CD Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I gave up on seeing Harry Potter movies in the theater after THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN in 2004. I wasn’t a fan of the films to begin with but HP3 nearly ruined my enjoyment of the books. By the time GOBLET OF FIRE came out the next year, I’d had enough and figured DVD would be a fine way to finish out the series, if I bothered to watch them at all.

I waited six months for Netflix to send me ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. By the time it arrived (after numerous phone calls to see why it was taking so long), I watched 10 minutes of it and realized I just didn’t care anymore.

I knew I wanted to review the HALF-BLOOD PRINCE CD for this site, so after being bombarded by the ads on television (which did their job in raising my level of anticipation), I rented PHOENIX again last week to catch up. Surprisingly, I found the film the most enjoyable out of the five. Perhaps it was the level of darkness in the story that appealed to me, as opposed to the cutesy kid-friendly air of many of the earlier installments. Then again, maybe I’d been away from Harry too long and I was ready to re-enter his world. Either way, the actors have matured a bit, they turn in believable performances.

I wasn’t crazy about Nicholas Hooper’s  score for PHOENIX when the film was originally released and, except for a couple of cues on the CD, the music never grabbed me. The score comes across better in the film, if a bit bland. Hooper’s music is well written, but he lacks that spark of creativity that informed the best of the earlier Harry Potter cues by John Williams and Patrick Doyle.

So what about HALF-BLOOD PRINCE? Has Hooper improved with his sophomore effort in the Potter franchise?

Like PHOENIX before it, Hooper’s score for HALF-BLOOD PRINCE mixes numerous styles and moods, but lacks a defining sound. The music continues to understandably move away from Williams’ original themes. Even the famous Hedwig theme is given twists in its melodic line and harmonic structure.

The “Opening” gets the score off to an ominous start with an insistent bass and timpani syncopation under swirling strings. The theme speeds up in terror as it later proceeds “Into the Rushes.” The dual children’s and adult choirs in “In Noctem” mix English and Latin texts into a creepy waltz, which will also appear as part of “Dumbledore’s Foreboding.”

Opening
Click Track: Opening

Seesawing strings and dark chords give way to a light major key as “The Story Begins.” The delicately galloping “Living Death” has a Mozartian classicism that I wasn’t expecting.

Hooper finally lets the orchestra rip with the exciting “Ron’s Victory,” though the syncopated strings remind me of the music accompanying the dragon fireworks at Bilbo’s party in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. (The theme closes the album in the lively “Weasley Stomp.”) A tender pizzicato violin waltzes between “Harry and Hermione,” and Harry’s burgeoning affection for Ginny gets its own guitar waltz.

Ron’s Victory
Click Track: Ron’s Victory

“Dumbledore’s Farewell” has the feel of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which may not be entirely original, but the cello countermelody taken from the children’s choir is a nice touch. With its three-note ascending arpeggiated motif, “The Friends” closes the score on a note of poignant sadness.

Hooper’s score for HALF-BLOOD PRINCE improves on PHOENIX, but it still misses the mark as a separate listening experience. The music feels too understated to capture all the dramatic events happening in the story (at least from what I remember from reading the book). With few  musical peaks and valleys, big band numbers (“Wizard Wheezes”) and pseudo-Irish laments (“Farewell Aragog”) take me even further out of the world Hooper was trying to create.

If I find the music properly serves the film, which is it’s ultimate test, I’ll be happy to post a reassessment. But for now, even with some interesting cues that stand on their own, Hooper’s score as a whole, while an improvement over his last entry, is still a bit bloodless.

6 comments

  1. I completely agree.

    The score isn’t nearly as exciting as the previous films scored by John Williams and Patrick Doyle. Whereas a score can sometimes make me like a film more, I think this score did the reverse, the music lost it’s magic.

    When I heard the exact same cues lifted from Hooper’s previous score when watching this at the cinema, I felt cheated. I’m surprised parts of this score were approved.

    I thought the director handled Dumbledore’s death quite well, but I wasn’t impressed with the film either. Nowhere near as good as I was expecting after reading the book.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Wendell! I’ll finally watch the film on DVD once it comes out next week. The score actually squashed my desire to pay $12.50 to see it in the theater. Now that’s bad!

      1. No problem. I discovered your website today. I’m just ploughing through it all. There’s some great reviews! :)

        Let me know what you think of the film. Everyone else I knew saw it said they loved it, which leads me to conclude that it was the score brought the whole experience down for me.
        .-= Wendell´s last blog ..M.E.T. =-.

  2. Honestly, i thought this was the best score for this series yet. I mean yes, Hooper doesnt have nearly enough experience as John Williams or Patrick Doyle, but for a newcomer, i think he was great.

    1. I think the problem with Hooper’s scores is that they were such a departure from the level of quality of the earlier scores. As he gains more experience, hopefully he’ll gain in compositional craft as well.

  3. I really enjoyed this score. It was, admittedly, a very great departure from the first four films, and even a bit from it’s immediate predecessor, but it definitely offered some brilliant tracks of its own. “In Noctem”, “Journey to the Cave” (especially the build that starts around 0:53), “Dumbledore’s Farewell”, and “The Friends” really impressed me.

    The film’s score did something neither William’s first two, nor Hooper’s first, could not do very adequately: play a part in the background of the story whilst sounding beautiful at the same time. I was very disappointed when Hooper said he would not be returning to score the final two films of the franchise.

    I quite look forward to future releases by Hooper.

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