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Half-Blood Prince preview

Year six was a rough one for Harry Potter at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The sixth movie installment of the wildly popular franchise, arriving in theaters Wednesday, is shaping up the same way for J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. and their crew.

Early in 2007, before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" filming, there was rumbling that Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger to Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter and Rupert Grint's Ron Weasley, wouldn't return. She finally signed on for the final two, now three, movies after several tense weeks.

Rowling is currently weathering another round of plagiarism charges. The estate of a deceased British author claims Rowling lifted ideas from his 1988 book, "Adventures of Willy the Wizard," for her fourth, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

HBP, the movie, did some release-date hopping last summer that pushed a November 2008 release to July 17, then July 15 of this year. The change forced HBP out of IMAX theaters for the first four weeks of its run. "Transformers," part deux, with money-maker Shia LaBeouf and the comely Megan Fox, has those dates on lockdown.

How can Radcliffe and Grint compete? And by compete, I mean it's clear the wizards are no heat-inducing match for Hollywood's hottest -- LaBeouf, Fox and Robert Pattinson, the former Cedric Diggory of GOF fame. Pattinson, in all his tousled-mane, unwashed loveliness, is the face of the "Twilight" franchise. He's busy getting run over by taxis, maybe squiring his equally dreamy co-star Kristen Stewart and dodging paparazzi as one-half of the romantic core of the teen-vampire story.

Filming wrapped for "New Moon," the second movie based on the second book in the Stephenie Meyer series, in June. The Twilight franchise has the heavy breathing and overwrought high school DRAMA the HP series is just now getting to. (Like Hogwarts kids don't like a good snog now and then? What's up with that?)

Ginny is throwing "hey, baby" glances at Harry. Hermione is finally putting that little fling with Victor Krum to good use. Ron is busy fogging up car windows with Lavendar Brown. The series was already well on its way to dark and twisty, which sells, but will the additional romance be enough to continue to fascinate such large multi-generational crowds?

The HP movies have a ready-made audience. The books have sold more than 400 million copies in 200 countries. The first five movies have grossed $4.485 billion, making it the top-selling franchise of all time. That's more than six "Star Wars" movies and 22 James Bond flicks. And like fans of those successful franchises, HP fans know and expect director David Yates to get the details right.

But there's the rub. Is HBP good enough to satisfy urges and get enough of the details onto the screen for fans devoted to the mythology? Word leaked out of limited early screenings says HBP may be too heavy on the former and too light on the latter.

Luciana Chavez

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