In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood," Prince J.K. Rowling’s magical saga takes a dramatic step closer to its final resolution.
In the latest episode (which opens nationwide today), the evil Lord Voldemort’s power is growing and his followers, the terrifying Death Eaters, have been emboldened by his return.
The new film, directed by David Yates, starts out a little bumpily, jumping suddenly between real-life London and the secret magical world of witches and wizards, but as soon as Ireland’s Michael Gambon appears in the role of Hogwarts' kindly schoolmaster Dumbledore, the film hits its stride.
“I expect you’re wondering why I called on you tonight,” Dumbledore says to Harry after he appears out of thin air at a train station in London. “Actually sir, after all these years I’ve learned to just go with it,” Harry replies. Like Harry, we have also learned to just go with it too, and what a wild ride this latest installment turns out to be.
If the choices we make eventually define us, then this latest summer blockbuster is the darkest examination to date of what can happen when we make the wrong ones. For the first time, Harry Potter is not the only “chosen one.” His rival, the evil young Draco Malfoy, has been selected by Lord Voldemort to assassinate Dumbledore. It’s a dangerous task that Malfoy may not have the will to pursue, but the set-up powers the drama from beginning to end.
Parents might want to take note that as the Potter series matures, it becomes more adult in its action and themes: "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" contains moments that could unnerve younger viewers. To offset all the darkness, the filmmakers have decided to play up the budding romances between the main characters — but shocking confrontations are never far away.
Reprising her role as the lion-hearted Luna Lovegood, Ireland’s Evanna Lynch, 17, is once again pitch-perfect as the teenage eccentric. Lynch, who still lives in Drogheda when not filming, made her acting debut in "Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix" and was a dedicated fan of the books before she was selected from over 15,000 other young hopefuls through an open casting call in 2006.
This time out, we get to see Harry’s growing affection for Luna, the otherworldly girl who wears shoes to bed because she frequently sleepwalks. And when he’s stuck for a date to bring to Professor Slughorn’s Christmas party, he straightaway thinks of his oddball friend.
True to form, Luna doesn’t disappoint: she shows up in a bright silver dress that looks like a Christmas tree. A true eccentric, the only thing to do is be charmed by her, and this time Harry completely succumbs.
Although Voldemort is barely seen in this episode, his influence is felt everywhere, even infiltrating Hogwarts with the help of his band of Death Eaters. The best scenes in the film involve flashbacks to Voldemort’s youth, when he was known as Tom Riddle, the boy who will eventually grow into the darkest wizard the world has ever known.
Voldemort learns about horcruxs, a form of dark magic where the soul can be split apart and sealed within a magical object like jewel or a ring, so that even if the physical body is destroyed death will not follow. The catch is that the only way to split the soul into the pieces to make a horcrux is to murder someone – an act that the psychopathic young Tom Riddle has no difficulty performing.
Thankfully, Harry and Dumbledore unearth the secret of Voldemort’s horcruxs and the quest to find and destroy these foul magical objects begins in earnest. But Voldemort’s dark wizardry has allowed him to access areas of dark magic only guessed at by Dumbledore — and fatal complications ensue.
In the role of the sneering Professor Snape, Alan Rickman is once again the best thing in the entire series. With his sarcasm and his withering looks, he brings humor and an unexpected degree of pathos to a role he obviously relishes. But fans are in for a shock about Snape’s true nature and what he’s willing to do to protect his secrets.
"The Half Blood Prince" often feels like a stopgap between the previous Potter film and the final confrontation in "The Deathly Hallows," but it’s a remarkably entertaining one and should not be missed.