Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_2I’ll admit, first and foremost, that I’ve been more a fan of the Harry Potter films than I have the books. While I admit the books are enjoyable (I’ve read the first four), I find them rather repetitive and not quite as fleshed out in some ways as I think they could be–which is saying something, considering the epic lengths at which they mark off.

I’ve enjoyedÁ‚ the films more, I guess, because I can appreciate the fact that while they are more condensed versions of the books (every film has to have some type of limit before audience members begin laying across other seats in search of a brief respite in dreamland), they are still the most faithful cinematic adaptationsÁ‚ of the material that will ever exist, andÁ‚ it’s just a fun experience to watch Daniel Radcliffe (My Boy Jack, December Boys) and the other young actors in the cast bring J.K. Rowling’s characters toÁ‚ full-fledged life. It’s also beginning to make me feel a little old, in a bittersweet way, to watch these kids grow up before my eyes as the seriesÁ‚ has progressed. LikeÁ‚ all of you legitimate diehard Potter fans, I’ve come to feel an affinity for this cast, and in some waysÁ‚ feel like a proudÁ‚ parent, watching these talented young actors mature soÁ‚ gracefully.

In the new Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Radcliffe and pals are definitely put through their paces, as this is the film where everybody–Harry, Ron, Hermione and even the audience–has to learn to grow up, just a little.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_17Superbly written/adapted by Steve Kloves (who’s written all but one of the Potter films) and ably directed by David Yates (who oddly enough, directed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the one film Kloves didn’t write), Half-Blood Prince picks up immediately where Phoenix left off, right after Voldemort’s defeat. Harry’s back in England, trying to keep a low profile in the Muggle world, in spite of theÁ‚ escalating attacks on the human realm by Death Eaters, when Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) arrives to spirit him away for an important mission. It turns out there is an old friend/ex-teacher from Hogwarts that Dumbledore wants to bring back into the fold, one Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). As always with Dumbledore, however, the wise old wizard has many hidden motives for what he does, and so soon enough he has Harry attempting to ingratiate himself with the rehired professor, in order to learn the truth behindÁ‚ something which happened long ago, when the future dark wizard Tom Riddle (played at ages 11 and 16Á‚ by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane, respectively) was a young wizard at Hogwarts. Harry tries to follow his kindly instructor’s directions, while also attempting to discover the identity of the titular Half-Blood Prince, whose arcane spellbook he’s happened to find,Á‚ a book which aids Harry’s usage of spells and potions, ultimately with disastrous results.

Harry doesn’t try all that hard to succeed in his secondary goal, however, because as this yearÁ‚ at Hogwarts goes on, it’s spring, the kids are nowÁ‚ turning into young adults, and love is in the air. Ron (Rupert Grint) finds himself in a relationship with the obsessive Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), while Hermione pines away, distraught that Ron still thinks of her as nothing but a friend. Harry, meanwhile, does his best to think of Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) as nothing but a friend, when the truth is that both are struggling to come to grips with the growing attraction they feel for one another. In the interim, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) must come to terms with the fact that he is well on the path to fulfilling a darker destiny for himself…one that he finds he doesn’t want to, butÁ‚ may literally have no choice in the matter.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_25Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is about the growing threat of Voldemort, not just upon the wizarding world, but also us Muggles, should Dumbledore and his cohorts fail to stop him. It’s aboutÁ‚ theÁ‚ strengthening of the dividing line between those who fall on the side of good, and those who choose to make their stand for evil. It’s about the secret origin of Tom Riddle. But what the film is about, first and foremost, is growing up–for all the characters this time, not just Harry, who is usually the primary focus (it is his story, after all).Á‚ In this growing up arena, it’s about following your heart toÁ‚ its true path. It’s about learning how to take orders without question, from those who know better. It’s about learning that sometimes questions must be asked, in order to avoid a terrible fate. It’s about learning that not everything is always as it seems, and doing one’s best to be able to divine the difference. First and foremost, though, it’s about friendship.

One of the best thingsÁ‚ about the Harry Potter film series, which I feel the books have never truly carried out, is seeing over the years how the central trinity of characters–Harry, Ron, and Hermione–have truly become friends, and grown in that friendship. There’s no better line that covers it all than, when at the end of Half-Blood Prince,Á‚ Harry’s about to go off on a dangerous quest–thinking he must do so by himself–and Hermione tells him that for someone so bright, he can be incredibly dense at times. “You don’t really think you’re going to go at this alone, do you?” Hermione tells him. [dialogue edited slightly to prevent spoilers] “Of course we’re going with you.”

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_20In real life, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint (Cherrybomb, Driving Lessons)Á‚ and Emma Watson (The Tale of Despereaux, Ballet Shoes)Á‚ have become true friends, and this carries over into their performances, which in turn enhances their work, and makes every moment they’re together on screen absolutely genuine. This good will goes a long way to offsetting the run time for this movie, which is just over two and a half hours, making thisÁ‚ in all honesty a very talky flick, with more dialogue than action. Luckily, between Kloves’Á‚ crisp writingÁ‚ and the young stars’ performances, one’s attention is kept riveted to the screen and boredomÁ‚ is put off forÁ‚ the entire run time. The movieÁ‚ never begins to wear out its welcome, not once…which, in this day and age, is a very welcome surprise.

So now thatÁ‚ school’s back in session at Hogwarts, it’s time to go and unravel the secret of The Half-Blood Prince. You did get your invitation via owl, didn’t you?