HARRY POTTER Flicks On Track

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is going swimmingly, thank you very much.
There will be no additional work on the sixth film in JK Rowling's Harry Potter franchise, said producer David Heyman while in Beverly Hills on December 3. "If we had to come out now, we'd be fine."

But the decision to move the release date from the promised November 21 to next July was not fine with Potter fanatics, who even petitioned Warner Bros to reconsider.

"I think most fans are disappointed more than angry, and definitely skeptical of the real motive behind the delay," Sara Greer, editor of the fansite MuggleNet, told E!Online's JOAL RYAN on November 20.

Heyman insisted there's nothing sinister about the move. Because of last winter's WGA strike and a lack of titles to open next summer, Warner asked to reschedule. "You couldn't ask for a better studio in terms of what they've given us, the independence and support that they've given us throughout the process, so of course we said yes."

Presumably, the producers and studio hoped last month's release of the Half-Blood trailer would appease the irate fans. If anything, it made things worse.

"The new trailer was a treat, sure," said Greer," it just made a lot of us impatient to see the film."

Their anxiety is understandable: Half-Blood Prince promises to be packed with magic, mystery and mad love. While growing ever more powerful in the craft, Harry Potter also finds himself under the (figurative) spell of Ron Weasley's sister Ginny, even as Ron's friendship with Hermione Granger runs the gauntlet. At the same time, Draco Malfoy is sneaking around the school -- obviously up to no good -- and Harry spends more time with Professor Dumbledore, learning about Malfoy's master, the dreaded Voldemort, whose rise to power is imminent. Tragically, not everyone will survive the coming of the dark lord.

As if he could make Potter-heads feel better about having to wait for all that, Heyman also mentioned that a November '08 release of Half-Blood would've created a greater gap between that flick and the first half of the concluding epic. "Ultimately there was always going to be a two-year gap either between V and VI or between VI and VII: Part One." So now the faithful will endure a delay of "only" 18 months between Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows: Part One.

Speaking of that controversial split action -- transforming one book into two films and, thus, stretching out the series -- Heyman explained that the door-stopper length of the story required a rest break for the production team.

Meanwhile, fanatics at least can make the wait for Half-Blood Prince easier with Rowling's new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which is set in the Potterverse. Though technically not Book VIII -- it's a collection of stories focusing on other characters -- Beedle "is a gift to the fans," according to AP's DEEPTI HAJELA. "It rewards them for their dedication to the world of Harry Potter by giving them more glimpses into that place."

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens theatrically on July 17, 2009.

[David Heyman report by FRED TOPEL. Thanks also to CBS4 Los Angeles.]
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