More gloom and cinematic craftsmanship is brought along to this new Harry Potter adventure. It may not draw the casual observer or non-fans, but this sometimes exhilirating and humorous entry definitely has its footing in place for what looks to be an intense, very forboding two-part conclusion.
The sixth year at Hogwarts is chronicled in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson again as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It does a more than adequate job of balancing the Muggle and Wizard realms even after a startling opening from a trio of diving Death Eaters.
Summer has been kind of quiet after the troubling close to the The Order of the Phoenix and Harry is intercepted by the more reserved, somber headmaster Prof. Alvus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).
From the portentous storm clouds signaling the presence of the Dark Lord Voldemort, Dumbledore puts Harry up to the task of gleaning information from new Potions Professor Horace Slughorn, done with fragility and arrogance by the estimable Jim Broadbent (Inkheart, Moulin Rouge).
Harry enlists the help of Ron and Hermione in learning of the mystery of one Tom Riddle, who happened to be a once prized wizardly pupil of Slughorn. Returning scenarist Steve Kloves integrates the teen romantic tensions within the light and dark forces with amusing aplomb that gives Radcliffe, the comedically-inclined Grint, and Watson some choice lines and reaction shots as their character and actorly maturity is evident.
Harry has to sidestep the advances of Romilda Vane (Anna Shaffer) as he finds himself attentive to Ron's younger brunette sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) who has a boyfriend in Dean Thomas (Alfie Enoch). Lavender Brown, an adoring, if stalking Jessie Cave, has it for Ron which brings out simpering jealousy in Hermione who happens to be longed for by new Quidditch star Cormac (Freddie Stroma). And, there is one student who is distant as romance blossoms with diverting moments with Love Potion and chocolates, determined to make his mark as he paces the corridors of Hogwarts.
The more assured helming of David Yates has more of an ominous visual palette thanks to shadowy eye of cinematographer Bruno Delhommel (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement). Harry's potions textbook owner connects to the title with margin notes an aside that lets to the not very powerful final act disclosure. Yet, the nightmarish aura starting from cave deep within a cliff as the climax builds in a confrontation involving the Death Eaters.
From J.K. Rowling's venerable source material, one gets a Star Wars flashback or two within the final half-hour from scenes with Harry, Dumbledore, and the supercilious, snide, finally wavering Dark Arts instructor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). It's clear that many may be referring to this "Potter" as its Empire Strikes Back. Able support (besides a bravura Broadbent) is provided by a more grown-up Tom Felton as a brooding nemesis of Harry, Draco Felton, and nasty zaniness by Helena Bonham Carter as one of those under Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange. Robbie Coltrane keeps the huge Hagrid wonderfully earth and filled with bonhomie, as Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, and Julie Walters also reprise their roles with much worry for the most part this time around.
There's hardly the action on view of something along the lines Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but there's more to chew on for the performers, not consumed by the underpinnings and doom, as well as the computer-generated effects. One gets the feeling that something is really on the line, as a life and death struggle is prevalent from what develops from Slughorn's repressed memories, besides the hormonal rush. Yes, The Half-Blood Prince may not end in the right way for many, perhaps too grim for its own good as the filmmakers may need to be wary of how they divide the next chapter. But, one is certain that the stage is set for a grueling, frantic and probably more exciting finish as the series is waiting to exhale.