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Harry Potter And
The Half-Blood Prince

For both Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter, fame - or infamy - must be a constant nuisance and a blessing. Perhaps the cleverest touch in David Yates' take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is that he begins by paralleling the two. Though for the most part the movie sticks to the weaker installments' tendency to just lay out scenes from the book, it's kept afloat by Yates and screenwriter Steven Kloves' touches that remind us that underneath the fantastic, you can find some real world concerns.

Unlike the previous films, Yates begins at the same point - or a few minutes later - that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left off. A bruised but determined Harry (Radcliffe) faces down reporters, eager to anoint him "the Chosen One" for the headlines.

In Harry's eyes, however, is just the grief of losing his godfather, and when he reads about himself a few weeks later, the loss still stings. When a Muggle waitress (Elarica Gallagher) puts some moves on him, he tells her that Harry Potter is a bit of a tosser.

Yes, Yates has to deal with the fact that his adorable teen protagonists also come with adorable teen hormones, and it's a bit jarring to see Radcliffe flirting almost confidently. (His episode of Extras doesn't help with the image.)

Even Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems a bit disconcerted, and it's hard to tell if he's bemused or eager to cut Harry off from such recreational activities. The real world, our world, is in danger, as the Death Eaters have become rather careless about hiding their activities from the Muggles.

For a few brief moments, it seems like the filmmakers have finally made a Harry Potter for those who aren't part of the cult, but the nature of J.K. Rowling's original plot forces them to go a lot subtler in such desires. Instead, when Yates returns to the sheer terrorist tactics of the Death Eaters, it's in a scene created for the film, a tense attack from Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and the lupine Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno) on the Weasley household. It underscores the helplessness against evil when people turn a blind eye, and one of Rowling's pet themes, that there is a certain strength in friendship.

When the movie lets itself be a movie like that, it flows beautifully. Only Alfonso Cuaron (in The Prisoner of Azkaban) before Yates played with cinematic language like this. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel controls his hues tightly, often playing in chiarascuro, giving everything a slightly ethereal glow that can be both warming and deadly cold. And make no mistake, those who have not read the book; this story can be deathly cold.

They've sacrificed some of the complexity in the idea of the Half-Blood Prince, a long ago Hogwarts' student whose potions book Harry has picked up. Even in the book, that mystery is somewhat of a red herring, having little bearing on the main plot except to give Harry a different viewpoint about the past.

Most of that has been junked in favor of trying to move the narrative along. Instead, the movie focuses on Harry finally being able to directly serve Dumbledore as a spy, currying favor with a shallow Potions Professor, Horace Slughorn (a terrifically unctuous Jim Broadbent). Long ago, Slughorn may have provided a key to the rise of the evil Voldemort - a character only talked about in this movie, not seen. Harry has to find out what Slughorn really knows, and really remembers, while also still dodging the consequences of his own renown and hormones.

Love has found the trio (well, plus Ginny Weasly as played by Bonnie Wright), and Yates handles those scenes as lightly as he handles the suspense ominously. Once again, the original casting remains brilliant, as Rupert Grint has lost none of his ability to snap back and forth between comic relief and stalwart friendship. You can't help but feel that Emma Watson's Hermione Granger is too good for him, but then who doesn't know a couple like that?

The pangs of love aren't the worst that these kids are set to face in this movie, and for the most part it balances the two well. A little bit of it gets bogged down in going back over concerns, a weakness in the book's plotting, too. And, like its characters, it's trying to be more thoughtful rather than a never-ending panoply of wonders.

Dark deeds are afoot in this movie, as the story hurtles toward its finale. Despite curiously sliding back into a PG rating after the PG-13 of the previous movie, this isn't one for younger children. Though it's relatively innocent (and funny) in its treatment of teen sexuality, the complexity of emotions as they prepare themselves to vie with a mass murderer will be very hard for little ones to understand or be entertained by. The internal struggle of Draco Malfoy, for instance, gets very well portrayed by Tom Felton, but a little too internal for those who prefer things in black and white.

Of course, there are also actual obvious monsters here, but at least the production team has stayed consistent with the look of the supernatural. CG techniques have improved since the first Harry Potter all those years ago, but though everything moves more smoothly here, all CG creatures still have the same unreal texture from the first two movies. However, Yates does manage to stage Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) in a much more believably "giant" fashion than any previous movie.

It's still bound by a bit of formula in its structure, but here, that serves a purpose that will tie directly into the next movie. By keeping the team of Yates and Kloves through the end, the producers continue with an advantage they only got with The Order of the Phoenix - they can finally think ahead to the service of plot and theme, and not just the bags o'money the franchise earns.


Derek McCaw

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