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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Cast
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Emma Watson as Hermione Granger; Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley; Michael Gambon as Prof. Albus Dumbledore; Jim Broadbent as Prof. Horace Slughorn; Alan Rickman as Prof. Severus Snape; Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley
Director
David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Distributor
Warner Bros.
In Theaters
July 15, 2009
On Video
December 8, 2009
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter has the worst luck with nicknames.

When he was just a lad, folks dubbed Harry the Boy Who Lived—which, quite frankly, probably reminded him of the fact that his parents didn't. Now that he can no longer be called, fairly, a boy, some have taken to calling Harry the Chosen One.

But here's the thing: When you're called the Chosen One, it implies you've been chosen for something big—and in Harry's case, his destiny is filled with peril, pain and a do-or-die clash with Voldemort, a wizard so evil he makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like a Care Bear.

For now, Harry plies his studies at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. He hangs out with his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. And he dutifully listens to what Prof. Albus Dumbledore tells him to do.

Evil, though, seems to be steadily encroaching on even the walls of Hogwarts.

One student falls victim to a horrible curse. Another nearly dies from drinking poisoned mead. Draco Malfoy—Harry's arch-nemesis—has graduated from mere bully status to full-fledged Voldemort disciple, tasked with an malevolent mission. Oily Prof. Snape seems, more than ever, to be in cahoots with darkness—a double agent who's taken an "unbreakable vow" to help Draco do his diabolical duty. Dumbledore himself seems distinctly older; one of his hands has taken on a withered, mummy-like appearance.

And it's not like Harry doesn't have other things on his mind, either. Dumbledore wants him to get close to a new professor (Slughorn) who holds an important secret locked in his noggin. Worse—at least for concentration's sake—Harry's falling for Ginny, Ron's little sister. The only thing is, Ron hates all of Ginny's boyfriends "on principle."

Ah, such a puzzling, perplexing life Harry leads. Maybe folks should start calling him the Confused One.

[Note: The following sections contain spoilers.]

Positive Elements

In a day when many people are still "finding themselves" well into their 20s and 30s—Harry Potter serves as a helpful reminder that we've all gotta grow up and take on responsibility eventually—and sometimes that day comes sooner than we'd like.

At an age when most kids were still playing with their Transformers, Harry was already fighting for his life—a situation that forced him to grow up faster than most. In The Half-Blood Prince, Harry's just 16, but Dumbledore sees him as more partner than pupil, taking him on dangerous missions and assigning him ticklish tasks.

When Harry and Dumbledore search for an object of great importance, Dumbledore forces Harry to make a somber promise: To follow his instructions to the letter. And when Dumbledore learns he must drink an unspeakably foul liquid, he asks Harry to make sure he does just that. Harry winds up spoon-feeding the awful stuff to his mentor, despite the anguish it causes both of them. Harry'd much rather drink the liquid himself, but he follows through on his promise and, in so doing, demonstrates mental toughness and a willingness to sublimate his own will to that of another.

Harry, whatever his faults, embraces such unglamorous words as "duty," "responsibility" and "sacrifice." Dumbledore, meanwhile, displays his own sense of duty and sacrifice, showing himself willing to risk hardship, humiliation, pain and even death. He fights a swarm of zombies and stands unflinching before a phalanx of Death Eaters. He tells a very young Voldemort (when the evil wizard was just a wayward, misunderstood lad who pilfered things) that stealing is very, very bad.

Conversely, Dumbledore praises Harry for being kind ("A trait people never fail to undervalue, I'm afraid"). Friends show concern for one another. Harry displays gentlemanly behavior toward a young lady. And Dumbledore shows pity and compassion for a would-be assassin.

Spiritual Content

Harry Potter's magic sometimes seems to be more about natural ability than supernatural interference. (Think X-Men.) When Dumbledore meets Voldemort as a child, for instance, we learn that Voldemort could simply "do" things like move objects around with his mind and talk with snakes.

Magic is also tempered with an ethical overlay. There are certain forms that "good" magicians are forbidden to use, and those who plumb the secrets of "dark magic" (like Voldemort and his Death Eaters) are summarily expelled, imprisoned or otherwise cast out of "good" wizarding society.

But that doesn't, um, magically solve the problem. The darker ideas of potions, incantations, spells, etc., are never far away from these stories. Students, professors and Death Eaters fire their wands like six-shooters and shout out spells like schoolyard taunts. Students sniff love potions, snack on enchanted candy and brew elixirs of "living death." Professors pull memories from minds with the tips of their wands and turn themselves into purple easy chairs.

Thus, magic is ever-present and, sometimes, dangerously evil. Harry uses a horrid spell that leaves a pursuer soaked in blood and barely alive. In fairness, Harry casts the spell before he knows what the end result might be. And once he sees what it does, he repentantly agrees to get rid of the book he learned it from. But, clearly, this isn't a straight-up good-vs.-evil tale of heroism and conquest. While it's true, as the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reports, "The spastic search for immortality epitomized by Voldemort is stigmatized," Harry and Co. routinely use sorcery to defeat sorcerers.

And that fact muddies the waters.

Life, meanwhile, in Harry Potter's world, is a precious, even sacred, commodity. Voldemort, we learn, split his soul into seven pieces, hiding them in various objects—a dark, magical process that required Voldemort to murder multiple times. This is deemed most definitely wrong. According to one professor, "Killing rips the soul apart." The suggestion is that this sin, at least, leads to a sort of damnation.

