"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" - Film clips courtesy of Warner Bros
By Tim Masters
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Temperatures are running high at Hogwarts School
After the relentless bang-boom-crash of summer sequels like Transformers and Terminator, the sixth Harry Potter film comes as something of a relief for those seeking a little more humanity, even if it is of the magical variety.
Lord Voldemort has returned, dark forces lurk beyond the enchanted gates of Hogwarts School - while teenage hormones rage within.
The regular cast is back, with the addition of Jim Broadbent as the Potions Professor, Horace Slughorn, whose memories are key in the battle against the Dark Lord.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a very scary film with a lot of surprises.
The sound effects are really good, with brilliant music changing all the time. All the special effects are excellent, such as really realistic fire in two parts of the film.
It also had amazing graphics: Hogwarts had every tiny detail and was really clear. The film missed out a lot from the book but added quite a bit!
The Half-Blood Prince is probably the best Harry Potter film made. It has plenty of everything, but maybe a bit too much kissing.
So says Slughorn, in one of the story's flashbacks to Voldemort's childhood.
This really is a film with little daylight. Gone are the sun-kissed Quidditch pitches of the early movies. More than ever, Hogwarts seems in the grip of an eternal winter.
And let's not forget those hormones dripping down the castle walls.
Director David Yates, staying on after 2007's Order of the Phoenix, has thrown his energies into the lavish visuals and the emotional landscape.
Those wanting noisy spectacle and endless action will be disappointed. This is a talky Potter.
It feels long - but not in a bad way. The main characters and the complex plot get a chance to breathe.
Writer Steve Kloves sensibly excises the padding from JK Rowling's novel - adding new scenes such as the opening attack on London's Millennium Bridge.
The film opens with a dramatic attack on London's Millennium Bridge
But Death Eater attacks aside, relationships are what interests Yates.
Even when we first meet Harry in a cafe at Surbiton station, he is effortlessly catching the eye of a waitress.
"Harry, you need a shave my friend," says Dumbledore later, as if we need reminding that the boy Harry is becoming a man.
For fans of old-school Potter, there are plenty of familiar ingredients: Hogwarts Express (check), Quidditch (check), Marauder's Map (check), exploding potions (check) - even Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing.
Of more interest, however, is what's different: Tom Felton gets a chance to do more than sneer as the tortured Draco Malfoy, Alan Rickman's Snape comes to the fore, and even Rupert Grint gets to act beyond his usual Ron Weasley persona (he gets a snog, at least).
The stars are already filming the final two instalments in the series
Broadbent, as you might expect, is excellent as Slughorn, the dotty professor with a dark streak.
While there are plentiful flashes of humour, it is the gothic horror that lingers in the memory - although werewolf Fenrir Greyback (Dave Legeno) is sadly underused.
It is perhaps inevitable that the sixth film - like the sixth book - feels like it is setting up the grand finale. If slightly muted in places, Half-Blood Prince shows every sign that Yates will deliver something special for the two-part Deathly Hallows in 2010/11.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is released on 15 July.
Not a lot happens for 153 minutes, though, and I thought my sons - now 12 and nine and followers of the films since more or less the start - would be bored. But they liked the chat, the comic Quidditch game, the sense of evil stirring. They were engrossed throughout. This, I think, comes down to two qualities that have helped to make the Potter films the most successful film franchise of all time. The first is the relationship between the central trio of Ron, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson). Film-goers have seen these actors grow up, and watched their performances deepen and change.
There's lots of blushing, stammering and smooching. Will Harry lock lips with Ginny? Is Ron smart enough to see that Hermione ... well, it's not Skins. Hands are kept above the waist at all times. Putatively winsome all this may be, but what it actually does is throw the series' biggest weakness into sharp relief: film-making can (and does) control pretty much everything - except how the cute juvenile leads grow up. Still, director David Yates knows how to play all the cards.
The film looks great and Delbonnel gives the picture a modern real-world sensibility in a fantasy setting. The dark intensity and romantic yearning on display in Half-Blood Prince compel me to await the two Deathly Hallows films with an eagerness I hadn't realised I possessed. I must be under a spell.
It is a film of light and shade. Comic relief comes in the way all of the teenage cast members are struggling with affairs of the heart This is storytelling at its most spellbinding - streets ahead of the rival summer blockbusters.
The Half-Blood Prince is frightening, funny, romantic and entertaining but as the end credits rolled, I still felt disappointed. I had waited all year to see my second-favourite Potter book brought to life. If I wasn't a die-hard fan, I'm sure I would have loved it. My gripe is that the film was simply too different from the book - the writers inserted pointless scenes and took out others crucial to the narrative.
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