Latest Harry Potter installment bewitches fans

It’s Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and between juggling a Quidditch captaincy, a new potions professor who seems much more interested in collecting students than in teaching them and the Half-Blood Prince—a curious book defacer who seems to know more than Libatius Borage does in the pages of Advanced Potion Making—life is quite hectic. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the mounting tensions in the wizarding world as Lord Voldemort steps up attacks on the magical and muggle communities alike.

For having such richly crafted source material, the movie adaptations so far have been anemic both in terms of cinematic quality and fidelity to the series, but I finally learned with the last one to ignore everything that was left out and focus on the good.

This is a feat easily accomplished in Half-Blood Prince mostly due to David Yates’ cinematic style and intelligence dealing with walking the narrow line between alienating fans and pulling in the audience that hasn’t read the books.

Yates has an intuitive understanding of what in the books must stay unchanged and what in the storyline can be finagled to fit flawlessly into the larger picture. He acknowledges his time limitations, and instead of trying to minimize the damage caused by condensing 169 thousand words into 153 minutes, he embraces the changes he can make in the name of continuity, thus bringing forth a better end product visually. Most importantly, Half-Blood Prince is the second consecutive Harry Potter move that Yates has directed, and one can see he’s matured his vision, which makes for a better experience all the way around.

Of course, singing the praises of Yates is only one part of the chorus. Steven Kloves’ screenplay is no shoddy work. His ability to weave dialogue that is a fit for the characters and sounds natural coming from the actors is unquestioned. He was spot on in finding the inner thread of the novel, and despite some of the darker themes and happenings in Rowling’s sixth novel, there is lightheartedness and humor to spare.

The new cast recruits do an excellent job of keeping the acting bar high. Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, the newest Potions professor, steals every scene in which he appears. His portrayal is eerily perfect, and the Felix Felicis scene is absolutely the funniest in the movie.

The introduction of Cormac McLaggen as a potential love interest of Hermione’s provides comic relief. Be sure to pay attention during the Christmas fête. And Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown must have been born for this part. Words cannot express how incredibly perfect she is in this role.

Of course, the old standards do quite well themselves. Dan Radcliffe and Rupert Grint (as Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, respectively) continue their history of excellent performances, as does Maggie Smith (as Professor McGonagall). Unfortunately, Michael Gambon as Headmaster Dumbledore and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger have for quite some time left something to be desired in their performances. They’ve each alternately been wooden in scenes calling for delicate emotionalism and have awkwardly overacted in scenes requiring no finesse. But finally in this movie, Gambon’s Dumbledore provides a little more of the twinkling eye so necessary for the character’s effectiveness and a little less of the maniacal side that detracted so much.

Watson has just calmed down in general, allowing the audience to realize just why Harry and Ron keep her around. She has some right nice moments interspersed in the film. But the real star of the cast is Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. He gets much more screen time in this movie than in what seems like the others combined, and he does not disappoint. He does a magnificent job of portraying a boy on the cusp of manhood in an untenable situation. Even though he plays a larger role as an antagonist in the story, the audience can’t help but ache for his plight.

You should be forewarned that the foibles of the book are not made any better by the movie. The serious lack of plot-driving action in the outside world and the rather large amount of back-story in this book is necessary for Rowling’s tale to come to a tidy end in the seventh book. Yates’s Half-Blood Prince reflects this, and even leaves out quite a bit of back-story that Dumbledore imparts to Harry. Strangely what he leaves out in terms of action, he more than makes up for in sexual tension. It was a bit much, but provided for some comic relief.

But don’t let that keep you from going; it’s definitely worth the price of the ticket. The various elements come together to make a fantastic movie that has you leaving the theater impatiently waiting for the next one to come out in November 2010.

FILM

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

OUR TAKE: ****.5 (out of 5)

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

DIRECTOR:David Yates

RATING: PG

RELEASED: July 15, 2009