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War and snogging 

Harry Potter returns.

HORMONES AND WIZARDRY: 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'
  • HORMONES AND WIZARDRY: 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'

This was the scene after the first midnight showing of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth cinematic installment of J.K. Rowling's magical bildungsroman. It's nearly 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night, and the post-movie chatter goes something like this:

“The ending was terrible — totally made up,” opines a teen girl in a sexy British schoolgirl uniform.

“No explanation at all of what it means to be ‘the Chosen One' — good thing we've all read the book,” a lightning-bolt branded twenty-something says indignantly.

His friend retorts, “If you haven't read it you shouldn't be here anyway.”

A few feet away, a man old enough to be their grandfather says, “Ron was a hoot. Slughorn, too — although not as fat as he should have been.”

Among the faithful a consensus emerged: “It was ridiculous how much they changed. I have a serious problem with that … but I'd see it again, wouldn't you?”

There's been a two-year drought since the release of the final Harry Potter book (and the most recent film), and that magic-packed summer of 2007 seems as distant as our first trip down Diagon Alley. Harry Potter fans have been thirsty for a dose of Hogwarts, re-reading the series in preparation for the long-awaited movie premier (the originally release date was Nov. 1, 2008).

Director David Yates, in his second run after the dark and moody “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” reminds us that 16-year-olds have one thing on their minds — even when their world is at war. Whereas in previous movies soul-sucking dementors and evil Death Eaters lurked in the frames' shadows, this time it's all about love — or at least snogging. If viewers felt giddy over Harry and Cho Chang's stolen (and G-rated) smooch in the previous film, “Half-Blood Prince” will give them a field day. Yates capitalizes on Rowling's depiction of teen-age yearning, a subtle subplot in the book. From the opening scene — when Harry nearly picks up a cute girl in a London coffee shop — raging hormones dominate the scenes.

Non-readers of the books might do well to look over a plot summary prior to seeing the movie; 153 minutes is a long time to be confused. Screenwriter Steve Kloves makes little effort to explain the mounting dread that Harry must kill Lord Voldemort in order for good to prevail. The two wizards are bound by the prophesy that “neither can live while the other survives,” a crucial element of the plot.

As in all of the previous installments, the best part of watching “Half-Blood Prince” is the parade of Britain's finest actors. As the deliciously slimy Severus Snape, Alan Rickman is the embodiment of our favorite double-crosser; his confrontations with Potter drip with perfect disdain. Luckily, we see more of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and transfiguration professor Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith) than we did in “Order of the Phoenix.” Jim Broadbent as new potions professor Horace Slughorn steals the show, chummily cozying up to well-connected students yet holding a dark secret. Tom Felton's performance as Harry's tortured rival Draco Malfoy is the best it's been in the series. Rupert Grint as Harry's best friend Ron Weasley provides ongoing comic relief, particularly when he's bewitched by a love potion.

There's no dearth of special effects, from the collapse of a London bridge to the repair of a chandelier with Dumbledore's flick of a wand. The two-and-a-half-hour movie moves quickly, although some invented plot twists seem bizarre and unnecessary, whereas certain omissions are dearly missed. Still, those looking for a Harry Potter fix will enjoy “Half-Blood Prince,” laughing hysterically at Daniel Radcliffe's depiction of Potter under the influence of liquid luck, or nodding emphatically that the greatest weapon against evil is the students themselves. Also, fans need not worry about eternal damnation. The Holy See recently gave his approval of the latest Potter flick, calling it “the best of the series.”

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