At the end of Monday night's advance screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, there was a round of applause, but it was not quite as hearty as one might expect. Perhaps because of the muted ending, I thought. Two cheerful teen girls exiting the packed auditorium commented on the film, noting that it was long (two hours and 33 minutes), but good. Of the few people I spoke with after, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that the film was solid, but slow in spots -- good, but not as good as some of the others in the series.
I liked it more than that. Yes, the production meanders from what appears to be the dominant plot line, but for the most part, I enjoyed those scenes. This edition of the Potter series has the requisite number of fantastic images, but felt stripped down in an efficient way -- the grand conclusion of the whole saga is but one book (that will be split into two movies) away and this played like a major transition film dealing with a number of individual transitions along the way. Although there are no cliffhangers, the stage is clearly being set for something very, very big. Cool.
Bear in mind that I am but a tourist to Pottersville. I've never read any of the books. I've seen all the films, but I haven't watched any of them more than once and I don't study to prepare myself for a new installment. So each time a Potter movie hits the screen, I enter the theater with high hopes and a general air of befuddlement.
Here's what I saw: Some troublemakers known as the Death Eaters buzz both the magical and civilian worlds, doing lots of damage along the way. Meanwhile, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is minutes away from scoring a date with a comely young lass when Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) pops up with a mission. Harry is to assist him in visiting retired potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), using his celebrity status to lure Slughorn back to the school, then finding out a secret from him that could be a key factor in the war between good and evil.
Harry reunites with best pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson). That smug little blond-haired prick Draco (Tom Felton) is back as well -- now he's taller and more gaunt, looking like a young Jonathan Pryce. Also in attendance is the usual group of grand British actors, with Alan Rickman as Snape receiving more time in the spotlight and Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter getting the short shrift.
Romance is in the air for the Hogwarts students, leading to a number of amusing scenes and a couple that aren't as much fun. I didn't mind, though. The movie, directed by David Yates, looks and sounds great, it's always rewarding to revisit the talented young cast and see who's physically changed the most, and the 153 minute running time moved at a nice clip. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may not be the greatest of the series, and some may complain of too much yakking and not enough action, but I was consistently entertained. I like spending time with these people, both as actors and as characters. I like the feel of the film and most of the meandering worked as well. Enjoy.