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Harry-Potter-and-the-Half-Blood-PrinceFull disclosure: I am not a Potter Head.

While everyone else on the planet was busy getting sucked into Potter’s world of wizardry I missed the boat. I read the first book and have seen all the movies but never really understood what all the fuss was about. The books are phenomenally popular—they’ve made J. K. Rowling the first billionaire author—and the movies have made a fortune—they are among the highest grossing film series of all time—but it wasn’t until the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the sixth entry in the series, that I began to understand the allure.

I don’t usually review the audience I see a film with, or even how they react to the film—the only criteria I use is how I feel about the movie’s quality—but in this case I have to remark on the connection Harry’s fans have with these characters. I saw the movie in a screening room with about twelve other people. Directly in front of me were three twenty-something women who cooed during the romantic scenes, gasped during the adventure sequences and laughed when the silly stuff happened. Normally their amount of distracting interaction with the movie would have ticked me off, but in this case it actually enhanced my appreciation of the film. People have tried to explain the appeal of Potter to me but it wasn’t until I became aware of this trio that I finally began to understand what a deep connection people have to these characters.

Filmmakers often try to make audiences care about the characters in their films, but Rowling, the actors and the franchise’s succession of directors have actually made it happen. Having spent hundreds of hours reading the books, seeing the characters grow up, fall in-and-out of love and inch closer to ending Lord Voldemort’s reign of terror, readers and viewers feel real empathy for Harry, Ron and Hermione.

That’s all well and good, but is The Half Blood Prince a good movie?

Yes, mostly. This is a pacer installment, a place holder which sets up the next chapters and like the others it has high production values, imaginative special effects that will make your eyeballs dance; a talented cast all of whom prance about on beautifully designed sets in spectacular costumes but, “Merlin’s beard!”, as with every film since the first one (the only book I have read) I was occasionally left in the dark as to some of the story’s finer points.

Harry Potterland is a singular place with its own particular customs, history and culture and for those familiar with its trappings the movies are magical things that bring that world to life. For the rest of us all this talk of potions, half blood princes and horcruxes might be a bit head scratching, unless of course, you’re sitting just behind the trio that made the screening of The Half Blood Prince so enjoyable for me.

Official plot summary from Warner Bros.:

“Emboldened by the return of Lord Voldemort, the Death Eaters are wreaking havoc in both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that new dangers may lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. He needs Harry to help him uncover a vital key to unlocking Voldemort’s defenses critical information known only to Hogwarts’ former Potions Professor, Horace Slughorn. With that in mind, Dumbledore manipulates his old colleague into returning to his previous post with promises of more money, a bigger office and the chance to teach the famous Harry Potter.

“Meanwhile, the students are under attack from a very different adversary as teenage hormones rage across the ramparts. Harry’s long friendship with Ginny Weasley is growing into something deeper, but standing in the way is Ginny’s boyfriend, Dean Thomas, not to mention her big brother Ron. But Ron’s got romantic entanglements of his own to worry about, with Lavender Brown lavishing her affections on him, leaving Hermione simmering with jealousy yet determined not to show her feelings. And then a box of love potion-laced chocolates ends up in the wrong hands and changes everything. As romance blossoms, one student remains aloof with far more important matters on his mind. He is determined to make his mark, albeit a dark one. Love is in the air, but tragedy lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same again.”

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