Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is without question a good movie. With real chemistry between the characters, laugh-out-loud scenes of teen-wizard angst, and some truly spectacular cinematography, it may even be the best in the series. But if it weren't for that pesky title, it could have been a better one.
For those who aren't acquainted with J.K. Rowling's uber-successful series, the title of the sixth installment refers to the original owner of a textbook Harry borrows from his potion's classroom. Upon opening it, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finds not only tips, instructions, and made-up spells scrawled in the margins that turn him into an A-plus potions' student, but also the enigmatic inscription, "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince." To the indignation of his friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), Harry begins to treat the book as his personal all-occasions almanac. Whenever he faces a dilemma, he scours its pages looking for the previous owner's advice. But when he uses one of the Prince's spells against another student, Harry discovers that it's unwise to practice magic taught by an unknown mentor.
The upside of this subplot for Christian parents who have cautiously allowed their children to read the books or watch the movies is that for the first time in the series, kids get a tangible example of the serious consequences of dabbling in witchcraft. The downside is that by prioritizing what is a rather unimportant thread to the whole series, director David Yates has little time to develop a far more significant one.
What falls on the cutting room floor are the elements that began turning the franchise into more than a fanciful series about a boy wizard, but rather an epic tale of good versus evil. Almost all the background on Harry's nemesis, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)-his parentage, his seething resentment toward his own father, his early crimes against his family-are lost. In essence, with an opportunity to take the focus of the third-to-last Harry Potter film in a more classically heroic direction, Yates sticks with juvenile preoccupations of spell-casting and romance. This makes for some funny scenes, but it also forces Yates to cram together a series of pivotal plot points. When an important figure in Harry's life meets his end (does anyone by now not know who?), the moment is rushed, and fans are allowed barely a breath in which to mourn a favorite character.
Of course, considering that the title leaves him no choice but to include the less important storyline, it's hard to blame Yates. And while he may have to move the story forward too quickly, he still manages to imbue the film with a sense of dark foreboding...perhaps even a little too foreboding given the movie's PG rating. (The action is mostly bloodless, but some underwater undead, not to mention a horror-worthy wheat-field chase, will be too scary for younger kids.) He also, by continually returning the focus to the power Harry possesses as a result of his mother's actions, still manages to convey the positive message that the strongest "magic" in the Potter universe is sacrificial love.