Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I’m convinced the world is a better place for Harry Potter being in it. The series of seven novels, first published in 1997, written by a brilliant, unemployed single mom named J.K. Rowling, brought millions of kids back to the pleasure of reading. The movies, which will eventually number eight, thrill audiences world-wide, young and old alike.

Set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland, the stories honor the traditional British boarding school system, where kids respect their elders and do tons of homework. Our young heroes learn that true friends help make you a better person, and adults who treasure weird animals are treasures themselves. It’s a magical world, but not a paradise–these kids see that bad things happen, even to good people. Christian values, though never identified as such, run through the series in heart-rending themes of self-sacrifice and the search for redemption. Bravery abounds and love powers all.

The sixth and current film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is a magnificent piece of filmmaking, helmed by British director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix) and written by American Steve Kloves, who wrote all but one of the previous Potter films. It’s the kind of film you dream about–hypnotically beautiful, wildly entertaining, funny, sad, suspenseful and inspiring. The only thing wrong is that it lasts only 153 minutes. I wish it were three times longer.

Soccer-on-a-broomstick Quidditch is back. So are the weird antique shops in Daigon Alley, the moving photos in the Daily Prophet newspaper, the Weasley twins’ mischievous inventions, the marvelous express train, Hogwarts’ awesome candlelit dining room and its myriad tunnels and towers. There are the usual incredible costumes and props, and some new magical objects, such as an hour glasswhose sand falls more slowly if the conversation is enjoyable and the Pensieve that reveals secret memories.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), now in their sixth year at Hogwarts, are dealing with raging hormones and adolescent rivalries. Hermione has turned into a traffic-stopping hottie, but Ron, sidelined by potions from other love-sick girls, is oblivious. Harry, finally, manages to snoggle with Ron’s sister, Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). Like many first kisses, it’s sweet but kinda dorky.

The story, as always, is another spectacular chapter in the battle between good and evil. The Dark Lord Voldemort and his minions have reached such levels of destruction that even muggles are being threatened. Everyone at Hogwarts is on constant alert, but there’s always time for reminiscing. The potions professor, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), remembers Harry’s slain mother as one of his favorite students for she had surprised him with an amazing gift. “It was beautiful magic,” he whispers. “Wondrous to behold.”

Now in possession of the textbook of another former student, mysteriously named the Half-Blood Prince, Harry is becoming an ace potions maker. He’ll need as many new magical skills as he can acquire because Prof. Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) takes him on a precarious journey to find one of the seven objects into which Voldemort has deposited parts of his soul. Allied with the Dark Lord is the professor we all love to hate, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who, unable to break a promise, makes a tragic decision.

Like all grownup kids throughout history, Harry now knows that he, and he alone, is responsible for his destiny. At the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he accepts that there is no respite from evil, that his fight against it is “to be continued…”

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