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Muggles rejoice! Half-Blood Prince is full-blooded Potter

by Glen Baity

The drought is finally over. Two years ago, the last Harry Potter movie came out one week before the final book was released to a rabid public. It was a flood of activity all at once; excitement was at a fever pitch. And then… nothing. The story was finished, and the next film installment, due out in late ’08, was pushed back more than half a year to prop up Warner Bros.’ flimsy summer. I’m happy to report that the wait, though arguably unnecessary, was worth it. Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince is another excellent entry into the Potter film pantheon (though it should go without saying, if you’ve never seen one of these films or read one of the books, this is no place to jump in). After the chaos that consumed Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix, life is back to relative normalcy at the esteemed school of witchcraft and wizardry. Hormones are raging harder than ever as Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) deal with adoring fans and secret crushes. The business of being a teenager would be bad enough, but once again, trouble is brewing in the dark corners of the wizarding world: Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has graduated from snot-nosed brat to junior Death Eater, and he’s at the center of a characteristically shadowy plot that our heroes scramble to uncover. Tied up with that are the standard elements of any Harry Potter story: Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is acting strange, but nobody knows why; an odd new instructor (Jim Broadbent) with a mysterious past joins the Hogwarts faculty; and a found object — this time a potions book formerly owned by someone called “The Half- Blood Prince” — makes life interesting for Harry. Director David Yates took the helm for the Order of the Phoenix, bringing a distinctive look and a critical eye to the source material. The result was the only Potter film besides Prisoner of Azkaban to approach the thrill of JK Rowling’s books. You can now add Half-Blood Prince to the list. It’s perhaps a less exciting film than its immediate predecessor, due largely to its place in the series — as the penultimate Potter story, its job is to set up the knockdown drag-out that ends the series — but that doesn’t mean it’s not great fun to watch. It is, because Yates makes the decision to focus more on character in this film than in any before it. He spends a great deal of time — though some might say too much — exploring the relationships that enliven the series, and it’s an effective approach because he has the cast to pull it off. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson exude the kind of effortless camaraderie you’d expect after eight years together, and each continues to display the kind of range that will earn them long post- Potter careers if they want them. But the Half-Blood MVPs are either new to the series or taking on vastly more complicated roles this time around. Broadbent is an absolute joy as Professor Slughorn, whose shameless ranking of his students puts him in close proximity to Harry and his potions cheat sheet. As fun as Broadbent is to watch, I think the most interesting evolution here is Draco Malfoy. Felton digs deep to find the conflicted soul of a character that has been mostly onedimensional up to this point. In Half-Blood Prince, he fully realizes the true toll of the road he’s on, and Felton conveys it perfectly in a handful of well-acted scenes. In his previous outing, Yates showed no compunction about shaving off subplots to the greater good of his film. He does so again in Half-Blood, though his scalpel isn’t quite as precise this time. Among other plotlines, fans of the book may miss a climactic battle scene that is wholly absent. And Yates makes the odd choice of almost completely excising the explanation of who the Half-Blood Prince is and why the character is so named. The mystery is resolved in one unintentionally funny line delivered right after the film’s most tragic and pivotal moment. In fairness, it’s one of the few parts in Half- Blood Prince that feels poorly thought out. The film is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who imbues this world with an attractive, dreamy glow. And Yates has a knack for getting the best out of his actors, which is why I’m looking forward to the twopart finale to this series. He might irk some hardcore Potter fans who hate seeing their favorite scenes left out, but after several middling adaptions, it’s nice to see a director who really gets what’s great about Harry and his friends. Half-Blood Prince isn’t the best of the series, but it definitely sets up the next two films for that honor. To comment on this story, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com

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