At my local movie theater, fifteen of about twenty screens were dedicated to midnight or later showings of the film. Two lines wrapped around the building, one of them running up to the edges of the parking lot; another line trailed deep into the parking lot. I arrived an hour and twenty minutes early, and was one of the last people in the prepaid ticket line. The other lines, in which people had been waiting for hours, had not yet moved when the line for the 11:59 showing began shuffling inside. Guards and policemen were all over the theater, double-checking tickets and talking to suspected cutters-in-line. The theater I was in was packed to the rafters. Ladies and Gentlemen, the sixth installment of Harry Potter is here.

But is it worth all of the hubbub, hullabaloo, and rigamarole?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince starts precisely where the last film left off – Voldemort is back, the evidence of which is in the eyes of a tired Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and the bloody face of the famous Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).  Puzzling bits of intertwining plots and subplots begin to form, and we are left with only pieces that barely fit together. Dumbledore summons Harry for a seemingly unimportant job of convincing retired Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to return to Hogwarts to teach potions; Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been burdened by an unknown but wearying task; Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) seems to have made a sudden switch in loyalties; Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) seem to be forever stuck in a tug-of-war of hearts; Dumbledore is constantly trying to solve a puzzle, which wears him thin at the seams.  For once, Harry seems to be the only one with most of his life together.  He even gets a new potions book, whose margin notes help get Harry ahead in Slughorn’s class, though the book itself soon turns into another mystery.

From the beginning David Yates lays the groundwork for a dramatic tale.  The moody lighting of the previous film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is here, making for a dramatic mood from the first scene on.  In fact, very little of the film has any brightness about it, which is certainly a hint for the dark twist the long and winding saga of Harry Potter must take.  This tone would be heavy-handed if not for the masterful story-telling of Yates and the writer Steve Kloves, though it seems due more to the former than the latter.  There is a subtlety to this film of which we were only hinted was possible in Order of the Phoenix. The perpetual understatement of the story opens the film up to strong characters and a strong set-up for the last films.

That said, those looking for the action film of the summer needn’t look here.  There is little action throughout the movie, though if it suffers from the lack of it, it is hard to say.  The missing choreography of dancing wizards and witches hurling spells at each other serves as a disappointment to those who had become used to installments in the series that were punctuated by actors on wires.  Then again, these actors otherwise give their strongest performances yet – something which there would not have been time for had the action sequences been increased in scale and frequency.

So instead of action, the film specializes in a way on the strong emotions that course through these characters as they hurtle towards their fates.  There is anguish, despair, apprehension, anger, angst, uncertainty.  It is a like a sample of what the entire wizarding world must be feeling, knowing that Voldemort is indeed back to haunt them from beyond the grave, or so they thought.

As for the actors who best showcased these emotions, there are certainly three clear winners in this film – Emma Watson, Tom Felton, and Alan Rickman.  Emma plays a heart-breakingly believable Hermione in the straits of unrequited love.  Her intensity of emotion is the closest the series has come to breaking down the wall between actor and character.  For a moment, I absolutely believed Watson was Hermione the Fragile-Hearted, and I feel I owe my feelings of connection to the movie to her performance.  Tom Felton’s performance as Draco Malfoy was particularly emotional as well.  For the first time, parallels are drawn between the character and Harry, and Felton plays the burden of such a position very well.  As for Alan Rickman, his character of Severus Snape finally gets a chance to deserve all of the speculation and complications surrounding his character.  Even though his screen time is still minimal, Rickman is able to portray him as a full character, and much more so than in the previous movie.

For those who read the book with a passion and desire complete fidelity to the source in the film, be prepared for some key changes, especially in the final scenes.  One entire scene featuring Harry and the Weasleys was added in but is no where in the book.  On the other hand, there are some parts of the book that the filmmakers were loyal to that provide for some very annoying plot devices, such as the fact that Tonks and Lupin show up only once, and Luna, Neville, and Hagrid are reduced from their important roles to MacGuffins (though Neville is arguably much less than that).  Even Ron and Hermione disappear at one point, only to reappear when things have resolved themselves.  Ron becomes Harry’s jester and Hermione’s torturer, all good on paper, but in motion he becomes a one-dimensional figure, thus a pawn moved only for the sake of story.

So here we are, coming full-circle, ready for a verdict.  Is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince worth all of the hype?  It is certainly a very good film, full of drama, character, suspense, romance (though it is poured on so thick it starts to congeal around the edges), and even a little horror (the certain scene in mind is Michael Gambon’s best performance thus far).  Yet the pacing of the film, excellent by many standards, will have some wanting it to get to the point.  These movie patrons have a fair case, considering that Half-Blood Prince certainly shifts gears down.  Yet the story and actors in moving performances are more than enough reason to see the film more than once – if for nothing else than preparation for the end.

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