Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (PG)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe
“New Potion Discovered: Potter Six Found to Cure Insomnia”
Only sparks emanate from the spell casting sticks at the Hogwarts School of Magic these days. Perhaps Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his chums, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson), need to replace the batteries in their wands. I hear Energizer batteries keep going and going…
Unfortunately, so does the successful movie series based on the wildly successful series of novels penned by J.K. Rowling. What’s unfortunate is that the wide-eyed wonder and boundless creativity that were hallmarks of the first few films has all but vanished in the more recent entries in the series. I guess it’s natural that as the plots have become increasingly darker and grimmer, the enjoyment factor has exponentially diminished to follow suit. To make matters worse, the latter plots have become increasingly formulaic and just aren’t as fanciful or fun as earlier efforts.
The penultimate tale, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, though shrouded with spells of concealment, is ultimately ineffective in hiding its aging formula, brought on by series fatigue. Harry, as well as the story itself, is chiefly concerned with revelations pertaining to Tom Riddle and a mysterious textbook that use to belong to someone who signed the book Half-blood Prince, hence the title. While Harry is consumed with such weighty and worrisome issues, Ron is preoccupied with being a Quidditch champion and agonizing over which of two female companions he should commit to, one of which is Hermoine…awkward!
At this point in the series, the plots are predetermined to the point of being perfunctory: in each movie there has to be a Quidditch match, various classes at Hogwarts where revelations are made, a central mystery, friction between the triad of main characters, etc. Such cookie cutter plots might be exciting for those diehard fans who are delirious with excitement each time a new Potter book or movie is released, but as for this Muggle, I’d like to see more progression in the story arcs and, dare I be so bold in requesting, some character complexity to these increasingly threadbare fantasy tapestries. When variations on the theme become the theme, then the stories have become a caricature of themselves, not to be taken seriously. This film is the biggest disappointment in the series to date because it merely riffs on what’s been done before while marking time until the finale arrives in the series capper.
Still, for all of its inherent flaws, and there are many, the Half-Blood Prince has a handful of redeeming story elements. The movie’s action sequences, though few in number, are well executed and brilliantly visualized. The barn burning sequence, in particular, is well staged and adds some urgency and synergy to the doughy middle of the story. Also adding immeasurably to the story, and it’s truly impossible to overestimate the value of his presence or performance in the movie, is Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, the new professor of potions. Broadbent brings charm and whimsy to his role, which serves as one of the only bright spots in an otherwise dreary film. Another plot element that works well is the intrigue surrounding the assassination attempts made against everyone’s favorite wizard, Gandalf, …er, Dumbledore. This subplot is one of the only story elements to generate any degree of nail-biting suspense in the movie.
In the end, the Half-Blood Prince is an unsatisfactory chapter in Rowling’s enduringly popular fantasy saga and does little to move the meta-plot forward but insists on using repetitious story lines as filler with as little original material as possible to flesh out the movie. The table has been set for a rousing finale to the series. Hopefully Harry’s swan song will be a marked improvement over this half-hearted effort.
Rating: 2 1/2