“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” takes a lot of concentration to follow along with any level of understanding, even if you’ve read the book. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is the orphan kid with the strong magical powers, now a late teenager, now in his sixth year attending the Hogwarts school for magicians. His best friends at the school are Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson), the loyal one and the smart one, who seem to be developing an awkward attachment for each other.
Harry is always struggling with the Dark Side somehow. The evil forces seem to be out to get him, presumably because they know he can do them harm if he’s not eliminated. The Headmaster at the School, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), takes a special interest in Harry’s development, to his own peril. There are other professors at the school who are working against him.
Some of the old tricks are there: photographs that move and talk, a soccer-like game played on flying broomsticks, mythical creatures brought to life through convincing computer-graphic images. And now that they’re all thoroughly teenaged, we can play with romances and flirtations and jealousies and the occasional irrational immaturity.
But at its heart, the “Harry Potter” series is a morality play for children: you can use your gifts for good or ill. You can stick by your friends or you can abandon them to their own devices. You can choose to apply yourself or you can be lazy and underachieving. It’s really your choice, no matter what your level of gifts.
The ending feels very much like they’re already working on the next episode, which they are. Though there are humorous moments, it’s not really very lighthearted.
If you’re a fan of the series, of course, you have to see it. Otherwise, you might be a bit bewildered by the strange vocabulary, the brooding context, and the way this film appears to take up a story from where it left off and then inconveniently leave you hanging about what happens next. Or maybe you would regard that as simple suspense. It’s your choice.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.