“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” gets magic and romance right

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the most frenetic of J.K. Rowling’s seven novels, splitting its time between madcap romantic hijinks, time-traveling exposition and dark action sequences for almost 700 pages.

It is rife with urgency, yet it is only one of two Potters in which the Dark Lord Voldemort does not make an appearance.

The task of creating a seamless film from the penultimate Potter seemed an impossible task, but screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates weaved through the romance, humor, back story, action and angst of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince like all-star Quidditch Chasers — and in doing so created the best Potter adaptation to date.

The real magic of the sixth film is that it feels both familiar and shockingly fresh.

The familiarity, of course, comes from the stellar cast whose willingness to stay together for eight movies is, frankly, something that may never be repeated. Emma Watson, Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Bonnie Wright‘s performances were epically more mature in Half-Blood Prince than films past.

Emma Watson’s offering, in particular, was almost as nuanced as her more seasoned adult co-stars. Very much like the books, Watson is the harmony that holds the entire story together. Her looks of longing and loathing — sometimes in the same scene — at Grint’s Ron Weasley are heart-wrenching and hilarious.

Of course, Britain’s best adults were as spot-on as ever. Helena Bonham-Carter‘s Bellatrix Lestrange is sadistic perfection. (“I killed Sirius Black! I killed Siruis Black!”) And Maggie Smith‘s Professor McGonagall is as stern and maternal as ever. (“Why is it that whenever anything happens, it is always you three?”)

The freshness of this installment comes down to new cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. His vision for Half-Blood Prince is more lush, textured and layered than any of the previous films. From the opening descent upon Trafalgar Square to the final shot of the trio looking out over the Hogwarts grounds, Delbonnel’s work is stunning.

I would be remiss not to also mention the returning Evana Lynch who plays eccentric Luna Lovegood with grace and charm, and the newest addition to the cast, Jessie Cave, whose heartsickness over Ron is the source of half the movie’s glee, and one count of violent canary attack.

There is a moment near the beginning of movie where Dumbledore repairs the interior of a vandalized Muggle home with the wave of his wand. As books zoom back onto shelves, upholstery stitches itself back together, and shards of crystal fly through the air to repair a broken chandelier, the look of wonder on Harry’s face seems incongruent. How long has he attended Hogwarts now? Long enough to see thousands of spells — many of them more magnificent than simple household chores.

Yet there are moments, after all these years, that even Harry Potter finds himself delighted by his wondrous world. If it still happens to The Chosen One, who can blame us mere Muggles for getting caught up in the magic?

Have you seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yet? What did you think?

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