Hollywood Product: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

GENRE: The penultimate visit to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

??THE PITCH: The romantic misadventures of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) distract them from the secret plans of Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) to respectively hinder and help the malevolent Lord Voldemort.??MONEY SHOTS: Voldemort’s henchmen begin the film with a spectacular disaster-porn attack on a London bridge, and mark the midpoint by striking at some of Harry’s allies. Ron’s showy performance in a Quidditch game. (Surely you remember Quidditch?) In the magical flashback scenes, buildings billow down from above — the film’s signature special effect. Harry and Dumbledore risk their lives in a terrifying mission near an underground lake.??BEST LINE: "He’s covered in blood again. Why is he always covered in blood?” wonders one of Harry’s female admirers.??FASHION STATEMENTS: Harry’s new professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) disguises himself as an armchair, which turns into an upholstered-looking dressing gown. Ron wears a dumb leather helmet for the Hogwarts team. Harry’s secret sweetheart Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) wears a sexy, slinky dress to one of Slughorn’s parties. Is it just me, or do the coat, pecs and facial hair make evil werewolf Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legino) look kind of like Hellboy???BODY COUNT: One major casualty, as even nonreaders probably know. There’s also a darkly comic funeral for someone (or something) last seen in The Chamber of Secrets. One student ends up covered in blood and another falls prey to a violent, Exorcist-like hex, but even so, Half-Blood Prince is the first PG-rated Harry Potter since Prisoner of Azkaban.??I WAS A TEENAGE VOLDEMORT: The adult Voldemort doesn’t play a role in the story, so don’t expect much Ralph Fiennes. Flashbacks to Voldemort’s childhood feature the perfectly menacing Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Ralph’s nephew) and Frank Dillane. Apparently, Christian Coulson, who played Voldemort as a Hogwarts student in Chamber of Secrets, was passed over for Half-Blood Prince because he's 30 years old.??BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS FILMS? It conspicuously lacks the headlong momentum and political metaphors of Order of the Phoenix, director David Yates’ previous effort and the series’ high-water mark. Yates still does a great job with J.K. Rowling’s setting, though, and his films feel more like John le Carré spy stories with occult backdrops, compared to the Scooby Gang level of Chris Columbus’ original two films. It could probably use a good monster, though.??HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE BOOK? Fans will miss some of the scenes that fill in Voldemort’s family history, as well as subplots involving Ron and Ginny’s older brothers that pay off in the last book. Plus, the book’s action-packed finale has been toned down, which suggests Yates is pacing himself for the last films.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Between a suspenseful first section and an eventful (if anticlimactic) finale lies a pleasant but draggy stretch primarily about teen hormones and magic charms. The script’s use of potions and oaths speak to themes about choices, loyalty and trust, but the inconclusive ending defers resolution until the two films of the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So don’t make plans for Thanksgiving 2010 or the summer of 2011.