Let’s be honest here— if you didn’t go see the first FIVE “Harry Potter” films, then chances are good that you’ll probably pass on the franchise’s latest installment, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” as well. A lot has happened to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson among others) since they made the jump from the page to the silver screen in November of 2001, so now is probably not the best place to join in on the worldwide phenomenon anyway.
Chances are good that you’ve heard of Harry Potter though, even if you’ve never seen or read of one of his adventures. If not. well then that must be some rock you’re living under.
Some rock indeed.
If that’s the case, then here’s a brief summary from someone who is TOTALLY unqualified to give one.
Harry is a wizard. His friends are also wizards. He goes to a preppy boarding school for wizards. There is a bad wizard who wants to take over the world. Harry, despite being a kid, is thought to be the only wizard who can stop the bad wizard.
So that’s pretty much the Cliff-Notes version of where everything stands coming into “The Half-Blood Prince.”
It seems the one thing that wizards and regular old humans— or “muggles” as they call us— have in common is that when you get to be a teenager: look out.
Hormones fly around in this installment like broomsticks at a Quiddich match. If you don’t know what Quiddich is then take that as a sign that this probably isn’t the film for you.
It seems that you can’t throw a stone in Hogwarts (the aforementioned preppy wizard school) without hitting a love triangle.
This person likes that one, but she likes this other one who treats her bad and so forth.
Emma Watson, who plays Harry’s friend Hermione in the film, recently compared it to a romantic comedy, and she’s not totally off base with that comparison.
The fairly complex mythology of the earlier films more then once takes a back seat to the relationships between the characters here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It’s not a great thing either, as the titular “Half-Blood Prince” is only given a so-so explanation and the previously mentioned bad wizard is nowhere to be found.
Some all powerful monster he is, taking a vacation and letting his cronies do all the dirty work.
Then again, all of this may just be explained in “Harry Potter 7 Part 1” and “Part 2” when those are released.
The basic plot of this one in particular follows Harry as he attempts to unlock a secret from Voldemort’s (aka Tom Riddle aka vacationing bad wizard) past that could help to save the world.
Well, that and all the relationship stuff.
The film was directed by David Yates, the man behind the previous installment: 2006’s lackluster “The Order of the Phoenix.”
Fortunately for “Potter” fans, Yates has grown tremendously as a filmmaker since that film, which lost itself in a flash of over-the-top special effects and lightsaber. er. magic wand battles.
Yates handles the effects with a bit more skill here and never loses sight of the script. He lets the characters shine and puts his faith in the cast to carry the film.
On the flip side of that coin, the film is actually pretty bleak. Especially for a PG-rated, kids movie about magic. Maybe not as dark in tone as the third entry, the Alfonso Cuaron directed “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was, but dark nonetheless.
In keeping with this tone, it’s Hogwarts that seems to have undergone the biggest change.
Gone are the staircases that rearrange themselves, the ghosts that wandered its hall and the paintings that held conversations with those who passed by them.
Actually, as far as schools for wizards go, the Hogwarts seen in “The Half-Blood Prince” is kind of ordinary.
Outside of the built-in fanbase, the cast has always been the best thing going for the “Harry Potter” films.
Michael Gambon shines as Dumbledore, while new-comer to the series Jim Broadbent handles the tricky role of Professor Slugworth perfectly.
At this point in the process, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson could probably play Harry, Ron and Hermione in their sleep they’ve been doing it so long. Still, each is able to keep up with their character’s expanding emotional depth, no small feat to say the least.
The real winner though, as has also been true of the previous five films, is Alan Rickman who portrays the mysterious Professor Snape.
Snape is far and away series author J.K. Rowling’s most interesting creation. He walks the fine line between good and evil, guided by motivations that only he knows.
You’re not sure whether to love him or fear him, but you certainly can’t hate him. Not with Alan Rickman drawing out words and phrases in ways that only he can manage.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” isn’t likely to win over any new converts to the church of Potter, but those who are already members should find it to be a more then adequate tribute to their beloved book series. It’s not the best film in the series, but it’s certainly a giant step up from the previous entry.