggest his secrecy and grim events that are to pass. In which, it is appropriate since Draco, and his journey is the essence of the film. The Half-Blood Prince is very much about facing dangerous truths that will change the course of the characters’ lives forever and dealing with the realities of what is to come from it. Draco is not a killer but is expected to be one. Failure to do so risk the lives of his family and his own. With Delbonnel’s style, we feel the weight on Draco’s shoulders juggling (unsuccessfully) his adolescent life at Hogwarts and acting out the murderous deed set before him by Voldemort.
Take, for instance, the scene where Draco is shown in the far background walking down a Hogwarts hallway alone. He is heading to kill Dumbledore, while a group of his peers make out and eat popcorn in the foreground—perfectly depicting his struggle. From here, we get most shots of him isolated throughout the hallways and rooms of Hogwarts or acting aloof when he has to be around other people. So, in one skillfully lit hallway scene of Draco heading to the vanishing cabinet (two picture’s down), we get a vivid shot of the mood and setting captured. It suggests motifs of isolation, secrets, alliances, and unpleasant things to come. The segment is predominately dark and takes place in a Hogwarts hallway, with the only illumination coming from a backlight cast at the end of the hall that Draco is walking through.
Once reaching the end, he pauses as if contemplating the burden of his task and how he must handle it. Draco’s hesitation is reminiscent of the other characters in Half-Blood Prince. As they, too, are continually forced to answer to the call of other people and act in a way that will keep them safe, and the people they love despite tremendous odds. Snape has to answer to the Dark Lord’s many orders and requirements of the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy.
Harry must do as Dumbledore instructs to uncover a vital memory. Slughorn is forced to face an unpleasant, shameful recollection, and Dumbledore understands the sacrifices he must make to discover the Dark Lord’s secret. Likewise, the casting of light creates division along the wall. It is then establishing an effect that conveys all character’s inner conflict on one side and what others expect of them, on the other.
Furthermore, the division of light cast on Draco also serves as a way to express how daunting his and the other character’s task is, as it forms to dominate him. Finally, this shot is a perfect example of the symmetry used heavily in the film’s cinematography. It not only looks stylistic, but it is also used to draw the audience’s focus on a particular character or object. Draco takes the center of the frame in-between two pillars with two hanging lamps above, leading up and aligned with him. The scene with Draco is just one of the many examples of how Delbonnel uses colors, lighting, and symmetry to construct the serious and afflicted tone of the film and its characters.
However, the most striking use of color by Delbonnel happens during the flashbacks with Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane) and Professor Slughorn. Delbonnel usually uses a more brown-black patina effect throughout the film, but in the flashback scenes, the standout color is a greenish-blue. Used to review memories, the audience and Harry shift into the collective memories of Slughorn, present through the magical object called a Pensieve. Then with this choice of color, use of shallow depth of field and close-ups—Delbonnel creates an intriguing yet unsettling exchange between Professor Slughorn and Tom Riddle.
Tom Riddle & Professor Slughorn
As Dumbledore pores the memory into the Pensieve for Harry to see, the audience becomes a participant in Slughorn’s past. Every flashback appears steeped in a greenish-blue hue with a dreamlike effect. Moreover, Slughorn is revealed first in a vulnerable and wide-eyed manner as he sips his drink and relaxes the other hand in his pocket—while silhouetted Tom has his back to us. Already we are presented two very different people by discerning their body language, the position of the light, and the wide depth of field used in the first shot. As their conversation proceeds, Slughorn grows more uncomfortable and dumbfounded with every question asked. Tom, on the other hand, is increasingly making sinister and reactive movements. We can see this during specific exchanges between the two. When he learns what a Horcrux is, he simultaneously moves closer, uttering the words, “But I don’t understand how that works?” eager to get the answer.
While Slughorn is unfolding how to use a Horcrux, Tom begins to sway his head left then right. What makes this behavior disquieting is that we can only see Tom from his back as his head shifts to the words of Slughorn. He appears to be enticed by the answer. Then, we get a subtle but noticeably aggressive Tom repeating Slughorn’s last word; “Protected!” in a cut to a close-up of him concentrated, unblinking, simply stone-faced. From there, the audience and Slughorn know Tom’s possible real intention. The scene goes on to show Tom caressing his ring by the fire and ending with his satisfied wicked smile, “Of course, sir. It’ll be our little secret.”
