Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“Once again I must ask too much of you, Harry.”

Too much may not be enough as this popular fantasy film series leads to the ultimate showdown between this special boy wizard and the one that begins with “V”. This sixth series installment, based on the best selling J.K. Rowling books, reveals more of the evil Lord Voldemort’s past while focusing on budding romances and the all-important impending showdown with the one that begins with “V”. Delayed from an original release date, November 21, 2008, this installment begins three straight summers of Harry Potter mania. Fans and general audiences alike can enjoy great action, drama, comedy, and fantasy for 2 hours and 23 minutes.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all return as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Harry never has the easy route (or the clearest), which makes him an engaging character, especially as Radcliffe matures into a strong actor. Harry’s maturing life leaves little need for characters like his Aunt and Uncle Dursley and bulky cousin Dudley as he discovers more about Voldemort’s past. Ralph Fiennes does not appear in this installment as evil Voldemort, but his nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin does as the young Voldemort/Tom Riddle through special flashback sequences.

Harry’s romantic interests turn to Ron’s sister, Ginny, played by Bonnie Wright while Hermione mainly remains true to character with some understandable ire from all the recent “snogging” among her adolescent friends. Ron’s new overexcited girlfriend, Lavender Brown, played by Jessie Cave, which mainly provides comic relief.

The superstar British supporting cast is led by Michael Gambon (Gosford Park) who replaced the late great Richard Harris as Hogwart’s Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. This wise wizard passes on important knowledge to his young hero students, especially Harry. Rubeus Hagrid, well played by Robbie Coltrane (Goldeneye), Minerva McGonagall, played by Maggie Smith (Hook), Professor Severus Snape, played by Alan Rickman (Die Hard) and Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, are faculty members at Hogwart’s School for Wizardry. Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter who debuted in the previous installment, heads up the villains along with Tom Felton’s reprisal role as Harry’s jealous rival, Draco Malfoy, who begins some curious and troubling activities.

Filmmakers fit in a Quidditch game, two key foreshadowing sequences (upon the student’s arrival and one character alone at a tower top) and two strikingly frightening scenes amid romantic respites that prove love can exist amid danger. One poignant scene frames one character walking down a lonely hallway while other students on the right pursue their own wants – a stark contrast, which resonates the film’s darker themes. Audiences hear that familiar John Williams theme at the beginning, but then composer Nicolas Hooper wisely shifts his musical score into new directions.

Strong continuity, via screenwriter Steve Kloves, makes a positive impact, though some book fans may have issues with the film’s varied tone and new subplots. Kloves has been involved with every Potter film except the previous installment, Order of the Phoenix and will write the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which releases in theaters in two parts, one in 2010 and the last in 2011. Yates will also direct both future installments, another great continuity element especially since this installment triggered so many great memories and progressive steps from the previous installments.

The film medium provides so many authentically exciting moments, not all driven by special effects, that yield high-level entertainment even though they may not match a book fan’s vision. This recommended film (*** out of four stars) has admirable themes and returns the film series to a PG rating (scares, violence and mild language).

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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