“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
Warner Bros.
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2.5 out of 5 stars

All the wand waving, spell casting and potion brewing in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” does little to bewitch its audience. Although superior to most of the “Harry Potter” movies, the sixth effort still doesn’t match the original charm of the book on which it’s based.

In “Half-Blood Prince,” Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), the central cast of the past five “Harry Potter” movies, encounter a situation where there is no safe place in the wizarding or muggle world. Not even the seemingly impervious Hogwarts is free from the danger that a restored Lord Voldemort presents.

The constant fear renders this film much darker than its predecessors. Hogwarts loses its innocent feel under clouds of the Dark Mark, and director David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) steps up to present stunning scenes of violence including the opening shot of a collapsing bridge and, later, (spoiler alert!) Albus Dumbledore’s (Michael Gambon, “The Good Shepherd”) death. Though the idea of a world of witchcraft and wizardry is certainly whimsical, Yates does a nice job of presenting a world that, despite its magic, can still be touched by tragedy.

Just as good forces battle with evil, the dark times battle against light-hearted ones. Harry, Ron and Hermoine all find themselves with romantic aspirations. But the romance is forced and the film suggests, without much subtlety, that the characters are all grown-up. At one point Dumbledore makes a peculiar comment to Harry about his need to shave. It’s the physical, off-screen development of the actors that suggests maturation, but the characters have hardly changed in personality from the first movie.

While it’s a shame that character development is sacrificed for Quidditch and snogging, there are some redeeming moments in these shallow scenes. For example, Lavender Brown (newcomer Jessie Cave), Ron’s love interest, is particularly entertaining because of her high-pitched squeals and facial contortions.

But one character does show depth. Jim Broadbent (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”), a newcomer to the “Harry Potter” series gives the best acting performance in the film as Professor Horace Slughorn. His character is self-important but has a complexity that is not present in any other character.

As with the other “Harry Potter” movies, a lot of the plot has been cut out in order to make room for special effects. The effects are well executed and realistic (particularly the scene when Dumbledore tidies up a room with a flick of his wand), but on-screen magic cannot fix the gaps left in the plot.

“Harry Potter” readers can understand Dumbledore and Harry’s quest for horcruxes, but those who haven’t read the books might not. The film tends to take large leaps from scene to scene, skimming over crucial events in Voldemort’s past. And even though the film is called “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the search for the Half-Blood Prince is whittled away to a brief line about doing some unproductive research in the library.

While it holds up as one of the better movies in the series, “Half-Blood Prince” is still too packed with airy, cheap thrills to capture its audience like the books did.

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