Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince

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I had the usual interest in seeing this movie, having read the book and seen its predecessors.  At only a couple weeks after its opening, "the event" ofharry_potter_and_the_half_blood_prince a new Harry Potter movie already seems to  have faded from current conversational fare.

In any case, I'm glad I had a college friend go with my family to see the movie, as he had little interest or knowledge of Harry Potter, having only seen the first movie.  He provided a good counterpoint to those of us who have read the book and were prepared to take note of things left out, altered, or inadequately done.

First, I enjoyed the movie.  It's a nice bit of escapism, and though a dark movie, there was a welcome portion of the better comedic moments between the three principal characters that tended to be left out of previous efforts.  This is despite an observation that the "awkward teenage years" would have been better suited to this cast several years ago, as they now look old enough to have matured beyond the script.  Still, they appeared to have fun with the trials and tribulations of crushes and dating and salvaged what would otherwise be a fairly uneven plot.

I thought they made good use, for once, of the "disposable Professor of the Year," in this case Professor Slughorn, who was an entertaining character.  And I was very relieved to see Harry Potter shed the irksome "woe is me who must save the world" posturing that was overplayed in previous movies. 

Overall, while entertaining, this was only a mediocre movie.

Regarding the title, there was certainly ample Harry Potter in this movie, but The Half Blood Prince was remarkably absent.  The term is introduced in a Potions textbook that Harry finds with scribbled notes correcting much of the content as well as hints of dark magic spells.  Just who is the author?  Should we care?

The movie never seriously investigates or answers these questions.  By drawing on interesting scenes from Lord Voldemort's childhood, the movie may have attempted to place suspicion on Him Who All Things Are Held Against.  Near the end of the movie, we find out that the infrequently seen but still menacing Professor Snape actually amended the book.  This is not surprising considering he was the former Potions instructor, yet it was revealed near the end almost as a forced afterthought.  I found Snape saying (something close to) "Yes, Potter, I'm the Half Blood Prince" to be fairly ridiculous both on its own or within the realm of all things possibly said at that critical juncture.  There was no context provided that Snape was even aware that Harry Potter was even questioning whose book it was, though it was established that Potter had learned one of Snape's spells.

The use of available screen time was often questionable, especially given the movie's length (153 minutes) and the abundance of potential content.  Why spend time on a throw-away special effects scene of Dumbledore restoring a house to its proper housekeeping? Why bother with Potter trying to listen in on Draco on the train to the school? Why torch the Weasley's house?  And why feature a plot development (Draco's adventures with the Vanishing Cabinet) for Voldemort's evil minions, the Death Eaters, to finally appear in a climactic scene in which they do not participate?

The last was the most troubling question, and it's apparently one already asked of the Director, who felt that major wizarding battles were best reserved for the final two movies.

They're certainly necessary for the overarching storyline.  The insertion of related disappearances in "The Daily Prophet" and the cursed actions of students indicate that Voldemort's forces are gaining ground.  Then there's the mysterious actions of the suddenly burdened and isolated Draco Malfoy that suggests that some evil will come of it.  Only, it doesn't.

A major battle scene with the Death Eaters, as the author wrote in the book, would have done a much better job of transitioning to the next chapters where the wizarding world is torn asunder by violence and suspicion, a world outside of the intermittently safe walls of Hogwarts where Harry Potter must next work.

But that's the way it goes when a book rich in detail is converted to a movie.  The Lord of the Rings managed to get it right, but it's rare to see any movie done as well or better than a book.  My enjoyment of the movie did not result on its conclusion.  It's no fault of the movie that this ended on the somber tone with the killing of Dumbledore.  Just as The Empire Strikes Back was an unsatisfying intermediate step in the fuller story, "The Half Blood Prince" suffers in setting the stage for more important things to come. Finally.

Rating: 3 of 5 (regardless of whether one has read the book).

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