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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince begins with the boy wizard, now a handsome young man, carefully checking his breath after assuring a date with a lovely Muggle waitress. And that’s just the beginning of the sixth film in the franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s novels of a wizard’s magical school.
They should have named it Harry Potter and the Teenagers in Heat: Hermione dies over Ron! Ron can’t keep his hands off Lavender Brown! Harry has a crush on Ginny, Ron’s younger sister! Love potions, regular-room snuggling, teenage heartbreak; such is the film’s obsession with adolescent coupledom that even ancient proven bachelor Dumbledore, a man with, you’d think, more essential things on his mind, asks after Harry’s romantic prospects.
It’s hard to accuse Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince screenwriter Steve Kloves or director David Yates for too focusing on the romantic side. After all, as young-adult quests carry on, the sixth novel in the Harry Potter series is awfully miss on the adventure, bringing only one action scene at the end of its exposition-packed 652 pages. It must have been a horrifying challenge to adapt for a viewer of casual moviegoers who can’t tell between a quaffle and a bezoar. The movie’s sacrifice of Horcruxes in favor of hormones rises some hilarious highlights: The three mains, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione), show their most enchanting performances to date. Ron is especially funny under the additional effects of a love potion, and Hermione is sorrow and sweet in a moment of romantic disenchantment, sitting at the bottom of a set of stone stairs, projecting a flock of twittering birds to circle above her head.
All of which is to claim that Half-Blood Prince with its complex romantic relationships, its Quidditch high jinks, its magnificent production design and its terrific final action scene, might be the most satisfying Harry Potter movie yet for people who don’t especially care about the franchise. Whether die-hard fans of the books will adore it, though, is on another note.
My issues with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince don’t seem like the types of quibbles that series fanatics often raise. I’m not angry about Hermione’s hair or the cutting off of a side character. While I truly expect the perfect Potter adaptation as a 30-hour miniseries in which every detail in the book is recreated verbatim, I’m willing to accept that Hollywood film version is the art of neglect and patchiness. A screenwriter fails to excise everything unnecessary from a book and then unites the rest into a shape that’s appealing to the eye.
But while preceding Harry Potter films have exceeded in quality, each has managed, at least, to deliver the true spirit of the novel from which it was adapted, from 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which got across the wonder Harry sentiments at his new magical life, to 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which effectively draw the growing political scheme and rebellious heat that drives the fifth book. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince though not without its wonderful moments, doesn’t tell the two stories that the book truly does. It doesn’t show a compelling portrait of the birth, life and descent into inhumanity of the devil who has tormented this franchise from its opening scenes: Voldemort. And it doesn’t make the romance between Harry and Ginny feel unavoidable and heartfelt.
There’s still loads of magic happening in Half-Blood Prince. Jim Broadbent is the most recent in the long line of charming British actors to finance a country home through an easily twisted performance in a Potter film. New Hogwarts professor Horace Slughorn is an emulous collector of gifted and famous students – the kind of influence-peddling instructor who likes to brag about the connections and accomplishments of his charges.
Director Yates gives the same intensity and grit to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that he executed its previous ones, and though he’s truly not Alfonso Cuarón – the auteur whose 2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains the on-screen top-notch of Potter – he shares Cuarón’s joy in the creation of a surreal magical world. And Yates’s cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel (“Amélie”), has definitely shot the most astonishing of the Harry Potter movies. Hogwarts has never appeared more enchanting, as a reflective Harry agrees at the movie’s close, while the trio are preparing to say goodbye to the institution that has shaped their characters for six eventful years.
The ways in which Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince failed to satisfy me and the ways it will certainly please many other audience are a well reminder that adapters of the famous stories can not and should not, target the fanatics in the viewers. And it suggests we die-hard fans might be much more delight if we stopped expecting them to.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is PG-rated for haunting images, some bloody violence, language and mild sensuality.
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