‘Half-Blood Prince,’ not half-bad

The sixth installation of the Harry Potter series proves that it’s finally hit its stride.

Floating necklaces always mean bad news

Image by Ashley Goetz

Floating necklaces always mean bad news PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS.

âÄúHarry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceâÄù DIRECTED BY: David Yates STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson RATED: PG SHOWING: Area theaters The helmsmen at Warner Bros. have finally found a formula for dealing with the challenges of translating a Harry Potter book into film, among them slicing the brick-sized novels into sizeable film doses, dealing with puberty in a tasteful manner and âÄì finally âÄì cramming in as much jaw-dropping CGI as possible without getting tacky. Fans can sigh with relief knowing that these risky waters were waded adeptly in âÄúHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.âÄù The fact that the series is on a successful streak is most likely because of director David Yates entering the scene in the last film, âÄúHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,âÄù and things seemed to go smoothly enough that he was signed to man the next three projects as well (book seven will be split into two films). The series was starting to seem schizophrenic when it switched to its fourth director, possibly because Chris ColumbusâÄô take on the first two was a bit precious, Alfonso CuarónâÄôs interpretation too dark (although arguably the most artful) and Mike NewellâÄôs use of sloppy but over-the-top graphics distracted from the old-fashioned exquisiteness of the magical universe. âÄúThe Half-Blood PrinceâÄù carries on YatesâÄô trademark style of visual drama by opening with a highly saturated scene, where impending doom is evident in the overly deep reds and blues of the scenery, topped off with a distant thudding that enters in many of the filmâÄôs pulse-quickening moments. As a London bridge is unhinged by dark, ink-like beings, the series feels for the first time truly apocalyptic, and that sense sticks around. RowlingâÄôs tale gets dark and stays dark with the sixth installation, as Lord VoldemortâÄôs return leaves the realm of rumor and enters into the muggle world in the form of increasingly frequent natural disasters. Dumbledore charges Harry with the responsibility of helping him fight and his arch-nemesis Draco Malfoy is given a private, but highly burdening, responsibility of his own. The cast has also settled into place by this point, with exceptional performances by Helena Bonham Carter as the sultry, pathological Bellatrix Lestrange and Tom FeltonâÄôs Draco Malfoy losing his arrogant swagger for a troubled, on-the-verge-of-collapse look that is positively heroin chic âÄì smart suits, skinny limbs and pallid skin. Radcliffe should also get credit for playing a scene of luck potion-ingestion as if he were on a mild hallucinogen. While rocket-fast quidditch, walls of fire and elaborate crystal landscaping are subtle but powerful images and there are plenty of clever quips about teenage romance, the film instead concentrates on the psychological and the suspenseful. Unlike its predecessors, âÄúThe Half-Blood PrinceâÄù has few elaborate-to-the-point-of-being-cheesy demonstrations of magic (i.e. CGI for the sake of CGI). Instead the focus is on purposeful foreshadowings and long close-up shots as several characters lose their guarded façades. Most of the bookâÄôs key elements and scenes were in place, although RowlingâÄôs grueling effort to explain the transformation of Tom Riddle into Voldemort is almost completely cut out. Without a further exploration into his psyche, the film shortchanges the novelâÄôs attempt to introduce shades of gray into the battle between good and evil. The PG-rating, fortunately, does not indicate the seriesâÄô passage into more family-friendly territory. Things are as dismal and chaotic as ever in âÄúHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,âÄù making it even harder to wait for the arrival of the next two installations.