Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

(In theatres, July 2009): By the time this sixth instalment of the Harry Potter story rolls in, it’s about as critic-proof as it can be: By now, everyone knows how much they like the series and when they’ll catch the next instalment(s).  For reviewers, there isn’t much else to do but comment on the ongoing story and how well the film does as a movie.  The good news this time around is that the direction is generally well-handled, the story holds up for those who haven’t read the book (aside from a few early missteps) and the film feels too short rather than too long, although much of this impression is given by the absence of a few recurring characters.  The big problem with the film, on the other hand, is how abruptly it veers from fluffy teenage high-school drama (With kisses!  And jealousy!  And hormones!) to dark fantasy verging on horror.  There’s a lot more blood in this instalment, and if the first 90 minutes amble loosely in teenage romance territory, the last half-hour suddenly shifts gears, ditches all attempts at humour and races to a major death.  It’s true that the Potter series has been on a steady “darker, more adult” arc since the first volume, but the shift is more noticeable this time around, and maybe not handled as well as it could have been: as usual, read the book to get the full story.  Still, chopping down a fan-favourite 600-pages book in a coherent film is a tough assignment, and perhaps the most amazing aspect of the series so far is how well it holds up as an ongoing whole story: We’re not yet done with the series, and it’s already a landmark piece of cinema.

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