Sexual Content

Love is in the air at Hogwarts—so much so that this film could've been called Harry Potter and the Opera of Soap.

Hermione discovers she has a thing for Ron. But Ron starts going steady with a pretty Quidditch groupie. So Hermione dates another guy to make Ron jealous—a fellow who apparently makes inappropriate advances on Hermione offscreen. Harry and Ginny kiss. And Harry has another admirer who sends him a box of chocolates spiked with a "love" potion. Ron unwittingly eats about 20 of them, falling head-over-heels for the sender.

These various couples hug, kiss, hold hands and/or make out. (That last bit happens offscreen.) We catch glimpses of other students kissing and snuggling in the hallways.

One of Hermione's dresses reveals a lot of cleavage. A female Death Eater wears a suggestive outfit. And a mild innuendo or two can be found in the dialogue. For instance, Ron asks Harry whether he and Ginny "did it." The question startles Harry a bit—though Ron's really just asking whether he and Ginny got rid of a troublesome textbook.

Violent Content

Hogwarts is no longer the relatively safe haven of Harry's youth. Indeed, the place has taken on the air of the Wild West.

Harry engages in a wand shootout in a school bathroom with another student, leaving his foe drenched in blood and in agony. Death Eaters kill a professor and trash the school's great hall. Cursed, one student is thrown into the air like a rag doll, eventually falling to the ground with a terrible thump. (We learn she survives.) Ron unwittingly drinks poisoned mead and falls to the floor, foam bubbling out of his mouth. Draco kicks Harry in the face, knocking him out and breaking his nose. (The magical fix is, apparently, equally painful.)

Harry and Dumbledore battle zombies with their wands, feet, fists and, eventually, a huge firestorm. Harry's nearly drowned. Death Eaters destroy a London bridge, killing the Muggles who are on it at the time. Harry, Ginny and a few others have a wand fight in the middle of a field. The Weasley house is magically torched. Quidditch matches are filled with aerial shoves and jostles.

To gain passage to a cavern, Dumbledore slices his hand with a knife and wipes his blood on a stone. Once inside, a potion causes him to seize violently and shout in agony.

Several birds meet their magical end, some in a puff of feathers.

Crude or Profane Language

God's name is misused at least twice. The same goes for "h---." The British profanity "bloody" is said about a half-dozen times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Among other things, adults and students drink wine and mead. One professor appears to be a bit inebriated at a local tavern. He spills his drink and talks about how he likes a "stiff one at the end of the day." Hagrid and Prof. Slughorn imbibe until Hagrid passes out and Slughorn grows vulnerable to persuasion.

Ron and Harry both suffer some degree of impairment from potions: Ron becomes comically twitterpated after snacking on enchanted candy. Harry, after drinking "liquid luck," becomes more animated, outgoing and silly.

Ron, thinking he was given a dose of liquid luck, performs extraordinarily well at a Quidditch match. It's just a placebo's effect, but Ron's clearly OK with the idea of cheating, as he welcomes the idea that he's downed the real stuff—which is the equivalent of, perhaps, steroids.

Other Negative Elements

Speaking of cheating, Hermione disapproves of Ron's supposed abuse of liquid luck, but she still says a little spell that knocks his competition off balance. Harry spends much of the school year using a potions book filled with another student's notes—notes Harry uses to become the class' star pupil. Harry only gives up the tome when a spell in it goes horribly awry.

A teeming horde of naked zombies clamber out of a subterranean lake. (We don't see any critical anatomical parts.) Several characters refer to "vomit," and one does so on a professor's shoes. (We hear it.)

Conclusion

Six times now we've been down this cinematic road with Harry Potter. And while installment No. 6 reverts to a PG rating (the last two were rated PG-13), the storyline is still getting darker with blood, zombies, pain and loss taking the fore.

In terms of the story's chronology, this darkening palate makes narrative sense. Harry Potter and his friends, after all, are growing up. And their world is growing more complex and harrowing. When the 11-year-old Harry and his cute round spectacles first arrived at Hogwarts, his life was already filled with peril and pain. But the path set before him was relatively simple, and he had a cadre of wise and powerful friends and professors who had his back.

These days, Harry's not just contending with the likes of Voldemort. He's feeling his way through the sometimes muddled realities of relationships. These days, the right choice isn't just hard to make: Sometimes the right choice feels like it's the wrong one. Harry forces Dumbledore to choke down a vile liquid—a torture for both of them that, at the end of the film, seems to have been for naught. When a professor is confronted and murdered by a pack of Death Eaters, Harry hides—just as he was told to do. But the fact that he survives the confrontation is of little, bitter consolation.

Make no mistake: Harry makes mistakes, but when it comes to the big stuff, he's making the "right" decisions—decisions that will pay off in the next couple of movies. When the credits roll at the end of The Half-Blood Prince, though, he (and we) has (have) no such assurance. Harry's world feels empty, nonsensical, frighteningly random. We're left in a bleak twilight with only a glimmer of hope for dawn.

The Half-Blood Prince is, then, in some sense, indeed a dark art. It is powerful, poignant and problematic—filled with magic and mayhem and messy issues.

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