NEW YORK - Played out on a vast - sometimes overcrowded -
canvas, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (Warner
Bros.) is a richly textured adventure narrative in which good
and evil are clearly delineated, but characters present a
range of moral shading.
As they did in the franchise's earlier films, magical
elements in this sixth adaptation of J.K. Rowling's hugely
popular fantasy novel series serve merely as props in a study
of loyalty, friendship and the varied human responses to
temptation. Unlike the moral lessons on display, these spells
and potions are not intended to have any more application to
real life than the flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz."
Instead, the basis of the story continues to be the struggle
between a now-teenage Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the forces
of darkness known as the Death Eaters whose leader, Lord
Voldemort, murdered Harry's parents while he was still an
As Harry prepares for another year at the Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry, his wise headmaster and mentor Albus
Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) asks him to ingratiate himself
with incoming potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim
Broadbent), a veteran faculty member returning to Hogwarts
after an absence of many years.
Dumbledore believes Slughorn's memories of the youthful
Voldemort - whom he taught when the archvillain was a
relatively innocent Hogwarts student known as Tom Riddle -
may explain Voldemort's embrace of evil and help to defeat
him. As seen in flashbacks, Riddle is a potentially good
character ultimately led astray by his desire for power.
Harry's principal student rival, Draco Malfoy (Tom Fenton),
is driven - by jealousy of Harry's prophesied status as the
"Chosen One" - to act as Voldemort's agent within Hogwarts,
though a scene in which he breaks down in sobs while alone
shows the strain this alliance causes him, and suggests that
he, too, could be capable of better things.
Temptation comes Harry's way when he discovers a series of
secret notes in his worn copy of the school's potions
textbook made by a long-ago student who signed himself the
Half-Blood Prince. While these markings originally prove
helpful, they turn out to include destructive curses that
could draw Harry across the moral divide.
Both Slughorn and Hogwarts' newly installed teacher of
Defense Against the Dark Arts, Severus Snape (a
scene-stealing Alan Rickman), seem ambiguous, if not
downright suspicious. Slughorn is brilliant but overly
status-conscious, and none too anxious to reveal his dealings
with Riddle, while the magisterial Snape has a sarcastic tone
as black as his habitual clothing.
Interwoven with the main plot is the story of the toll
adolescent romantic tensions are taking on Harry's
long-standing friendship with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron
(Rupert Grint). There is much talk of "snogging," i.e.
kissing, but - a lone double entendre aside - Steve Kloves'
script remains appropriately innocent.
Though some details may confuse viewers who have not seen the
earlier installments, a gilt-edged supporting cast, including
Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter and Robbie Coltrane,
together with top-flight special effects, add luster and help
prevent this two-and-a-half-hour epic from dragging.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" will be shown on
both Imax and conventional screens.
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film &
Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More
reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
Watch out for: The film contains moderate action violence,
occasional peril, a couple of crass expressions and a few
vaguely sexual references. The USCCB Office for Film &
Broadcasting classification is A-II - adults and adolescents.
The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -
parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be
suitable for children.