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“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is a full-bodied piece of entertainment

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“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is a full-bodied piece of entertainment

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I’m almost afraid to say this, given that there are still two installments of the “Harry Potter” film franchise yet to come (i.e. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One,” which is currently slated to hit theaters in November of 2010. While “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two” will reportedly close out the series in July of 2011). And just talking out loud about this aspect of this nine-years-in-the-making production might be enough to jinx things. But in the entire history of Hollywood, has there ever been another series of sequels that were this well produced, that were this consistently entertaining? That – all the way 'cross the board – have maintained the same high standards when it came to quality, casting & craft?

That’s why I can’t help marveling at “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Prince.” I mean, it seems almost unnatural that – six pictures into a cinematic epic like this – that Warner Bros. Pictures and Heyday Films can still deliver something that seems this fresh & engaging, that isn’t the least bit formulaic.

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledor & Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
(L to R) Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledoe and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures
/ Heyday Films. All Rights Reserved

But that’s exactly what they’d done with the movie version of “Half-Blood Prince.” And the lion’s share of the credit really has to go to director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves.

Of course, by now, Yates and Kloves are old hands at Hogwarts (i.e. David directed 2007’s “Order of the Phoenix,” while Steve has written the screenplays for the first four installments of the “Harry Potter” film series). So these two already have plenty of experience when it comes to translating J.K. Rowling’s best sellers to the big screen.

David Yates directs Oliver & James Phelps in a sceme from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
(L to R) David Yates directs Oliver & James Phelps in a scene from "Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince." Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures / Heyday Films. All Rights Reserved

And given that “Half Blood Prince” really is one of the more exposition-heavy books in the “Harry Potter” series, David & Steve had their hands full this time around. What with having to find a cinematic way to wade through all that talk about (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD) horcruxes and hormones. Not to mention the death of a much-beloved character.

That’s one of the real wonders of “Half-Blood Prince.” Given all of the plot points that have to be covered in this 153 minute-long motion picture, Yates & Kloves still find time to give virtually every actor in the immense “Harry Potter” cast their chance to stand in the spotlight.

Jim broadbent as Horace Slughorn in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
(L to R) Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures
/ Heyday Films. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, the cast actually got bigger this time around with the addition of Jim Broadbent. But his take on new potions professor Horace Slughorn is right in line with what Michael Gambon does with Dumbledore and Dame Maggie Smith does with Minerva McGonagall. These old pros are clearly having a ball playing Rowling’s all-too-human wizards & witches. But – at the same time – Broadbent, Gambon and Smith bring a real conviction to their performances. They genuinely want the audience to care about all these colorful characters.

But then again, the folks at Warner Bros. Pictures and Heyday Films have always done a terrific job when it comes to casting the “Harry Potter” pictures. I mean, right from the get-go, they were smart enough to hire Julie Walters to play Mrs. Weasley and Alan Rickman to play Professor Severus Snape. And those two still make every moment count whenever their characters appear on screen.

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
(L to R) Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger and
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures / Heyday Films. All Rights Reserved

Of course, the real coup here was in hiring Daniel Radcliffe to play Harry Potter, Emma Watson to play Hermione Granger, Rupert Grint to play Ron Weasley, Tom Felton to play Draco Malfoy and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom. Who knew that – back in 2000 when these child actors were all hired for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – that they’d eventually grow into performers confident & skilled enough to be able to handle all the twists & turns that J.K. Rowling’s increasingly dark tale would throw their way.

Speaking of Ms. Rowling … Some of the more hardcore Harry Potter fans out there may take exception with the liberties that David & Steve have taken with “Half-Blood Prince” ‘s storyline. But the changes that they’ve made – an attack on the Burrow, folding in a few story points that were left over from “Order of the Phoenix” – just made “Half-Blood Prince” that much more entertaining a motion picture.

Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Helen McCory in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
(L to R) Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Helen McCroy in "Harry Potter
and the Half-Blood Prince. Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures / Heyday Films.
All Rights Reserved

Then when you add in Bruno Delbonnel ‘s terrific camerawork as well as Stuart Craig’s increasingly ornate production design and … Well, there’s no other way to say this. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is a full-bodied piece of entertainment. And if you’ve enjoyed the first five films in this series, you’re sure to have a good time at this one as well.

Your thoughts?

Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures / Heyday Films. All Rights Reserved

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  • Your review has got me pumped Jim, looking forward to seeing the film this evening.

  • The film series lost me with Goblet of Fire.  Prisoner of Azkhaban was bad enough, with it leaving out exceedingly important plot points, but Goblet of Fire seemed to hold an inherent hatred for its characters, exposing the basic immorality and illogic of the entire wizarding world.

    Maybe it's better in the books, but the world of Harry Potter in the movies is not a world I'm interested in inhabiting.  From the brutal and masochistic "sport" of Quidditch to the appalling levels of danger and secrecy, to the bullheadedness and obliviousness of nearly the entire corpus of wizards, I just can't take it any more.

    (And all that is without even mentioning the overused and trite "only one person can save us" basic storyline!)

  • I think Harry Potter is the most over-hyped, overblown work of mediocre fantasy fiction in history.  Rowling's world is a glum, ugly, contrived and uninspired world, especially when compared to the bright realms of Narnia, Oz, Middle-Earth and Wonderland. Her main character has ZERO personality and her supporting characters are tiresome "types" - bookworm girl and goofy slacker sidekick. Shades of Velma and Shaggy from ScoobyDoo! And speaking of mysteries, why on EARTH kids have taken to this series is a puzzle for the ages; one can only surmise that too many kids have been deprived of the classics and have no idea what good fantasy fiction is like. Plus Potter erupted during the era of Buffy and The X-Files, both of which aimed at an older fantasy-hungry audience, and Harry filled the void for the younger set. Rowling caught lightning in a bottle, and I congratulate her on her success, but I deplore her middling fiction being lauded as great literature. It's like calling McDonald's "food" great cuisine. I'll be glad when the last 2 films are released and the Potter craze is OVER.

  • Plus...Ron and Hermione as a couple? And Dumbledore is gay? Give me a freaking break!!!!

  • Harry Potter is about one boy's quest to replace his family by picking up a pseudo brother and sister in Ron and Hermione, and marrying into their family. That said, it's better than how Twilight wrapped things up.

  • Gigglesock-

    Get off your high horse. Have you even read the books? Or are you one of those people who dislike everything that is "popular" so that you can seem edgy? If that's the case.... Grow up. That behavior is what I expect from the tween's that I teach on a daily basis.

  • Or Harmony shippers. If any of you guys run out of podcasts, try theirs. It's an interesting listen and funny in its presumption. Granted, I still think the final pairings are on the convenient side, but to hear people so convinced they know better than the author...

  • Priesman, I've read all seven books. I've earned the right to say that they fail to impress me. The first book was kinda cute. Derivative as hell, but cute. But as the series progressed, reading the books became a plodding tedious chore. At the very least, Rowling needed a good and gutsy editor. Again, I'm happy for Rowling's success, but still think her books are lifeless, listless, uninspired and glum. After reading "Order of the Phoenix", I reread Tolkein's "The Hobbit" as a way of cleansing the palate and reminding myself what good fantasy fiction is really like.

    Tomoyo, what are "Harmony shippers"?

  • Potter fans who support a romantic (relation)ship between Harry and Hermione.

  • I really enjoyed this movie and thought it was a great setup for the very exciting and intense last installment of the series.

  • What a bunch of whiners. I love Harry Potter.

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