Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (***)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. 153 mins. PG. Directed by David Yates. Written by Steve Kloves. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, and Jim Broadbent.

After a nine-month delay from its original November '08 release date, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is finally in theaters, riding a wave of advance hype and critical kudos. It is with a touch of sadness then that I have to report that the latest Potter flick is a letdown and not all it's cracked up to be. My guess is that all those critics who have fawned over the movie have never read the book. If they had, then they would know that this, six films in, is probably the least successful adaptation to date.

After sitting Order of the Phoenix out, Steve Kloves is back in the screenwriter's chair again, and he must be a bit rusty. Now, I don't consider myself one of those people who always complain that the movie is not as good as the book. It's important to realize that the book is the book, and the movie is the movie. It's never been an issue for me on any of the previous Potter films, but the changes, additions, and deletions in Half-Blood Prince kill any shot the movie has at achieving greatness. That is a real shame too, because the book is my favorite in the series, mixing laughs, romance, action and suspense in equally potent doses with style and grace. Add to that its whopper of an ending (one that had Potter fans debating all summer long), intense action, and bad-ass final scene, and there's no reason this movie shouldn't have you on the edge of your seat as the credits rolled, wanting to see the next installment Right. Frakking. Now.

Instead, Kloves and director David Yates are content keeping things at a static hum - the movie never achieves liftoff or builds to anything. It stays involving but flat throughout, and though this being a Potter movie, there are charms a plenty and much to enjoy, I still left the theater with aching disappointment. Here's the good though: the movie looks amazing. The image has a crisp, gray overtone that sets an appropriately somber mood, the acting by the three leads has never been better (welcome to the club, Emma Watson!), and the special effects are top notch. I especially liked the effects used to create the flying Death Eaters. The supporting cast of British thespians reads like a who's who of acting greats - chief among them Alan Rickman as Snape (brilliant as always, though underutilized), and newbie Jim Broadbent as the new Potions teacher, Horace Slughorn. Broadbent steals the show, in a richly textured and funny performance. The not-so-good: in addition to the above, the whole Harry-Ginny romantic subplot - it's handled as an afterthought, and a pretty weak one at that.

There is much to admire in Half-Blood Prince, but its deviations from the book are unforgivable and, in the end, this is probably the worst of the Potter flicks. Note: I saw this the first time at the midnight show on opening night, and thought I may have just been tired and cranky. Nope. Saw it again a few days later, and felt the exact same way. Once again, I must ask too much from you, Harry.... You better deliver with Deathly Hallows.



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