Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
directed by David Yates
(Warner Bros., 2009)

"Maybe," my wife said as the credits started to roll, "you needed to read the book first."

Perhaps that explains it. For my part, I gave up on J.K. Rowling's prose somewhere around her fourth Harry Potter novel, which seemed to be the point when she decided that 50 words would never do when 5,000 could be written. But I've enjoyed all of the Harry Potter movies ... 'til now.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince begins very slowly, and it never picks up the pace except for a few fits and starts along the way. The movie is grim, ponderous and, dare I say it, dull. And surprisingly, for a movie largely marketed toward younger viewers, a large number of scenes are just downright inexplicable.

The whole "battle of the boys' room," for instance, seems at first to be a big, dramatic turning point in the story, but it made no actual sense that I could discern. Likewise the weighty "hide the book" scene that followed. Huh? OK, so Harry won a wizard's duel, so let's get rid of the book that didn't actually seem to help him win it anyway...? Oh, and that magical cloud-busting scene near the end just made no kind of sense.

There are countless awkward and badly paced scenes, along with transitions that seem to lead nowhere. At times, I felt what Half-Blood most needed was a good editor. A lot of scenes just didn't need to be there, and I felt like a lot of valuable information must have been left on the cutting-room floor.

The movie carries an appropriate air of dread, but it is presented without any sense of a thrill. And, sadly, it seems like a few good actors in this ensemble cast, young and old alike, have grown tired of their roles. Even Alan Rickman's dark Severus Snape, one of the most intriguing characters in the series, fails to engage this time around.

Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry's opposite number at Hogwarts, sends apples and birds through a magical cabinet to no clear purpose, and we learn the despicable lad is now conflicted, although we've no idea why. At least Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) finally gets a brief but fiery Gandalf scene as Gollum-like creatures converge on his subterranean rock.

There are, however, some lively scenes of burgeoning young romance (even though I still contend Rowling got her cues mixed up when pairing off couples), and magic potions play double duty as uppers, downers and steroids.

The good news is our young heroes -- Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), now joined by Harry's pending love interest, Ginny (Bonnie Wright) -- continue to grow and mature into their roles, showing a new range of depth and emotion across the board. The latest addition in the revolving door of Hogwarts faculty -- a squinty Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn -- is a treat from start to end.

Well ... there is still the final book in the series, which will come out in 2010 and 2011 as a two-parter. At least my 11-year-old daughter enjoyed the movie, although, when asked, she couldn't explain why. It's probably enough that she has a crush on Daniel Radcliffe.

review by
Tom Knapp

18 July 2009

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