Take note, Harry Potter fans: This summer, prepare yourself to take it nice and slow. Easy street. A lazy afternoon spent with the gang at Hogwarts, maybe with a few pints of Butter Beer on the side.
This sixth entry into the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is definitely the most leisurely of the movies to date. Clocking in at over 2 1/2 hours long, there's no sense of urgency detected in Potterdom this time around. And why would there be? Young love is in the air. Never mind all that business with the Dark Lord and his minions, who seem to be waging an all-out assault against our heroes when they aren't otherwise preoccupied with "snogging." Article continues below
Following on the slam-bang conclusion of Potter #5, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) heads back to Hogwarts for his sixth year of tutelage in the art of magic. But awful things are brewing in the world he occupies. Even modern London is facing terror-style attacks from Voldemort's crew, and we also find Draco (Tom Felton) and Snape (Alan Rickman) scheming up a nefarious plot against headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Jim Broadbent is also put to excellent use as Horace Slughorn, a professor brought out of retirement who plays a key role in unraveling part of the mystery of Voldemort.
Into this mix come, well, lots of hormones, with the series' key dalliances (Ron + Hermione; Harry + Ginny) in a tug-of-war against numerous other couplings at the school, with break-ups and make-ups aplenty. Seriously, more spit is swapped in this film than anything you'd see late at night on Cinemax, though everyone keeps their clothes firmly on throughout the proceedings.
Amazingly, though, all of this is quite genteel in its presentation. Scenes lazily flow from romance to deep-conversation-with-Dumbledore back to romance and on again to, say, an abrupt wizards' duel. The action scenes -- and there are several awfully good ones -- come on so suddenly that you're not expecting them... and then they end. Characters are bleeding to death on the floor before your adrenaline realizes it's supposed to be pumping.
Then it's time to get back to the snogging.
Fortunately, director David Yates takes a firm grasp of character in this outing, and more than in any other Potter film save perhaps the first, we really get to know what makes our heroes tick. That incestuously turns out to be each other, of course, but still, it's fun to look inside the minds of the crew for once instead of just being dazzled by wand-wielding sorceries and fantastic monsters.
That said, the CGI wizardry on display is also top-notch. Exceptional fire effects abound this time out, and a dreamy memory-reliving device is quite effective in how it's put to use, melding action with animation in a unique and dazzling way.
Half-Blood Prince's length is its only real problem, and judicious editing could have easily trimmed a half hour or more out of the film, giving it tighter, more urgent pacing. Potter purists would likely have cried foul at missing a nuance here or there, though at a "mere" 650 pages, Prince is actually far shorter than book #5. The final book in the series is being split into two movies, by the way, both due out in 2011. If nothing else, Half-Blood does a great job of setting things up for what looks to be quite an exciting finish.
Indulge me regarding one thing that needs to be said, and that's the obviously, perhaps painfully, advancing ages of the cast of the film. Only one year passes during and between each film, but they're produced and released a year and a half to two years apart. The cast is growing older much faster than their characters, so we now have men and women in their 20s playing what are supposed to be 16-year-olds. Poor Tom Felton, now almost 22, looks like he should be working a job at Goldman Sachs. Fortunately for all of these actors, they're almost free of Potter's chains, and grown-up awork can finally begin.