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This sixth film series installment reveals the evil Lord Voldemort's past while focusing on budding romances and the inevitable showdown.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“Years ago, I knew a boy who made all the wrong choices. He seemed a student like any other.”

This sixth film series installment, based on the best selling J.K. Rowling books, reveals more of the evil Lord Voldemort's past while focusing on budding romances and the all important impending showdown with the one who begins with “V”. Fans and general audiences alike can enjoy great action, drama, comedy and fantasy for 2 hours and 23 minutes. Delayed from its original release date of November 21, 2008, this installment begins three straight summers of Harry Potter mania. Background knowledge of the book series helps, especially among the British accents and word references, but isn’t necessarily vital because filmmakers communicate this adaptation very well.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson all return to their roles as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Harry never has the easy route (or the clearest), which makes him an engaging character, especially as Radcliffe grows into a stronger actor. Harry’s maturing life leaves little need for characters like his Aunt and Uncle Dursley and bulky cousin Dudley as he discovers more about Voldemort’s past.

As in the past film series, filmmakers orient audiences a bit with a beginning sequence in the real “Muggle” world. Harry’s growing romantic desires occasionally cloud his current views, but Albus Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon, keeps him on task. The romantic elements provide interest for younger audiences from scenarios involving love potions, hidden feelings and pure kindness.

Elarica Gallagher, in a star-making appearance as a waitress, catches Harry’s eye in a diner, but his true romantic interests turn to Ron’s sister, Ginny, played by Bonnie Wright. The intelligently observant, yet delightfully odd Luna Lovegood, played by Evanna Lynch, continues to support Harry while Cho Chang still pines for the famous Harry, but basically gets phased out for a more focused character cache.

“Oh to be young and to feel love's keen sting,” quips Dumbledore as he witnesses an overly-dramatic encounter. This wise wizard passes on important knowledge to his young hero students, especially Harry who still has his Marauder’s Map (Hogwort’s could use a decent surveillance camera system).

Hermione mainly remains true to character, expressing some understandable ire due to all the recent “snogging” among her adolescent friends. Ron’s new overexcited girlfriend, Lavender Brown, played by Jessie Cave, mainly provides comic relief.

Rubeus Hagrid, well-played by Robbie Coltrane, Minerva McGonagall, played by Maggie Smith, Professor Severus Snape, played by Alan Rickman, Filius Flitwick, played by Warwick Davis and returning faculty member Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, make up the faculty Hogwart’s School for Witchcraft and Wizardy.

Gambon, who replaced the late great Richard Harris as Hogwart’s Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, sets the important tone in his opening speech to students beginning their academic year. “The most important weapon is you,” Dumbledore says while explaining increased security measures at the school.

Filmmakers should have taken the danger element further with some heightened drama and danger like including an extended speech during which Dumbledore implores complacent pupils to be vigilant and guard against outside foes. On the surface, it seem some students are happy in their ignorance or want to forget about the danger. Do they just expect "chosen one" Harry to handle everything? Some additional scene extensions and dialogue would've given audiences a better beat on the student body pulse.

Ralph Fiennes does not appear in this installment as evil Voldemort, but his nephew Hero Fiennes-Tiffin play the young Voldemort/Tom Riddle through special flashback sequences. Bellatrix Lestrange, who debuted in the previous installment and played by Helena Bonham Carter, heads up the villains, Tom Felton reprises his role as Harry’s jealous rival, Draco Malfoy, who begins some curious and troubling activities. David Legeno makes a formidable baddie as Fenrir Greyback, the latest character to make the wanted list.

The filmmakers fit in a Quidditch game, two key foreshadowing sequences (upon the student’s arrival and one character alone at a tower top) and two strikingly frightening scenes amid romantic respites that prove love can exist amid danger. Director Peter Yates continues showing strong skills with a creative re-introductory stairs shot and an amazing “moving painting”-like sea scene with Dumbledore and Harry. In one poignant scene, Yates frames one dark character walking down a lonely hallway while oblivious students on the right side pursue their own wants – a stark contrast that resonates the film’s darker themes. But the filmmakers wisely avoid using any flashbacks from previous installments. The film's score begins on familiar ground with the familiar John Williams theme, but then composer Nicolas Hooper wisely shifts his musical score into new directions.

Strong continuity, via screenwriter Steve Kloves, makes a positive impact, though some book fans may have issues with the film’s varied tone and new subplots. Kloves has been involved with every Potter film except the previous installment, Order of the Phoenix and will write the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which releases in theaters in two parts, one in 2010 and the last in 2011. Yates will also direct both future installments, another great continuity element especially since this installment triggered so many great memories and progressive steps from the previous installments.

Hopefully, an eventually-released culminative DVD set will contain one solid feature on Harry’s personal journey and all the lessons he picked up along the way to the series’ final resolution. This recommended film has admirable themes and returns the film series to a PG rating (scares, violence and mild language). Also playing in IMAX theaters.

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