Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: ** 3/4 (out of 4)
In certain circles, enjoying the Harry Potter books is considered a bad thing. The books are, by the standards of those circles, too base, trite, unfocused, or unoriginal; and while there may be value in watching the social phenomena of the midnight book releases and its ilk, those that actually claim to enjoy the books are, at best, foolish. It's a fairly insidious attitude, and one that has at least influenced me. But it hasn't affected me enough to keep me from the series; indeed, I have seen all of the movies within the first 48 hours of release, and went to the midnight book release parties for the last four books. If pressed, I could defend the books much more easily than I could attack them.
Somehow, this all makes it harder to review the movies.
In this case, I liked the movie. It was well-assembled, beautifully directed, and cleverly cut for the limitations of the medium. I came out happy to have seen it. And what more do I want?
Well... there were certainly limits. The movie may have been the most focused of the series, but it was still incredibly unfocused on balance. There was a beginning and an end, and most of the scenes progressed towards it; but that restriction caused many characters to be left out entirely, themes to be left out, and new scenes added to attempt to atone for some of those cuts. Yes, this kind of thing has happened before, but it seemed so much more egregious this time. When the ensemble cast drops down to just the eight or so characters that are absolutely necessary to the plot, the whole story suffers.
Still... I liked it a bit more for that. The book series, too, has always felt both rushed and meandering, as the material demands that things happen over both a year and a week. But when you watch the movies, you know that there is more material out there, waiting to be read if you want to see it; with the books, you're stuck knowing that we know all that we'll ever know. And that's somehow sad. In this case, the knowledge that the real material is out there helps the movie, and I find that a bit impressive.
And I am curious as to how the last book, split into two movies, will work out. I have long felt that Book Seven has the least actual material of any of the books; it seems odd to look forward to seeing twice as much footage from it. We probably won't have too much cut there. That might be neat.
I went to the midnight show on opening night, which is the ideal way to see movies like this. On the one hand, I got to see it with a bunch of excited fans; on the other hand, there were a lot of them, and they were mostly annoying and scantily-clad late teenage girls. (Yes, I'm clearly getting old if I find this a problem). This both added to and detracted from the experience, the former through their enthusiasm, the latter by the sheer problems of so many people in the theatre. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been in the front row...
And there's my favorite bit of the whole thing. When I saw the first movie back in 2001, I had my pocket Powershot S30 camera with me. I took a good shot of a pair of girls wearing Hogwarts scarves - and I got yelled at by the theatre staff, who tried to take my camera entirely. On the other hand, for this movie I got a picture of a girl with an SLR camera... Oh, how times have changed! (That she made a point of posing seductively is another point in favor of changing times, but I have less to say about it.)
Anyway, if you hate the series, you're not going to like the movie. If you love the books too much and are going to be upset by changes, you're not going to like the movie. And if you're the kind of person that likes this thing, you've already seen it.