Harry Potter Franchise Hits its Stride in 'Half-Blood Prince'

Warner Bros. Pictures

City Pulse | July 13, 2009
Teen desire and romance hits Hogwarts like a contagious virus in the sixth Harry Potter film, and goes a long way to providing lightheaded contrast to the skullduggery being perpetrated by Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and three supernatural Death Eaters that swirl around the story like exterminating angels of the apocalypse. For their part, the actors have all aged well into their familiar roles, with Daniel Radcliffe showing evermore confidence in playing the "Chosen One" with a reserve of humor and restrained emotion. It's yet to be seen what kind of monster-in-a-box the Potter films will make of Radcliffe as an actor but it seems certain, based on his Broadway performance in "Equus," that more surprises are in store.

David Yates returns after directing The Order of the Phoenix with a determinedly Gothic vision -- the opening sequence in modern day London is something right out of a horror movie -- that allows emotional and visual color to emanate from JK Rowling's famous collection of lively protagonists and enemies. Jim Broadbent adds particular energy as Professor Horace Slughorn, who the wise Dumbledore convinces to return to teaching magic potions at Hogwarts to fulfill an ulterior motive of informing Harry about defeating his rival extraordinaire Voldemort, whose presence is felt but won't be seen until the series' next installment. Slughorn's repressed memories of a former student named Tom Riddle -- later to become Lord Voldemort -- provide essential insight into the nature of the beast that Harry must eventually face. The ever-perfect Michael Gambon is a delight as Dumbledore, whose objective of undermining the evil Lord Voldemort with Harry's prodigious help sets the film's tempo and provides the film with its two suspenseful, and lusciously filmed, climax sequences.

Love is in the air and Hermione's amorous preoccupation with Ron (Rupert Grint) gets lift during a couple of well executed Quidditch sequences that lend harmless exhilaration to some of the film's otherwise darker set pieces. Subtle touches of shy attraction come through in Hermione's habit of leaving a bit of toothpaste or food on her mouth that she hopes Ron will sensually remove, although her clueless crush doesn't yet get the hint. Even more unfortunate for Hermione is the flirtatious presence of one Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), whose relentless desire to "snog" (kiss) Ron ties up his lips for much of the story.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the most balanced Harry Potter film to come along, perhaps because the right combination of screenwriter (Steve Kloves -- writer on Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire) and director has been firmly established, along with an appropriate team of special effects wizards and talented production crew. Of course it's the actors that make the magic happen and every one, from Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane to Emma Watson and Bonnie Wright, cast a memorable spell.

The filmmakers have chosen to split the next film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two movies that will enable the studio and audiences to savor the finale of Harry Potter with a kind of appreciation befitting a lasting love affair. The franchise still has a ways to go.

(Warner Brothers) Rated PG. 153 mins. (B+) (Four Stars)
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