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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Long delayed and launched in a summer that seems crying out for a popular blockbuster hit, does Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince have the powers to charm or have the spectacled wizard’s spells begun to backfire?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince PosterIt’s the franchise that many like to hate or get stuffy about but the Harry Potter films, when they fulfil their remit, provide solid entertainment. True there have been some miscast incantations in the past – dare we bring up the spectre of the risible Goblet of Fire – but for undiscerning viewing they have proved surprisingly robust over the years. The previous instalment came from the decidedly let-field choice of David Yates (Sex Traffic (2004)) but proved to be a successful one in its blending of camaraderie, the escalation of He Who Shall Not Be Named’s rebirth and the role of the media/government in controlling the opinions of the people. Oh and it had funny elves and comedy hi-jinks. What Yates brings to the party is a welcome blending of styles that mirror the feel of the books’ occasionally scatter-dash approach of darkness-light-darkness whilst retaining the trendy editing, CGI effects and bleached colour palettes that are all the rage and also finding ample time for character development amidst the chaos.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ups the ante in terms of set pieces and extends the scenes of character interaction. The opening scene alone is a tour de force although creeping doubts about whether this is all going to be high octane sound and fury are dispensed when the plot begins to unfold. Half Blood Prince – BeatrixThis time Harry and chums are still trying to get everyone to believe them even though they are battling not only with dark forces and school lessons but raging, raging hormones too. And the stakes surely are high – Bellatrix Lestrange, the insane evil sorceress who murdered Sirius Black last time around, is back. As played by Helena Bonham Carter Bellatrix makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pantomime dame – it’s all good stuff. On board too is Jim Broadbent playing Jim Broad… sorry Professor Horace Slughorn, as a collector of gifted and famous pupils. Some of the regulars have been relegated out of the picture, although Quidditch fans will welcome truly brutal return. The set pieces are well worth the wait (we won’t spoil them for you here) and even the hand-held work is pitched at exactly the right time, not just flinged around for the sake of fashion.

Although an enjoyable film it is not without problems – it’s way too long and, as with all of the franchise, the strains in adapting the book leave many elements rushed (as opposed to just pruned out altogether as in the excellent third instalment) or veering wildly in tone. This is partly, one suspects, to maintain its ‘family’ tag – there needs to be some let-down from the increasingly hopeless scenario put before its heroes to prevent the whole affair becoming a two and a half hour downer. And a downer it is with what the BBFC describe as ‘moderate threat’ for once appearing a little lenient. This is no gorefest, of course, but it is pretty scary and some of the material probably not suited to the very young.

If you enjoyed any of the previous films you’ll love this one, it’s an exciting and well-made adventure. Anyone else need not bother applying.