Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Brothers, PG)

film_harry-potter-prince.jpgI particularly like the hourglass which runs faster when conversation is interesting and slower when it is dull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and his pals make me feel a bit like the slightly doddering aunt who can’t stop remarking on how tall all the kids have gotten. Given the cultural phenomenon which the Potter franchise has become, it’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t exist. (In truth, books started appearing in 1997 and the movies in 2001.)

Harry, Hermione, Ron and all the rest are now in their sixth year at Hogwarts and they’ve definitely hit adolescence with a thud: Harry gets hit on by a waitress in the opening sequence and there’s enough snogging going on at Hogwarts to fuel five teen sitcoms. Parents will be pleased that no one goes any further and the jealousies involved are rather perfunctory, since the real business remains the struggle between the powers of good and evil as personified in Harry and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

This is a dark film, in the literal as well the metaphorical sense, beginning with some spooky faces appearing in storm clouds in a gratuitous opening sequence (and they look remarkably similar to the face which arose out of the sand in the 1999 film The Mummy; I guess Industrial Light and Magic has taken to recycling their effects). Perhaps director David Yates wanted to convey that the whole world is threatened by dark forces, but having Death Eaters swarm through present-day London (complete with the obligatory shot of the Gherkin, a.k.a. 30 St. Mary Axe), knocking over a few people and rather unconvincingly wrecking the Millennium Bridge along the way, only delays getting to the real heart of the story which takes place at Hogwarts, with side trips to the Weasley residence.

Black ink swirling through water is a leitmotif of the film: That’s what the Death Eaters look like, it’s the visual you get when Harry is accessing someone else’s stored memories, and it comes up in the credits sequence as well. It’s a nice effect in a franchise which doesn’t stint on the visuals, nor on the concepts: I particularly like the hourglass which runs faster when conversation is interesting and slower when it is dull. Yates also includes several impressive set-pieces, including an underwater battle with a bunch of Gollum look-alikes, so those who attend movies for the spectacle will not be disappointed.

Emma Watson (Hermione) has turned into quite a fine actress so it’s a shame she doesn’t have more to do. She’s pushed to the side here even more than in the Potter books (and rumor has it that originally Rowling was going to write the books with a female lead, only to be advised that it would be a poor business decision). Among the boys, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry does the best, with Rupert Grint as Ron and Tom Felton as Draco adequate but not much more. Fortunately, the Potter universe also provides some great character roles for adults, giving us a chance to enjoy watching some of England’s finest actors at work. These include Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, and particularly Jim Broadbent as Slughorn, while Helena Bonham Carter has a memorable turn as Bellatrix Lestrange, which she plays as sort of a demented Goth Angelina Jolie.

Chances are you already know whether you want to see this film or not. But in case you’re waffling due to your inadequacies as a Potter scholar, let me assure you on one point: I haven’t read all the books nor have I seen all the movies, yet I had no problem following the plot or figuring out who was who. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won’t win any awards for intellectual depth, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable summer movie and you don’t have to be a Potter nerd to get it. | Sarah Boslaugh

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