Given how long they made us wait to see the film, and how many clips and images they've released over the course of the year-and-a-half long marketing campaign, it's fair to assume you know everything about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Particularly if you've read the books, right? How much surprise can there be in actually seeing Ron be wooed by Lavender Brown?
Trust me, I was right there with you, until I finally saw the sixth movie and was thrilled to find new things to enjoy, even in a movie that slices out some of the best parts of the book. Part of it is just seeing the world come to life, part is the maturation of the series' main actors, and part is just a bit of genius on part of the filmmakers. Below, my five favorite surprises from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with no spoilers for the movie, but maybe a few from the book if you haven't read it. And if you haven't, seriously, what are you waiting for?
He's been skulking in the background of the last few pictures, as Harry took on villains far more significant than petty meanie Draco Malfoy. But in the sixth book Malfoy finally tiptoes toward his long-awaited redemption, albeit via some pretty nefarious means, and Felton digs into the role as if it's what he's been waiting for all along. As he's grown his face has become all sharp angles and daggers, and it's a wonder to see it all crumple as he cries in front of a bathroom mirror, overwhelmed at the task at hand. As Daniel Radcliffe's acting skills have seemingly shrunk with age, Felton has just gotten better. It sure doesn't hurt that he's also gotten handsome.
None of the Potter films have really known how to handle Quidditch, the wizarding sport that seems so logical on the page but baffles most filmmakers. Yates memorably cut it out of the fifth film entirely. But in depicting one particularly challenging game for Ron as the Gryffindor team's new Keeper, Yates makes the game exciting and even mostly coherent. The technology for depicting these matches has improved immensely since Ron and Harry first learned how to ride brooms, and watching Ron dive to catch Quaffles or the Beaters swinging their bats, the heights and the rushes of wind actually feel real. Added bonus: they show us Luna Lovegood's crazy roaring lion hat, which looks exactly as great as you imagined.
Harry and Dumbledore don't spend nearly as much time delving into Voldemort's memories as they did in the book, mostly because it would be a fairly frustrating movie if it were made up entirely of flashbacks. But two key memories-- Dumbledore's visit to Tom at the orphanage, and Slughorn's memory-- are intact, and Yates captures an excellent ephemeral, dreamy quality to both memories. It's hard to describe, but seeing teenage Voldermort turn into a wisp of black smoke looks effortless, almost as if it was what was there in the books all along.
The climactic scene of the book, in which Harry and Dumbledore undertake a dangerous journey inside a cave, is the scariest part of the series for my money. And when I heard that Half-Blood Prince had earned a PG rating, I was concerned they would tame down the scene, cut the terror felt by Dumbledore or the horrifying creatures living within the cave. And wouldn't you know it? They actually increased the scares. Nothing can ever be as frightening as what you imagine, of course, but using his clever visual style and a powerhouse actor like Michael Gambon, Yates makes you feel the chills all over again.
There will be a lot of talk about the humor of this film, how it focuses on teen romances and even pratfalls rather than the usual dark meditations on evil and coming-of-age. And while Rupert Grint's the best comedian in the bunch-- look forward to seeing him struck by a love potion-- the real surprise is Daniel Radcliffe, who gets to cut loose when Harry takes another kind of potion that makes him feel, well, a little drunk. In the book Harry was full of purpose and energy after drinking the potion, but Radcliffe's version is a bit more manic, and way more fun, than we've ever seen him before. It's a brief scene, but maybe the freshest of the whole series.