Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Half-hearted ‘Harry’: Suspense in ‘Half-Blood Prince’ merely lays the groundwork for the big finale
Installment six of the “Harry Potter’’ series, “The Half-Blood Prince,’’ merely gets us one movie closer to the finale, which, apparently is so big (and by big, I mean “$$$$’’) that it’s being split into two parts. This is the latest dot in the blockbuster equivalent of points of ellipses.
“The Half-Blood Prince’’ introduces Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn, the new, extravagantly dithering potions professor. The performance is a lovely concoction of tics, stammers, and squints. But the character is a device, something to be unlatched and opened so the plot can move to the next locked door. Sadly, that door is in the next movie. There’s enough cliffhanging to give you vertigo.
Slughorn knows crucial information about the world-ending dark lord, Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents and whom we get to see, courtesy of a vial containing his memories when he was a mean young Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) recruits Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to get the professor to open up. Harry’s proficiency at making a “living death’’ potion makes Slughorn easier to charm; Harry happens to be using an old textbook that, according to an inscription once belonged to someone called the Half-Blood Prince.
Meanwhile, the young, moody, and acutely blond Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) begins his stint as Voldemort’s recruit to assassinate Dumbledore, with the secret backing of Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, as deliciously reptilian as he always is in these films).
There’s a biblical tinge to some of this, even if most of these movies feel interchangeable with Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings’’ trilogy. Partly, it’s because Gambon’s Dumbledore - with his long white hair and matching, scrunchied beard - looks like Moses by way of George Clinton and Gandalf the White. At some point, Gambon uses a staff to part an infernal red sea, which I think I’ve seen Clinton do.
Steve Kloves has written five of the “Harry Potter’’ screenplays, and “The Half-Blood Prince’’ reeks of formula. An hour or so of interesting character development followed by 30 minutes of boredom, then an hour of plot development. That second hour always feels as if Kloves just remembered that he has to lay the groundwork for the subsequent movie. The individual installments become extensions on a lengthening fuse.
Until the final installment arrived two years ago, this had been the darkest of the books, and the movie picks up on most of those strains. Voldemort and his followers are terrorists. But for a series so faithful to its source, these movies, this one in particular, also omit some of the boldest, grimmest deeds. The film’s Malfoy maximizes only a fraction of his capacity for conscripted evil. He does, however, totally maximize his likelihood to appear as the frontman in an ABC tribute band.
“The Half-Blood Prince’’ does remain true to the book’s hormonal action. Harry and his best friends, Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), fend off eager suitors while pursuing the object of their own affections. Lust in this movie is far freakier and more exciting to these kids than magic. There are moments when the actors in this movie look like they want to be ravaged as much as Kristen Stewart does in “Twilight.’’ Radcliffe spent a wildly publicized almost-year onstage playing a sexually troubled kid in “Equus.’’ But
he’s still subdued as Harry. When a waitress hits on Potter in a diner, I was hoping she’d say to Radcliffe, “I saw what you did with that horse.’’
I like how magic in these movies is not a metaphor for sex. The metaphor for that, at least for this film, is Quidditch, a sport whose players joust astride brooms and protect giant hoops. There’s also the hint of druggy subculture whenever the divinely droll Evanna Lynch appears as Luna Lovegood. She combats the movie’s occasional sluggishness with a hilarious sluggishness of her own. She’s part Anna Faris, part hippie, part pusher. And whatever she can do to bring out the psychedelia in the last two movies would be greatly appreciated.