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Bob Garver's review of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

July 21, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

For this review, I'm going to assume that anyone interested in the film is already familiar with the "Harry Potter" franchise. If you aren't, please know that this is the sixth entry in the series and the film requires a lot of knowledge of the previous five entries. This is not a good time to get into the series, and thus you will be lost in the plot and unlikely to enjoy the film.

For this outing, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) joins his best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) for their sixth year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Dark Lord Voldemort is terrorizing the wizarding world, but Hogwart's is relatively safe.

Hogwart's Headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) may have a way of finally defeating Voldemort, but it involves getting information from new professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent).

Meanwhile, evil student Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been given a mysterious mission from Voldemort and attempts to carry it out with help from Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter). Hagrid (Robbie Coltraine) mourns the death of a giant spider. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) is in there somewhere.

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That was a long summery and I didn't get to elaborate on anything. There were some things I didn't even mention such as Quidditch, the constant love triangles, the practical joke shop, a zombie attack or anything related to the Half-Blood Prince. The movie itself is quite like the summary -- trying to cram so much into a relatively large amount of time (153 minutes is long for a movie). Like the summary, some things get left out (I was especially disappointed with the omission of details of Voldemort's past). And like the summary, the film feels too rushed.

The best parts of the "Harry Potter" books and movies are when the story slows down so the reader (or viewer) can take in the details. I know that Harry's back-to-school shopping in Diagon Alley isn't going to be as exciting as a dragon battle, but the little things in those scenes are so rich and detailed that they suck you into Harry's world more than an intense broom chase ever could.

To be fair, there are a few nice slow parts preserved in "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." As with several of the other installments, the film starts off with special effects (to prove that it indeed has special effects) and finishes with special effects (for a big finish), but there's some interesting character development in the scenes in the middle.

It has been well established that Ron and Hermione like each other but won't admit it, and they never seem to be available for each other in this film. The timing for Harry to fall in love with Ron's sister Ginny is much better, but Harry's Voldemort-related responsibilities prove distracting.

The acting is always an important part of these big ensemble pieces. The students are nice and relatable as always. They have a tendency to become annoying as they are put under various spells, but the audience at the showing I attended liked these scenes so I may be in the minority.

Broadbent is an excellent addition to the cast as the conflicted Professor Slughorn. I can't say I care for the way Michael Gambon plays Dumbledore. The character is supposed to be a symbol of confidence and peacefulness. Gambon makes me feel more nervous and intimidated than the late Richard Harris did.

It all leads up to the ending that jerk-y "Harry Potter" fans are eager to spoil. We have one more book adaptation to go, one that will be split into two films. I'm looking forward to more deliberate pacing in the future.

The overstuffed "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is all right, but it definitely could have benefitted from the two-film treatment.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality. Its runtime is 153 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu .

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