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HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton
Director: David Yates
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby 5.1, Spanish Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Color, 1080p high-definition, 2.40:1 aspect ratio
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Maximum Movie Mode, trailers, Focus Points, Close-Up with the Cast featurettes, One-Minute Drills, sneak peek at The Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, “What's On Your Mind?” interview with Tom Fulton, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, deleted scenes, digital copy
Length: 153 minutes

Why is it when something happens, it is always you three?

Believe me, Professor, I’ve been asking myself the same question for six years.

Film *** ½

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (2009) picks up the action almost immediately from the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2008).  In the previous film, the young student magician Harry Potter had barely survived a climactic battle against his arch-nemesis, the evil wizard Lord Voldemort (a.k.a. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named).  Furthermore, the wizardry world was faced with now-irrefutable evidence that the dreaded Voldemort had indeed returned from the dead.

For those few viewers not in the know, Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is based on the sixth installment in the best-selling children’s novel series by J.K. Rowling.  Most audiences will know the general story - Harry Potter (“the boy who lived”) is the only known survivor of a previous attack by the evil Lord Voldemort and is considered by many to be the key to defeating Voldemort again.  The evil wizard had presumably perished in his initial encounter with Potter but his return now promises an all-out war waged between the forces of good and evil.

For Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), now a teen, life has been a constant juggling act between struggling in his classes and struggling just to remain alive.  Harry is now in his sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where over time he has forged strong bonds of friendship with a number of the students, most particularly hapless best buddy Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and studious, diligent Hermione Granger (Emma Watson).  Of course, Potter has his share of rivals too, including his hated schoolmate adversary, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), and the ever-sneering Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), who has a special disdain for anything associated with Potter.

Having passed their OWL-level exams, Harry and his friends must commence their specialist NEWT courses, all while a magical war rages just beyond the safety of Hogwarts’ magical borders.  Although Hogwarts may be protected against assaults from Voldemort’s legions of evil wizards (known as Death-Eaters), there remains the possibility that an infiltrator within the confines of the school might yet stir up some trouble.  The primary targets might be Potter himself, the powerful school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, or perhaps another student or professor entirely.

The general plot of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince involves a desperate search for the means by which to defeat the seemingly immortal Voldemort.  To this end, Professor Dumbledore has asked Harry to gain the trust of Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), an eccentric professor recruited out of retirement.  Slughorn may just hold the key to discerning Voldemort’s fatal weakness, for in the deep reaches of the professor’s past memories is awareness of dangerous secrets about a former Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle (the future Voldemort).  Harry must somehow persuade Slughorn to reveal what he knows, however innocent it may seem.

To reveal any more of the plot at this point would be to spoil the film’s numerous surprises, including the devastating conclusion.  There are inevitable condensations and changes in the screenplay from the original novel (mostly in minor sub-plots or details), and while fans of the novel might lament the absence of a favorite scene, overall Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince works quite well as a cinematic experience.  Incidentally, the film’s namesake (the “half-blood prince”) is a reference to an old potions textbook found by Harry.  The tome is filled with annotations and footnotes written by its previous owner, the “half-blood prince,” with multiple recommendations for various potions and spells.  While the identity of this individual is eventually revealed, it does not really play a pivotal role in the film’s outcome but does raise the question of who is truly friend or foe in the wizardry world.

Viewers should note that Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince represents a significant shift in the tone of the movies, from the gaiety and wonder of the early films to the now quite-dark narrative that seemingly descends into doom and gloom.  There is some humor in the film (budding romance, exciting Quidditch matches for instance), but it is generally much muted in deference to the more serious storyline as well as the growing maturity of the characters (and their respective actors).  For the most part, the young actors do a commendable job and avoid the awkwardness or stilted acting of previous Potter films.  It will be extremely interesting to see how the young cast handles the grave and dramatic emotional scenes surely required for the series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

Video ****

The film is presented in a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that faithfully preserves the film’s dark yet stunningly beautiful cinematography.  The images conjured by director of photography Bruno Delbonnel are among the most gorgeous in the entire Harry Potter film series.  The detail level is stunning and sharp textures and accurate skin tones, as befits any pristine Blu-ray presentation.

Audio ****

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince boasts a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that is quite magnificent and takes full advantage of the LFE channel and rear speakers to create a truly dynamic audio experience.  Dialogue is crisp and clear whether the on-screen action is chaotic or calm.  Optional audio soundtracks are available in Spanish and French.

Features ****

This three-disc Blu-ray set is chocked full of features.  Disc One opens with a promotion for an upcoming 70th anniversary Blu-ray edition of The Wizard of Oz.  This disc holds the Blu-ray version of the film and also a Maximum Movie Mode feature.  The Maximum Movie Mode is a standard Picture-in-Picture track and is loaded with animatics, special effects breakdowns, production stills, scene comparisons, concept art, and interview segments.  Viewers with a BD-Live enabled Blu-ray player can view exclusive features on-line through broadband internet connection.

Focus Points are also accessible on this disc.  They are essentially short featurettes which can be accessed individually or through the Maximum Movie Mode.  Among the topics of these various segments are - The Millennium Bridge, Shooting on Location, Professor Slughorn, Building Relationships, Director David Yates Returns, Wool’s Orphanage, Ron and Lavender’s Kiss, The Burrow, Harry and Ginny’s Kiss, Aragog Returns, Creating the Cave, Designing the Virtual Cave Environment, The Inferi, and The Underwater Sequence.

Disc Two contains the bulk of the remaining bonus features. “Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter” (29 minutes) offers a series of interviews and tours between various cast members and production departments, such as special effects, editing, stunts, and costume design.  The “One-Minute Drills” (7 minutes) are one-minute interviews with cast members, including Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Tom Felton, in which each actor discusses his or her film character.  “What's On Your Mind?” (7 min.) is a Tom Fulton interview with his fellow actors.  Eight brief deleted scenes (7 min.) offer some extra footage for avid Harry Potter fans.  “J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life” (50 min.) focuses on author Rowling and her Harry Potter stories.  There are some spoilers in this long documentary, so take heed.

For anyone interested in sneak peeks, there is a teaser trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the finale of the Harry Potter films.  “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” (12 min.) is a sneak peek at a Potter-related theme attraction at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

Lastly, Disc Three is a standard DVD version of the film.  A digital copy is also available through an authorization code provided with this release.

Summary:

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince is the darkest and most mature of the six Harry Potter films.  The film largely dispenses with the earlier films’ light-heartedness and sets up the stage for what promises to be an epic finale in the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

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