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Originally published | Page modified July 16, 2009 at 3:54 PM

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Movie review

'The Half-Blood Prince' conjures up a whole lotta fun

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is filled with charms big and small, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent. Directed by David Yates, from a screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. 153 minutes. Rated PG for scary images, some violence, language and mild sensuality. Several theaters.

Spoiler alert | Fans' review from a midnight showing

Being the sixth installment in a seven-part series is a thankless role: Those who've followed the "Harry Potter" saga know where the road ends in book seven, and may feel just the tiniest bit of let's-get-on-with-it as movie number six unfurls. But David Yates' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is filled with charms big and small. As its 2-½ hours came to a close, I was happy to be reminded that we aren't yet done with Hogwarts, and that there's much pleasure in a story slowly told.

As with the previous film (those Potter books just keep getting longer), much has been ruthlessly and smartly trimmed by screenwriter Steve Kloves, by necessity. (He's getting a break for the final book: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will be split into two movies, opening in 2010 and 2011.) Many characters get only a few lines, some have been cut entirely, and much of Voldemort's history has been sheared away.

But the story that remains is clear, and part of the fun of the movie is seeing what its splendid cast can do with very limited screen time. Helena Bonham Carter, as Voldemort loyalist Bellatrix Lestrange, is barely in the movie, but she's a magnificent villain — sneering and hissing like a crazed cat in a corset. Evanna Lynch, as eccentric student Luna Lovegood, wafts on and off screen like a strange perfume, both vivid and charmingly vague. The marvelously named Hero Fiennes Tiffin (nephew of Ralph "Voldemort" Fiennes) has a brief but chilling scene as young Tom Riddle, a child seemingly already dead. Other pleasures are familiar yet no less entrancing: You could, for example, build statues within the unexpected pauses Alan Rickman drops into his dusky dialogue. ("You just ... know.")

As Harry moves closer to his destiny, the focus of the story remains on the 16-year-old wizard and his two faithful friends. Daniel Radcliffe grows as an actor with every film; here, his Harry combines a grown man's courage with an adolescent's girl-crazed grin. Rupert Grint, as Ron, is now a skilled comedian, making the most of a scene of enchanted lovesickness. (Watch how his face expertly drains of dopiness when given an antidote for the love potion.) Emma Watson's bossy, worried Hermione is a charmer, and touchingly finds love. (So does Harry, though his beloved Ginny Weasley — played by Bonnie Wright — is disappointingly personality-free.)

Yates skillfully combines high-tech with low: The thrill of a whooshing Death Eater ride through the London streets, early in the film, is matched with the fun of watching the great Jim Broadbent bluster through the role of Professor Slughorn, who knows a few secrets that Harry's finally ready to learn. And when a beloved character departs the series, late in the film, we're shown a wordless tribute that's all the more poignant for its silence. There's not much more time for us to revel in the Gryffindor common room and the sweeping views from the Hogwarts towers, and that realization adds to the audience's pleasure. "I never realized how beautiful this place was," says Harry, near the end; he senses what's ahead, and is taking time to appreciate the moment. As does this movie.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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