Movie Review 2 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

A couple new characters and war brewing does not fill up two and a half hours of screen time

There is evil afoot as the Death Eaters fly again, swooping down in Imax 3D this time to, well, eat death while at the same time chewing up a whopping two hours and 33 minutes of your time.  The Death Eaters are a big problem and the stakes are getting higher by the minute for the kids at Hogwarts.  The main crew remains the same, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, as does director David Yates, but the feeling has changed.  Unfortunately it has not changed for the better.

The original feeling of the Hogwarts hogs as misplaced high functioning autistic nerds with hearts of gold has been replaced with Hogwarts students as Superman out to save the world.  Not only are the students challenged to fight the death eaters, the audience is challenged to figure out why they should see this film as opposed to so many just like it.

The main new addition to the cast is Horace Slughorn, a Nobel Prize winner in potions who can whip up the brew of a lifetime like Johnny B. Goode plays guitar.  Jim Broadbent does a great job in this role; he is troubled, worried and more child-like than the kids themselves which is just what the role needs.  He has been lured back to Hogwarts to unlock the defenses of the Death Eaters so that Potter will have a leg to stand on when he takes these guys on, mano-a-mano.  In grabbing an old, beat-up potions text book, Harry grabs, guess what, the former text of none other than the Half Blood Prince.  You can bet the crib notes in these margins have nothing to do with Toll House cookies.

Returning veteran alpha slimy snake Professor Snape is another story.  It is not Alan Rickman’s performance that dooms this role to mediocrity; it is the fact that as a character Snape is just so terribly obvious in what he up to.  There is none of the deliciously weasely sniping that marks a true sniveling backstabbing villain.  Where is the deep seated evil in this man?  He is just too obvious.

As a result of the above this latest addition to the Potter plethora is heading dangerously into Batman/Spiderman territory and even if Potter wins the war against the Death Eaters he won’t win against Batman and Spidey.  The franchise has got to get back to the cleverness that marked the original episode and get away from the “lock and load” militancy of the current treatment.  It has to emphasize the underdog nature of the outcasts at Hogwarts and turn them into world saviors before the eyes of the audience.  Viola!  Nerds make good!

The good news is the IMAX presentation and the mind blowing sound are fantastic and so are the CGI special effects.  But the cast is not extensive.  There are about five characters that have most of the screen time and they get very predictable by about half-way through the 153 minutes of the film.  The second half of the film is great on the screen but ugly in the audience as the kids start checking their text messages.  The applause at the end of the New York City press preview screening was limp-wristed to put it mildly.  Some of the viewers were still asleep.

The main change in the attitude of the teenagers in the film is they have discovered love.  So the film is now half rumble-tumble CGI flying and half love triangles.  The love potion laced chocolates are a disaster.  That is not a plot; it is an excuse to eat up about thirty minutes of screen time.  These kids know magic and we want magic.  We don’t want love-sick gazes that we get everyday on summer daytime TV and on the covers of the magazines at the super-market checkout stands.

True Potter fans will see his film no matter what anybody says.  But if the action and dialogs don’t stay fresh the crowds will dwindle so fast for upcoming episodes the producers will think the Death Eaters are staked out in the box office.

Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay) and J.K. Rowling (novel)

Release: July 15, 2009
MPAA: Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality
Runtime: 153 minutes
Country: UK / USA 
Language: English
Color: Color