What is particularly terrific about this last scene, is that we get a fluid combination of expressive camera work, beautiful lighting, and color grading, as well as genuinely engaging acting from start to finish. Plus, it is one of the most important scenes of the film done impeccably. Nevertheless, two of the most stunning, emotional, complex, and unforgettable scenes from Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is the Sectumsempra scene between Harry and Draco. The scene when Snape reveals himself as The Half-Blood Prince is the other. When Harry fights Draco, we not only get two rivals, finally squaring off, but we get to see the vulnerability and the complexity of both characters in a short time.
Draco is seen sobbing alone as he looks at himself in the mirror. Realizing he is failing and that he may indeed die. Draco is a character that does not inspire much compassion for most of the series. However, in The Half-Blood Prince, given, is a new perspective. Alternatively, with Harry, his actions prompt disappointment for his reckless use of the Sectumsempra spell. A response Harry noticeably feels himself once he sees Draco helplessly bleeding on the bathroom floor.
Direction & Character Development
Therefore, the scenes directing choices, its effects, and how it unfolds, aid in its sentiment, intricacy, and impressive look. The first, and most noticeable aspect being how this part over any other in the film is in black and white with a whimsical effect. The aesthetic decision to make the scene with no color—except for Draco’s blood—gave it a film noir look and heightened the beauty amidst the suffering. The black and white scene also serves to provoke the dramatic development between Draco and Harry, which results in a show of vulnerability, violence, and regret. On the other hand, the blocking for this scene involved Draco and Harry playing off one another as they moved through the bathroom. Either seeking shelter or finding the other to attack.
For example, the blocking positions the actors where the mirror is, revealing both characters blurred within the camera. Accordingly, it captures them moving throughout their battle under the stalls and through the long walk-way, ending with Harry casting the Sectumsempra spell wounding Draco. Additionally, there are a few close-ups and low angle shots. Then a picturesque long shot of Draco musing over his ill-fated destiny; a superb overhead shot of Snape beautifully intoning a healing spell to save Draco, and various medium shots capturing Draco and Harry’s ruminations.
Overall, this scene is admirable because it decisively shows us the intricacy of Harry, Draco, and Snape. As well as characteristics of each that we did not know were there or rarely get to see. Harry almost killed Draco and felt genuine regret for hurting him; Draco is not entirely evil and does have a conscience. Snape is not as detached, as he looks at Harry with disbelief for him using his defense spell and knowing it.
Moreover, seeing Snape make his epic entrance to save the bully Draco from Harry is beautiful and gratifying. Watching the blood draw from the water then through Draco’s shirt while Snape articulates the song-like incantation of the healing spell and counter-curse, is marvelous and one of Snape’s best appearances. Now even though the previous scenes discussed are all worthy of being framed in a gallery, the scene when Harry learns the identity of the Half-Blood Prince steps it up a notch. The shot is not only remarkable and grand, but it also is expressive to the deteriorating state of Hogwarts.
We get this brilliant extreme long-shot of Harry and Snape fighting with a tone of intense grief and hatred. A dark setting, Malfoy’s horror, and Bellatrix’s (Helena Bohnham) madness. It is a shot anyone would be instantly taken by; the deep depth-of-field is a pure spectacle. Seeing the stately Hogwarts in the background with Harry and Snape in the middle ground battling it out is one of the most unforgettable shots within the Harry Potter universe and one that perfectly embodies its films that are to follow. Therefore, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince stands to be a prime example of what skillful and expressive cinematography can do at its finest.
What are your thoughts about the films cinematography?
If you want to support my work, please consider donating here: Support RiEAL FILMS -thank you.
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Jim Boradbent as Horace Slughorn
Helena Bonham-Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller
Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language, and mild sensuality
Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel
Editing: Mark Day
Soundtrack: Nicholas Hooper
Distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures