After five previous films there's a lot of baggage that comes with a new installment of Harry Potter, but I'm glad to say that The Half-Blood Prince is an uncluttered and much more stream-lined movie to watch.
Gone are the chocolate frogs, moving staircases and floating headless ghosts, but all the familiar faces and places are back at Hogwarts, from Hagrid and Dumbledore, to mysteries and Quidditch matches. It makes for a much more simplified storytelling by boiling the original source material down to its essence.
I'm sure the other argument is that so much has been jettisoned, but when you think of how many characters there are to service now (and introduce) and still move the film allow without getting bogged down in Potter-lore, it's understandable.
I do wonder what this means for the final chapter in the franchise though (to be split into two parts) as there's a lot of ground to be covered. We did get a glimpse of the sweet Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks relationship in this movie, so when they make the ultimate sacrifice it won't come as so much of a surprise.
Although no look-in this time around for any house elves or Percy Weasley and the Ministry of Magic this time, so lots to re-establish (or totally ignore) for the big showdown in The Deathly Hallows.
There were a few plot-holes in the movies and by now you really do need to be a Harry Potter aficionado to understand everything that is going on, for example the 'Room of Requirement' seems to be reintroduced without much explanation this film.
The childhood romance at Hogwarts was also handled tastefully and wasn't as awkward as I'd imagined, which helped move the Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny relationships along.
In fact, Bonnie Wright must have loved that Ginny seems to get more to do than Hermione this movie.
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy must also have been laughing with his larger role in this film. Both did admirably well in their portrayals of the characters I thought.
Speaking of acting, it has improved amongst all the lead young characters, although for me the line has now become blurred between 'Harry' and 'Daniel Radcliffe' who plays him.
He's such an earnest young soul and you can see that he wants to be taken seriously so much as an 'actor', so it was nice to see a bit more range from him, with a slight comedic turn when he drinks the luck serum. He description of the giant spider Aragog's fangs made me chuckle.
Jim Broadbent was a welcome addition this movie and played Professor Horace Slughorn effortlessly, without making him too much of a caricature.
When you think of it, 'Half-Blood Prince' is one of the least action-packed Potter movies. There are no giant snakes, dragons or big wand waving battles with Death-Eaters, but the great thing about not having read the books in some time, is that the films can still surprise you. I'd completely forgotten the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.
The major problem with the movie is that the ending is quite anti-climatic, after quite a gentle 'romantic' movie, and in my mind the confrontation between Dumbledore and the Death-Eaters would have been much more dramatic and charged with tension.
I was also disappointed by Harry's resolve at the end of the movie to leave the school and find Voldemort's Horcruxes, as it seemed a bit weak. I remember reading that in the sixth book and thinking what a great set-up it was for the next and final chapter, but it just felt a bit flat on screen.
Overall I really enjoyed the movie and give it four **** stars (especially because it didn't seem to be as bum-numbingly long as previous installments).
Now I'm all excited for the final films and hope that this time Warner won't keep us waiting as long.
Ahh, poor Dumbledore...
P.S. Don't forget to take a look at these original costumes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.