Harry Potter and the half-baked title character

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Harry Potter and the half-baked title character

The penultimate volume in a saga such as that of Harry Potter must present a tricky balancing act. It’s an opening act that needs to align the stars ahead of an epic conclusion. But it’s also its own story, as either a book or a film, and must stand on its own. The series’ author, J.K. Rowling, teased fans with as much ahead of the print release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in 2005 with the following tidbit of information: somebody has to die.

Indeed, if it hasn’t been made clear already by several of its predecessors, Half-Blood Prince hammers home the fact that the Harry Potter series - while about magic, and still very magical - is no more winsome than the Book of Job. Half-Blood Prince is violent, sometimes scary, and explores adult themes. It does not, however, tell a complete story. What it seems to be doing, instead, is preparing its characters for the series’ final installment.

The film begins with a clearly worn Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) coaxing former Hogwarts potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) out of retirement. The reason? Slughorn was once close with Tom Riddle, the boy who would become the arch-villain Voldemort. This film seeks to find more of the reasons for Voldemort’s being, exploring memories of the young Riddle, devilishly portrayed at various ages by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (a nephew of Ralph Fiennes, who plays Voldemort in the films) and Frank Dillane.

Half-Blood Prince also finds Harry’s best friends, Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), engaged in a sexy love quadrangle. Harry’s life is not bereft of romance, as his feelings for Ginny (Bonnie Wright), Ron’s younger sister, reveal themselves. But it is Ron and Hermione’s exploration of love and infatuation that is more interesting, and more dramatic. Meanwhile, Harry’s school-yard nemesis, a very sharply dressed Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), is engaged in a secret mission that leaves him brooding and crippled by internal conflict.

So how about Harry, played upbeat and calmly by Daniel Radcliffe? Well, Harry finds a potions textbook that once belonged to the eponymous Half-blood Prince, which helps him excel in the subject and get closer to Slughorn. He has some adventures with Dumbledore, too, and while sensational things do happen to Harry, they don’t seem to affect him in the way that commonplace things like romance affect his friends.

What gives? We have a Harry who, while sitting firmly on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood, seems less defiant and conflicted than ever. In Half-Blood Prince, he witnesses several attempted murders - he nearly commits one himself - and he barely seems to flinch. The hot-headed Harry, with whom readers of the books might be more familiar, never appears. This despite the end of the last film, when he witnessed his godfather’s murder; despite the intense scrutiny and expectations placed upon him by the wizarding world; despite his love interest in the arms of another wizard; and despite the multitudes of dark wizards who want to torture and kill him. Thankfully, the film’s overall richness more than makes up for this.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Adventure, Fantasy/ English

153 min.

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By Andrew Siddons Contributing writer [asiddons@gmail.com]

From left: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) [YONHAP]

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