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IN SHORT: Long on lovely pictures and character development. Short on real story. [Rated PG scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality. 153 minutes]
There is almost no point in reminding y'all that the Prime Directive of this site is that all films seen shouldn't require any kind of previous knowledge of the source material -- here the novels by J.K. Rowling. This being the sixth film of eight adapting the seven Potter novels, with a two part finale yet to come, we are not going to get all anal retentive about our Rules. This far in everyone knows the basics so the big question becomes "if you don't live and breathe the basics, is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince going to make any sense?" The short answer is, "pretty much almost."
The longer answer, mainly for (you) poor parental types who haven't read the books along with your kids: Don't attempt to start watching Potter films with this edition unless you've got a kidlet in tow to bring you up to speed. For those of us who usually lament the loss of story material when books become film, with near fifteen total hours of Potter under our belt, another two and a half hours is a long way to go to get very little new story material.
In their sixth year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, our heroic trio of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are hormonally bustin' out all over. While waitresses at train stations are veritably throwing themselves at Mister Potter, so to speak, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) again needs Harry's help. As this episode begins, it is to convince Hogwarts' former Potions Professor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), to return to his former position and help train the next generation of wizards against the coming reign of evil Lord Voldemort.
Central to the plot is Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), mother of Harry's longtime adversary, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and sister to a previously introduced, and quite the evil, cackling witch Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). If you are unfamiliar with the other films, Bellatrix is a halloween quality witch and her part in this whole mess is quite out of left field. As the film introduces it's two, count 'em, two additions to the overreaching epic story, Narcissa makes a deal with a member of the Hogwarts' staff -- a magical "unbreakable vow" if you will -- to protect her son, even to the death of anyone who gets in the way.
Yeah, we're not supposed to compare or use terms like "unfamiliar with the other films." We're six movies in, folks. There are rules and there are ridiculous rules. Frankly, those of you out there who haven't sat through 300+ films between installments are at a much better position than we are. We'll try to take 'em one film at a time. You adjust based on what we spew.
The Hogwarts staff and important students should be familiar by now: groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane); Professors Dumbledore, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman); Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) are among the former; as this film begins, Snape has been promoted to the post of Professor of the Dark Arts, a sure sign that we should take a moment to bow our heads and remember the poor guy fondly . . . .
That previous sentence was written before watching the film since the Dark Arts professor never, for the most part, makes it to the end of a film. Given that we specifically have not read the novels, what occurs at the end of this one was (finally) a surprise. It also opens up a whole can of worms as to how well this epic is thought out -- nothing we can get into without spoiling the third act surprise for the rest of us old fogeys. Suffice it to say that viewers should pay close attention to the headlines of the Daily Prophet newspapers seen in the opening minutes of the film. They will bring y'all up to speed on what will become important.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, more than anything else is a whole messa screen time devoted to character development. A whole lotta teenagers coming to grips with hormonal urges and the natural kind of pairing up that comes along with it all. With Year Six comes school dances and such, and new characters such as Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), who only has eyes for Ron Weasley; and a much grown Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), the youngest of the Weasley clan, who jostle with the vets for their place on the arm of the would be witch or warlock of choice. Of those vets, an interesting bit of attraction is introduced but it takes a long time and a horrid piece of luck to get there.
Back to our beginnings: The long retired Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), is prodded by Dumbledore to return to Hogwarts in his role as Potions Professor. As part of Slughorn's class Harry is given an old textbook mysteriously marked "Property of the Half-Blood Prince." Its text and spells are heavily annotated and, despite all the research Hermione does in the library, no one knows who this mysterious "prince" was. You will by film's end. As part of a competition in said class, Harry wins a vial of "liquid luck," a wee bit of misdirection on author Rowling's part which will play a minor part much later in the film's Quidditch sequence. Yep, all that and the kitchen sink, too.
We also learn that Dumbledore has a cabinet filled with crystal vials containing the memories of earlier students, particularly those involving young Tom Riddle at ages 11 (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and 16 (Frank Dillane). The script gets the importance of Riddle's introduction backwards as other new elements are introduced. Maybe it's already known that Tom Riddle is the true identity of He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoke (in Potter yadda yadda, the evil Lord Voldemort). We didn't, but we see 300 or so films between Potter installments so we have an excuse.
What is finally learned, relative to the epic story, is the secret of Voldemort's seeming invincibility. It involves a bit of "dark" magic called a Hawcrux (sic) which allows Riddle/Voldemort to split his soul into pieces, the better to hide them away. If you cannot destroy the pieces, you cannot kill the villain. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's penultimate scenes send Dumbledore and Potter in search of one of the Hawcrux thingies. By the time that journey is finished, the landscape of the entire Potter Universe will have permanently changed. But not so much that a magical ignoramus such as yours truly can't make a well-informed guess as to what the next plot twist is going to be.
So much time is wasted in Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince that we walked out of our screening thinking "the boy is doomed." We know better. More accurately, the series has been stretched to the limit to allow the child actors time to grow up and develop their acting chops. As the series conclusion becomes two movies, let us hope they get to use 'em.
As one who watches the audience to see if the film achieves its proper objectives -- meaning we expected more oos and ahs and bit of applause as the new major story elements are unwrapped -- we didn't see that happen. Then again, we saw the film at its first, midnight showing. Maybe the teen were tired. [as if . . .]
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Harry Potter and Half Blood Prince, he would have paid . . .
Two and a half hours is a long way to go for very little additional story material. Yeah, we were fidgeting in your seat.
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