Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009
8/05/09 at 10:05 AM
Related Story: A reader's take on the movie
With author J.K. Rowling's magical book series completed, never before have the movies based on her young wizard had to stand on their own with such high expectations.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth edition in this always-satisfying film franchise, is more than up to that challenge. A visual splendor and a potent potion that mixes adventure, a deepening mystery, wry comedy and charming teen romance, the new film ranks near the top in this series.
Some might follow the old adage that as Harry, Hermione and Ron have matured from adolescence to young men and women, they've become naturally more interesting. That is to some degree true. But the most important maturity seen here is that of director David Yates.
While his debut in the series with the last film, "Order of the Phoenix," felt like a severely edited version of Rowling's work and was weak on the spooky stuff, "Half-Prince" has the full-bodied feel of an epic in telling this penultimate story before Yates delivers "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in a two-part movie event in 2010 and '11.
"Half-Blood Prince" finds hormones raging and fears raised at Hogwarts, the student academy of wizardry that is so often the center of the battle between good and evil in Rowling's world. Harry and his pals are bracing for battle as the dark Lord Voldemort's forces continue their infiltration of Professor Dumbledore's school.
The theme that Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves (a welcome return by the scripter of all Potter films save for "Order of the Phoenix") so compellingly present this time around is that of duality outside of the always-present Dark vs. Light. This makes perfect sense considering the title: "Half-Blood Prince," and half what else?
Take for example the idea of father figures, a role Dumbledore has often served to the orphaned Harry (Radcliffe and Michael Gambon as the powerful elder wizard have never worked so well off each other). But two new such sets arise here.
One is that of the spooky Professor Severus Snape (a deliciously droll Alan Rickman), once a player for the evil team, and his growing protection of Harry's young rival Draco Malfoy, who seems destined for a role as Voldemort errand boy.
Another case is that of Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), new to the Hogwarts staff after Dumbledore found him before the bad guys could, with both sides realizing the importance of this teacher who grew close years ago to young Tom Riddle (Voldemort's name when he was a student at Hogwarts).
Now Dumbledore wants Harry to unravel a secret about Voldemort, held deep inside one of Slughorn's memories, by growing close to the finicky professor. Meanwhile, the competition heats up between Harry and Draco, both of whom qualify as a youthful "chosen one," but for different sides of the wizard world.
Bonnie come lately
If all these couplings sound dark and dangerous, the strength of "Half-Blood Prince" is its balance of British horror with comedy that approaches screwball levels at times as boys meet girls and snogging (making out, for non-Brits) commences, a new competition for these sixth-year students.
We've long expected a romantic connection between Hermione and Ron, but both are being pursued here by other eager suitors. And then there's Harry, who's increasingly noticing Ron's no-longer-so-little sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright, whose stolen-kiss moment is perhaps the most beautifully intimate yet in the series).
But then Harry is noticing nearly everything in a skirt, and Radcliffe embraces the social variety his character offers in growing up.
"She's only interested in you because she thinks you're the Chosen One," Hermione chastises Harry as he eyeballs an admirer. "But I am the Chosen One," Harry rebuts, amused with himself in heat as Hermione smacks his head with a heavy book.
For parents curious about this emerging sexuality and the scary bits, know that "Half-Blood Prince" is PG, compared to the PG-13 rating of the last couple of pictures.
Yates creates a film that seems not only epic but personal at the same time, and the performances are top-shelf. Watson's Hermione is a strong-willed but vulnerable progression of her character. Evanna Lynch is sweetly laconic as Potter gal-pal Luna Lovegood. Helena Bonham Carter creates a lot of creepy out of little screen time as the scowling baddie Bellatrix Lestrange.
The 153-minute running time is a stretch, but it rarely feels excessive until a conclusion that lacks the emotional punch deserving of the tragic events that unfold. While these closing moments are meant to feel like the beginning of the end — the storm of "Deathly Hallows" approaches — than the end of an era, the wind-out-of-the-sails reaction feels more like a lack of conviction in how to mark a milestone.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Showtimes | Official Site | Trailer|
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint|
Run time: 2 hours, 33 minutes|
Rated: PG (scary images, some violence, language, mild sensuality)|
Michael Smith 581-8479
With its visual splendor, deepening mystery, wry comedy and charming teen romance, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" ranks near the top of this series. Courtesy