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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince felt like the Cliff’s notes to a better movie to me. Perhaps having read the book makes a difference but I try to be open and fair to material translated to screen. It seemed to me, though, that more or less the entire mystery of just who the Half-Blood Prince may have been, the namesake and chief question of the book and allegedly the film, was cut out of the plot, save the occasional glance at the book and one last second, out of nowhere revelation.

What remained in its place was every question of who was dating whom at Hogwarts, which went on interminably. The slow burn of Hermione’s anger with Ron felt rushed in this and all the rest of it was largely filler that could have been left off for more substantial plotlines. The horcruxes seem to be just barely touched upon, despite their importance to the overarching story and their destruction leading directly to the death of a central character.

The cast is largely able and most of them have lived in these characters long enough that they should be able to handle them in their sleep. It is the sixth film after all. At times they even seem to be doing that. Perhaps fatigue is understandably setting it. I didn’t care much for the one new casting, though, in Jim Broadbent as new professor Horace Slughorn. I find Broadbent far too affable for such a devious role, I’m afraid. True, he had the avuncular nature of the character necessary but seemed only frightened into action and never seedy enough about looking out for himself. But then he may be just one more character sacrificed to make sure teen romance got its onscreen due.

When the rare break between make out parties occurs, it is usually that Voldemort’s agents, the Death Eaters, have descended from the heavens to wreck havoc upon Harry and his Order of the Phoenix. Outside of one assassination plot they generally seemed bent on causing chaos and had no other plan outside of the occasional psychological warfare. But mostly they existed in Half-Blood Prince to keep the boys in the audience from making too many “eewwww” noises. The action itself was pretty well done where it was. They films even more so than the books focus on the wizard sport, Quidditch, because something actually moves in those scenes. Fighting with wands just doesn’t have the visual heft of swords, guns, laser swords or laser guns but they do a fairly good job of making the mortality of the duels believable.

The film is far too dark. I don’t mean in tone, I mean they needed more lights on the set. A number of times I couldn’t tell where they were or what they were doing. It started to look like Burton’s Batman after a while and I suspect for the same reason. Make it dark enough and no one will be able to see that nothing is happening.

Going back to the oversaturation of romantic subplots once again in Half-Blood Prince, let me sum up my real problem with the film. Yes, these are teenagers and their hormones are stereotypically raging and they are all aflutter with the possibilities of love. However, this is being set against the backdrop of an all out war of good against evil, which is presented in occasionally gruesome and deathly scenes. The Harry Potter films are trying desperately to have it both ways, though. Imagine cutting back and forth between a portrayal of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, where the U.S. troops are being slaughtered left and right, and Liesl of The Sound of Music singing her “16 Going on 17” song. Sure, they’re both during WWII but I think people dying takes precedence over who you take to the prom. And The Sound of Music was wise enough to keep the horror far in the background. That’s what this film tries to pull off and those scenes don’t really work together. Focus on death and dismay, or focus on who goes to Wizard Prom, but make a choice. 2 ½ stars

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