Tenuous Transition

Harry Potter installment no. 6 is a dull, disconcerting letdown

After watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I'm worried that a franchise that was building up some significant steam could be heading for a disaster of Matrix proportions. While the movie doesn't commit an atrocity on the level of, say, the rave scene in Matrix Reloaded, it is quite dull—and this far into the series, that's a bit disconcerting.

This is easily the least likable Potter film since the dull first one (Sorcerer's Stone). I liked the second one (Chamber of Secrets), totally loved the third (Prisoner of Azkaban), was OK with the fourth (Goblet of Fire) and really liked the fifth (Order of the Phoenix).

The biggest surprise regarding the failure of Half-Blood Prince is that David Yates, the same man behind the camera for Phoenix, directed the film. He's also in charge of the upcoming two-part finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If the Deathly Hallows films are anything like this one, Harry's cinematic story will smash into the earth like a Quidditch broom that has lost its soaring power.

Things start interestingly enough, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) almost picking up a hot waitress in a diner, and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) spoiling the party. The old wizard needs Harry's help in recruiting former Hogwarts teacher Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Dumbledore wants him back in the fold for some reason, and he needs to use Harry as bait.

Dumbledore chooses to show Harry some rather disturbing memories of a former student named Tom Riddle, a young kid who could talk to snakes and who grew up to be a major troublemaker. Yates and the young people he gets to play Riddle in these memories (one of them being Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, a relative of Ralph Fiennes) make these scenes easily the best of the film. Actually, I wish a larger percentage of this movie had been flashbacks of the creepy kids. This aspect of the film is engaging.

Sadly, the movie turns out to be, for the most part, a blasé look at Harry and friends starting to notice the opposite sex. A subplot involving Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and his emerging sex appeal is nothing but silly. Even worse, the normally enjoyable Hermione (Emma Watson) is left to do little but pout and whimper, and she rarely raises her mood above somber.

A major character says goodbye near the film's end—and Yates bungles it. Given the importance of the character, I was expecting something momentous. Instead, we get a scene that feels rushed and has little emotional impact.

Yeah, I get it: The movie is supposed to be dark, disturbing and foreboding. It's supposed to act as a transitional film to the big finale. I'm OK with the dark sinister stuff; hell, I welcome it. But Voldemort is nowhere to be seen (unless you count cloud formations), and the movie's secondary bad guys are not given enough screen time to really register. The whole thing lacks focus.

I haven't read the books (with the exception of Deathly Hallows). With every one of these movies, I have heard diehard fans complain about key points in the books being left out, which is a necessity, considering the lengths of the novels—but the Potterheads I know are almost outraged by the omissions made in this film. I also got a sense that something was missing.

While I'm mostly complaining here, the film is more of a near-miss than a total failure. But given the quality of the four chapters preceding it, this qualifies as a major letdown, especially after the delay in the release date.

Part one of Hallows hits next year. Let's hope Half Blood-Prince is just a misstep for Yates, and that he steers the franchise to a finish worthy of Harry and friends. And, please, no rave scenes.

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