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Matthew Razak avatar 7:19 AM on 07.15.2009  (server time)
Monday Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

<p>'Harry Potter' is a prince </p><p>It just keeps getting better. For most movie series that grow beyond a trilogy the latter films start to wane, taking fans on a roller coaster of quality in each and every film. Will they next one be good? Should we even go see it? With Harry Potter however it seems to be a guarantee that each film will be better than the last. Actually, the first was better than the second and the series-changing Prisoner of Azkaban was superior to the Goblet of Fire. So Harry Potter has been through some ups and downs, but the downs are never so low that they're terrible and the ups are very up, and as far as director David Yates, who took over with Order of the Phoenix, is concerned, he's only raising the bar more and more. Yes, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the best Potter film to date, even if the plot that the book takes its name from is relegated to a small side story. </p><p>With that little tidbit it is easy to move into just how loyal the story is for all the Potter fanatics out there, and if those who haven't read the books (all ten of you) will take any joy from the film. In the sixth film in the series Harry (Danielle Radcliffe) fins himself on the run from the Deatheaters and Lord Voldemort, however he returns to Hogwarts with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Quiddich, magic and a bit of romance and jealousy ensue along with a whole bunch of back story being filled in on Voldemort. This is also the first real time Dumbledore (Michale Gambon) becomes more than a wise old man, and turns into a true character. Much like the book, the film is mostly filler to get us to the epic conclusion, but it's solid, fun, action packed filler that never misses a beat. It is thus loyal enough to its roots to not be annoying, but different enough to validate its existance. </p><p>For those of you who read the last paragraph and had no idea what was going on, this movie is not for you. It picks up right away and starts running, and if you don't know the characters then you aren't going to get to know them here. However, if you do know the characters, which is what has always made the Potter books and later films special (not the magic), then this film is for you. Without a doubt this is the most character driven Potter film yet, and Yates handles it wonderfully, knowing when to leave out action that would cloud important scenes and, more importantly, realizing that magic is a part of the film's world, but it is far from the most important part. </p><p>It is also a testament to the casting team of the original film that they have nailed every character down so pat when they were only casting ten-year-olds and must have been some sort of incredible stroke of luck that everyone learned how to act. Without a shadow of a doubt Tom Felton, finally getting to flex a bit more than just a sarcastic sneer, steals the show as Draco Malfoy steps up in this film in a big way. If Felton hadn't delivered the entire film could have gone to rot (to steal a British term). It's not just him however, the entire cast has grown up and can handle the romance (and snogging), the humor, the tears and the immensely well done and perfectly directed ending. </p><p> With that I really must come back to the directing, as Yates shows off some incredible stuff in this film. His flare for capturing a shot is amazing and he can clearly draw what he wants out of actors. He, and the film's screenwriters, have also brilliantly handled the story, trimming what doesn't need to be there while maintaining the heart of the book itself, which was far more about Harry, Hermione, Ron and the people at Hogwarts than it was about the battle with Lord Voldemort. It's hard to cram 652 pages into less than three hours, but Yates does it admirably and without excluding anything that would make a lover of the books terribly angry. He even handles the more mature themes immensely well, especially the scary parts of the film which are directed with a surprising amount of panache. </p><p>I have been told that those who have not read the books did not enjoy the film as much, but I can only say to that that it is their own fault. The books are great and the films are a wonderful addendum to them. Much like almost any other film based on a book that does right by the book, these films are more a compliment to a wonderful world created on the page, they are not a replacement. So yes, Half-Blood Prince is a bloody good time, and the best summer blockbuster film since Star Trek, but make sure you make the time to sit down and read the books if you haven't.</p>

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