David Yates already directed the best Harry Potter film, 2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And for his follow-up, Yates now has directed the dullest Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opens today in Toledo.
The story has Harry and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger wrestling with hormones and Death Eaters during their sixth year at Hogwarts.
Harry has come into possession of a tattered potions textbook once owned by the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. By following the advice of the previous owner's handwritten notes and formula corrections scribbled throughout the book, Harry quickly asserts himself as top student in the potions class.
Pressed by Dumbledore, Harry uses his title as favored student to gain the trust of the Potions Professor, Horace Slughorn, who has critical knowledge of the evil Voldemort that could lead to the dark lord's demise.
Neither Harry nor Dumbledore, however, can guess where this information will lead them, and at what cost.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as a book, like all of J.K. Rowling's works, draws you in with its addictive plot, colorful characters, whimsical imagination, and a web of tantalizing questions that force you to forge on for answers - at least, well past the normal hours of bedtime.
The movie version of Half-Blood Prince is the best-looking of the Harry Potter films, and the least engaging, too, and after a marathon running time of 153 minutes it crawls half-heartedly to the finish line. Even during those infrequent rousing moments, including the best Quidditch footage yet, there is a general malaise that the movie cannot fully shake.
Much of the movie's boredom rests on Yates' decision to make a smaller, character-driven film - sort of a Harry Potter goes indie, only with a budget 10 times that of most art films.
Half-Blood Prince is full of introspective moments, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione grapple with first loves and romantic entanglements, and series veterans Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), and Emma Watson (Hermione) show how much they've grown into their roles, in stature as well as in skill; Watson, especially, shines in her moments of tearful heartache.
Likewise, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy make the most of more screen time, as their characters in Half-Blood Prince take on greater importance to the larger story.
The penultimate Half-Blood Prince is the most important book - and by extension, movie - in the Harry Potter series. It's the story's responsibility to put all the pieces in place for the whiz-bang conclusion, while also serving as its own narrative. Half-Blood Prince is unmatched by the other books in terms of its bleak tone, including the death of a beloved character.
The movie gets the dark tone right, from the gloomy shuttered stores in Diagon Alley to the shadowy halls in Hogwarts. But what's missing is the high-wire tension to it all. Half-Blood Prince looks as menacing as Voldemort's skullish smoky-cloud signal to his minions, but the film's sense of dread is undone by long stretches of tedium.
As for the heart-wrenching death scene of the major character, the film's emotional finale is surprisingly uninvolving. It feels rushed, as if Yates, who is directing the upcoming two-part finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was already looking ahead to the next movie.
Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves, who's written all but one of the Harry Potter movies, are obviously holding back some of the Half-Blood Prince fireworks - including its climatic battle scene - for the finale of the big film(s).
Which is why the movie can never shake the feeling that it's one big set-up, a meek prelude to the thrill ride to come in Deathly Hallows.
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