July 16, 2009

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Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (PG)
Harry and friends use words like “tosser” and “git” and mope about their love lives while killing time in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince, which could also have been titled Harry Potter & the Two-plus Hours of Filler.

Or Harry Potter & the Sixth Book of a Seven-Book Contract.

Or Harry Potter & the Movie Before the Exciting Stuff.

Or Harry Potter & the 135 Minutes of Dilly-Dallying Before the Plot Moves Forward in the Final 15 or So Minutes.

I could go on — really, there’s very little plot to discuss so I’ve got the time.

When the movie opens, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is in a train station snack bar, hitting on a waitress. It was a brief ray of hope that the movie would have a bit of gritty fun with its now-solidly-teenaged cast. But we quickly return to wizards and such with Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) showing up to take Harry on the first of many scavenger hunts through the memories of the school years of one Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin or Frank Dillane, depending on the age), the kid who became the evil Lord Voldemort. The big new character in this book is Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a teacher who knew Harry’s mother (who didn’t know one of his parents in this universe?) and who taught Riddle. Dumbledore wants him to teach at Hogwarts because he believes Slughorn may hold the key to a coming showdown with Voldemort.

Meanwhile, since everybody is in the 16/17 age range in this book and there’s not a lot of comic relief in planning for wizard-on-wizard war, we get romance and angst. Harry is pining for Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), sister of his best friend, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). Ron spends much of his time snogging with a girl named Lavender (Jessie Cave), much to the dismay of Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). She tries to get back at Ron at one point by giving in to the heavy flirting of Cormac McLaggen (Freddie Stroma), a rather full-of-himself boy whom she generally finds vile.

And on and on we go with “does he like me like me or just like me” scenes intertwined with stuff about Voldemort’s backstory and Dumbledore’s quest and a bunch of sneaking around by the seemingly mental-breakdown-approaching but still malevolent-ish Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). This movie could also be called Harry Potter & the Red Herring, because the “Half-Blood Prince” of the title is a mystery half-heartedly examined and then shut down with one line of text in that “here’s where all the stuff happens” final 15- to 20-minute segment.

Mostly, the movie is about waiting — waiting for this movie’s ending and waiting for the final chapter, which is told in the seventh book of the written series and will be told in the seventh and eighth movies in the film series (scheduled for fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 at the moment). Even if you only watch the movies and don’t read the books, even if you don’t know exactly what will happen, you can probably guess what generally won’t happen. It’s a tough (and probably unavoidable) situation for a series like this.

To make up for it, the movie tries to put in lots of neat imagery — Helena Bonham Carter’s Bellatrix Lestrange helps with providing the evil beauty and we get Quidditch games and other Hogwarts prettiness to provide some visual wows even when there aren’t really any story wows. For me, this doesn’t completely make up for the fact that the movie is two hours and 33 minutes long. But for the obsessed fan, the joy of the story-telling here isn’t going to be found in expediency; it’s about savoring the remaining hours in this world. And the obsessed fan won’t be as befuddled as I was trying to remember who everyone was and what happened to them in the last movie. (When Carter’s character shows up at one point to terrorize Harry, yelling “I killed Sirius Black,” I felt relieved — oh right, I thought, that’s?why she’s such a major villain.) I’ll even join the obsessed fan in enjoying watching our young heroes grow up — and grow more British. Their Brit-slang and scruffy teenage appearance help make them a bit more like real people and less like the fairy tale moppets they started out as.

And if you’re an obsessed fan, or more importantly, if you’re the parent of an obsessed fan, you’re going to this movie, possibly even in I-MAX to get the full Potter effect. You’ll argue about it later, maybe you’ll pick at something that wasn’t quite the way it was in the book or you’ll delight at how the movie got it exactly as you imagined. You’ll be satisfied or not-so-satisfied but in any event anxious for the next movie. You’ll go and you’ll have fun and that’s great. The rest of us, the Harry Potter dabblers, the Rowling dilettantes, the fair-weather fans, we can probably just wait for part one of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Perhaps spend the summer rereading some of the books in preparation instead. B-

Rated PG. Directed by David Yates and written by Steve Kloves (from the novel by J.K. Rowling), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is two hours and 33 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.