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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is without question a good movie. With real chemistry between the characters, laugh-out-loud scenes of teen-wizard angst, and spectacular cinematography, it may even be the best in the series. But if it weren't for that pesky title, it could have been better.
For those who aren't familiar with the book, the title of the sixth installment refers to the original owner of a textbook Harry borrows from his potions classroom. Upon opening it, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds not only tips, instructions, and made-up spells scrawled in the margins that turn him into an A-plus potions student, but also the enigmatic inscription, "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince." To the indignation of his friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Harry begins to treat the book as his personal all-occasions almanac. Whenever he faces a dilemma, he scours its pages looking for advice. But when he uses one of the Prince's spells against another student, he discovers that it's unwise to practice magic taught by an unknown mentor.
The upside of this subplot for Christian parents who have cautiously permitted their children to read the books or watch the movies is that for the first time in the series, we get a tangible example that dabbling in witchcraft can have serious consequences. These aren't the cutesy magic tricks of inflating an overbearing aunt or setting off firecrackers in school hallways we've seen from Harry before. His careless sorcery causes real harm. The downside is that by prioritizing a rather unimportant thread to the series as a whole, director David Yates is left little time to develop a far more significant one.
What falls on the cutting-room floor are the elements that were most effective at turning a fanciful series about a boy wizard into an epic tale of good versus evil. Almost all the background on Lord Voldemort-his parentage, his seething resentment toward his own father, his early crimes against his family-are lost, as is much of the narrative that allowed Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) to grow into more than a one-dimensional school-boy rival. In essence, with an opportunity to give Harry Potter more fleshed-out enemies that will allow him to become a more fleshed-out hero, Yates sticks with juvenile preoccupations of spell-casting and romance.
This makes for some funny scenes (Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley is particularly coming into his own as a comedic actor) and the adolescent girls in the audience will no doubt appreciate all the dating drama, but it also forces Yates to cram together pivotal plot points. When an important figure in Harry's life meets his end (does anyone by now not know who?), the moment is rushed, and fans are allowed barely a breath in which to mourn the favorite character.
Of course, considering that the title leaves him little choice but to emphasize a storyline that could otherwise have been trimmed, it's hard to blame Yates. Especially since he and his cast do such an entertaining job with the material left to them.
From the opening scenes in which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's faithful Death-Eaters wreak havoc on innocent muggles throughout London to the excursions Harry takes with Professor Dumbledore, the Half-Blood Prince deftly sets the stage for the finale to come. Yates may have to move too quickly to hit all the major events, but he still manages to imbue the film with a sense of dark foreboding, perhaps even a little too foreboding given the movie's PG rating. The action is mostly bloodless, but some underwater undead, not to mention a horror-worthy wheat-field chase, will be too scary for younger kids.