Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

High school magical

‘A LONG time ago in a galaxy far far away…’ No wait, wrong cinema epic. ‘One Ring to rule them all…’ Nope, wrong fantasy franchise. In that case, if it’s the holiday season, if special effects are involved, if fans of all ages are queuing around the block dressed in outlandish outfits then it’s got to be halloween.

Or Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6)

Yes, that’s right. It’s Potter time. Again. A whole generation is being raised on annual instalments of Harry Potter. What happens when it all runs out? There will have to be support groups for Potter addicts who have never known a life without fearing He Who Must Not Be Named (the evil Voldemort, not the BNP’s Nick Griffin). There are seven books in the series (thank you J K Rowling, the executives at Warner Brothers must be saying) but the last one will be turned into two movies. Well done Hollywood, you sure do know how to squeeze your golden geese dry.

In the meantime we have the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, making its big screen appearance. If these names mean nothing to you let me quickly explain. Harry Potter is a not so ordinary orphan kid living in the suburbs. He finds out his deceased parents were magicians (who were also murdered by a nasty dark wizard). He studies at possibly the coolest school in the world (Hogwarts) and he is somehow the key to stopping Voldemort, a diabolical wizard if ever there was one.

Half Blood Prince sees Harry and his chums, Ron and Hermione, almost ready to finish school. They’re entering their first NEWT (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) year having successfully completed their OWLS (Ordinary Wizarding Level). Outside of school the wizarding world lives in fear of Voldemort, whose followers now attack muggles (regular non magical folk like you and me). Inside Hogwarts, its headmaster, Dumbledore, is on a mission to uncover as many clues (specifically memories) as he can to defeat Voldemort – missions which all involve Harry, naturally.

Each film has promised to be emotionally darker than the one before but this usually only means less light is used, as though actual darkness is a visual replacement for a more emotionally mature script. If this trend continues the last movie will see Harry sitting in the pitch dark by an angle-poise lamp playing chess with the grim reaper.

But the mood is maturing in the Half Blood Prince. They’re starting to have feelings. Hermione’s fighting hormones on top of casting spells. Harry is becoming a little bit besotted with Ron’s sister. Tears, fights and sulks are now as common as worrying about Voldemort which makes it all a bit Grange Hogwarts at times. That the actors have all aged faster than their characters doesn’t help either. Ron looks so old you fear he’s been left back a couple of years at Hogwarts (his constantly confused face doesn’t help there).

However, if you enjoyed the previous Potter films then I have good news for you. Half Blood Prince is well worth the cinema visit. It does not break new ground but nor does it feel stale or uninspired.

I enjoyed it, although it’s certainly not as good as the book, but then this has always been my problem with the Potter movies.

Whereas The Lord of the Rings films took the turgid text of the books and actually made them interesting, Potter’s movies lack the range of ideas, characters and emotions which made adults (often hiding them behind their newspapers on the bus) read the books.

That said, after six movies the three children still aren’t very good actors. This may explain why they need the assistance of the cream of Britain’s thespian community (Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane are all drafted in for duty).

They help to make the Half Blood Prince the most grown-up of the series so far and thus more enjoyable. The issues at stake are treated with a fair amount of realism, issues which young people are already dealing with or have questions about (plus Potter is about as likely to lure your kids into witchcraft as letting them watch Blue Peter).

The ending, in fact, carries an emotional wallop which I won’t give away here should you be one of the last few on this island for whom that hasn’t been spoiled. But I warn you, other reviewers may not be so accommodating.

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