Kissing in the dark

Teen romance meets dark fantasy in sixth Potter film

COOL-KID TABLE <br> Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is back in session.

Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is back in session.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Gambon, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by David Yates. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

One does not have to have given in to the whole Harry Potter franchise in order to enjoy one of the individual films on its own. I say this as a person who has not read a single Harry Potter book, and has seen only one, and parts of two, of the previous five films. And yet, despite my inexperience going into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was able to understand the references, the lingo, and the history and development of the recurring characters in addition to being able to enjoy the general spectacle of magic as well as the drama at hand.

There is a lot of background material with which the viewer is expected to come into the theater, and after six films and seven books—just as with Star Wars, Star Trek and even James Bond films before it—Potter has been so fully integrated into our collective consciousness that we’re prepared whether we know it or not. Even though I may have had little first-hand experience with “Hogwarts,” “quidditch” or “muggles,” I had already absorbed these and other rudimentary pieces of the Potter lexicon. I also already knew that Harry is the leader of a group of kids who go to a school for the magically inclined, and I know that as he and his friends have passed through the school year of each book/film, they’ve progressed from magic amateurs to becoming key players in the good guys’ battles against the dark lord—all while stumbling through the familiar challenges of the tween/teen years.

So what about Half-Blood Prince?

It’s fun. It’s a tense drama in parts, with some true surprises (for those who haven’t read the books) and breathtaking special-effects.

There are two basic stories headed toward one another at this point in the series, both of which are obviously set-ups for the battle promised in the already-released final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (a two-part film version will be split between 2010 and 2011).

While sharpening his magical prowess (thanks in part to secrets in a book signed by the Half-Blood Prince), Harry, the “chosen one” of the good guys, is helping his magical mentor, professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), get into the memories of Hogwarts professor Slughorn (a characteristically goofy and fun Jim Broadbent) to find out more about a former student of his named Tom Riddle (aka a young Lord Voldemort, the dark lord). Meanwhile, Harry’s nemesis/schoolmate and so-called “chosen one” of the bad guys, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, who has grown tall and well into his brooding character), is carrying out the mysterious bidding of his dark-side cronies (the most interesting being Helena Bonham Carter’s lusty Bellatrix Lestrange). After much mystery, violence and tension, the two stories come to a head and … either you know already or you soon will.

This Potter definitely lives up to its promise of being darker, with real blood, real morbid fear and real drunk adults, but it spends equal (excruciating) time sussing out various teenage crushes and heartbreaks. While half the film is a dark fantasy, the other half feels like a teen flick. Wee ones might get nightmares from the violent ink-dark shadows of the death-eaters, and they will probably be oblivious to the school’s teens snogging in every corner (how is this not PG-13, by the way—there are no boobs or swears, but one character actually bleeds out in a shallow pool). Those other kids—the ones in junior high and high school—will be right at home.