By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
It would have been Heaven to be surprised…to find that “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” wasn’t the stultifying bore I expected. But it is forty-five minutes into the movie and I begin to fear the worst. In life I was dismissive if not unfair about the whole Potter thing. This is my ironic comeuppance. I am in Hell and this film will never end.
Happily, I overreacted. And so, wrong about my fate and having lived to write another movie review, like an ebullient Scrooge after his spiritual enlightening I wish to be unbiased, to inform that I have not had it up to here with this franchise’s self-importance. But alas, I am human and, thankfully, not yet the saint such forbearance would require.
But let’s face it: To the dedicated Harry Potter adherent I am beside the point— outside the fold and without knowledge of the secret handshake. The truth is, my review is intended for the great unwashed. In the unexpected event that installment # 6 were entertaining and could stand on its own merits, I’d be heralding the good news.
Yet, while such is not the case, a few kind words are nonetheless in order. It is not for lack of effort or talent that the billion-dollar phenomenon isn’t very phenomenal. The art direction is great, almost each frame worthy of gallery placement. But then, humming the scenery is like telling someone his homely, potential blind date has a great personality.
Another left-handed compliment goes to the cast for being able to keep a straight face whilst acting out the most pretentious of plot convolutions. Such gravity! Surely it must be hard for Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter to suppress a, “Who died and made you the genius?” following any of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s prophetic pronouncements.
Beware, outsiders who intrepidly go forth despite this critique’s poorly scrawled sarcasms. You will wish you had a libretto, a legend and a map of this far-flung world. If it’s invented in time, a headpiece that allows you to grok all the inside jokes and allusions that Steve Kloves’s screenplay randomly spews would also prove rather beneficial.
All of which can’t help but make the uninitiated spectator wonder why the adolescent target audience is so enamored of the realm in and around the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If nothing else, there is a sociology that begs study. Courtesy of the film’s endless loop duration (really, just 153 minutes), you’ll have time to ponder it.
But just in case you do care to have a go at the storyline, note that following a little premonitory hocus-pocus, Harry and chums arrive for their 6th year at Hogwarts. Yes, it occurs to ask why these future wizards and sorceresses aren’t yet out making a living, casting spells or stirring cauldrons? Hopefully it’s the recession and not slothfulness.
Naturally, the never-ending battle among good, bad and the totally incomprehensible resumes. Taking Harry ever closer under wing, patriarchal Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) asks the lad to help him woo potions maven Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) back to Hogwarts. He might be the key to defeating wicked Lord Voldemort.
Enticed by the prospect of counting the famous Harry Potter among his legendary list of successful pupils, old Slughorn accedes. With that, Harry and his homies Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) immediately sign up for the prof’s potions class. Rushing to the bin to acquire a used textbook, Harry makes his big find.
The book is inscribed, “Property of the Half-Blood Prince,” and is annotated throughout. Hmm, this Half Prince was obviously quite a student. By using his footnotes instead of the verbatim formulas therein, Harry’s concoctions catapult him to the head of his class. Slughorn awards Harry a luck potion. Ron and Hermione are skeptical.
No matter. Avenging and vindicating his murdered parents has always been job #1 for the orphaned Mr. Potter. And this might be a step in that direction. Cheater notes or not, his two best friends remain steadfast in their support. Still, there’s also time for assorted romances, dalliances, brainstorming roundtables and an occasional game of Quidditch.
To tell more might not only spill the beans but also be downright painful. Plus, it would require an explanatory tome of Potter lore and liturgy. Fact is, it all filters to the usual showdown between morality and evil. While regally cloaked in all manner of mystical nook and cranny, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is no crowning achievement.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” rated PG, is a Warner Bros. Pictures release directed by David Yates and stars Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon and Emma Watson. Running time: 153 minutes
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