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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/8/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/10/2009

Get it on Blu-ray, DVD, & Download December 8th

We've spoken a lot about sequels in the past and the discussion usually finds the same conclusion: sequels get little, if any, respect. In most cases, any movie title with a roman numeral behind it is going to be seen as a second class citizen and these films are often direct-to-video fare. However, as with any rule, there are exceptions and some film series are able to escape this curse. These are typically a group of movies which tell a continuing story, as opposed to be a new story with the same characters/plot devices. The most successful series like this in recent memory is the Harry Potter franchise. Starting in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, these films have appeared regularly and unlike most film series, have continued to do well with audiences and critics alike. Can the latest entry, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, continue this cycle?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince begins not long after the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter (Daniel Racliffe) is still reeling from the battle at the Ministry of Magic which claimed the life of his Godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). At the same time, Death Eaters (servants of Lord Voldemort) have been attacking locales in both the magical and muggle worlds. Most likely suffering from PTSD. Harry spends his time riding the train in London. He is approached by Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who takes Harry to see Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a former teacher at Hogwarts. Dumbledore has been attempting to lure Slughorn back to the school and when he learns that he'll be teaching the famous Harry Potter (he loves celebrities), Slughorn agrees. Harry is then reunited with his friends Ron Weasley (Ruprert Grint), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), and they all soon return to Hogwarts. Once there, Harry immediately sees that Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who has been unbearable in the past, seems even more mean and distant now. Is this due to the fact that his father was arrested. Dumbledore instructs Harry to get close to Slughorn, as the man has important information about how to stop Voldemort. Meanwhile, Harry discovers an old potions book which once belonged to someone calling themselves "the Half-Blood Prince". This book contains many scribbled notes about magic with which Harry is unfamiliar. Who is the half-blood prince? Harry has little time to wonder about this as Dumbeldore sends Harry on a mission, which will lead to the death of someone very close to the young wizard.

If you've ever seen a movie based on a book that you've read and said book was over 200 pages long, then you know that movies are typically pale imitations of the story contained in the book. As Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is some 650 pages, I get the feeling that the movie is going to be lacking in some way. I have not read any of the Harry Potter novels, but through the first five films, I rarely felt as if I was missing anything. Sure, some incidents could have used more explaining (the "portkey" in Goblet of Fire is just thrown at us as the movie opens) and some characters could have used more backstory, but for the most part, the stories were easy to follow. (Well, except for maybe the time-travel elements of Prisoner of Azkaban.)

However, that feeling was completely different with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Despite the fact that the film has the same director (David Yates) and writer (Steve Kloves, who had done the adaptations for all of the Harry Potter films) as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this new movie isn't as satisfying. Again, I haven't read the book, and while watching the movie, I never felt as if I was getting a cohesive, self-contained story. Instead, I felt as if I was only getting the book's "greatest hits". The scenes never flow together, but simply feel like small segments of a larger story which never feels complete. It's almost as if Kloves went through the book, marking the major events (Ron becomes a keeper, Harry meets Slughorn, Ron becomes enchanted, etc.), feeling as if he must include them in the story. This gives the movie a disjointed feeling and it doesn't have a beginning, middle, and end structure. Despite the fact that the movie is 2 1/2 hours long, the ending comes very quickly and a "That's it?" feeling isn't unusual.

When examining the story, it's evident that someone felt that the relationship elements from the book were important, and thus the movie is filled with them. We see that Ron has become quite the ladies' man (Really? Him?), while Harry and Hermione are dealing with love and attraction troubles of their own (not with each other). Are these plotlines important to show that the characters are maturing? Of course, they are, but when you've got evil wizards plotting to take over the world (or whatever it is that they want), turning a Harry Potter film into a soap opera seems like a very bad idea.

I know that this all sounds like I hated the movie, but I didn't. I was simply disappointed, and for good reason. For nearly a decade, the Harry Potter franchise has been very reliable, and this movie simply didn't live up to the quality of the other films. There's no doubt at all that it's very well made and the special effects and set designs are top-notch, but the muddled (not muggled) story really hurts the film. Here's the perfect example of this -- during the finale, we learn the identity of the titular half-blood prince, and it's incredibly anti-climactic and really feels like an afterthought. (My wife, who's read the book, informed me that this is a much bigger deal in the novel.) If a movie can't deliver the promise of its title, perhaps it's time for a re-write.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has a vial of luck on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. (OK, there are a few shots which show some grain, but when only a few out of a 2 1/2 hour movie are grainy, I call this overall not grainy.) Despite the fact that this is a dark film, the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The colors look very good. The image shows an excellent amount of detail and the picture has a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. I hate to sound like a snob, but I prefer DTS-HD audio tracks to Dolby TrueHD tracks. However, this Blu-ray Disc has the best Dolby TrueHD track that I've ever heard. From the outset, when the Death Eaters fly over London, the surround sound is incredible. The stereo effects are excellent as well. The sound moves from the front to the rear and back again very smoothly. The subwoofer effects are very powerful as well. A nice package overall.

The Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. The film can be viewed with "Maximum Movie Mode" which offers picture-in-picture info on the making of the film, as well as stopping points where making-of footage is shown. The 14 "Focus Points" included here can be viewed separately, and run about 35 minutes. These look at key points in the film and show how many of the special effects were done. "Close-up with the Cast of Harry Potter" (29 minutes) is an eight-part feature which has various cast members walking us through various parts of the filmmaking process; Editing with Daniel Radcliffe; Special Effects with Matthew Lewis, Oliver Phelps, and Tom Felton; Owl Training with Jessie Cave; Stunt Training with Rupert Grint; Costume Design with Evanna Lynch; Art with Bonnie Wright; Behind the Camera with James Phelps; and Makeup with Emma Watson. In "One Minute Drills" (7 minutes) the actors have 60 seconds to describe their character's story arcs over the first six films. "J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life" (50 minutes) is an in-depth interview with the author of the book series which I, unfortunately, could not watch as it contains spoilers from the seventh book which I have not read. "What's on Your Mind?" (7 minutes) has actor Tom Felton interviewing the other cast members with odd quesstions which must be answered very quickly. The Disc contains eight ADDITIONAL SCENES, which run about 7 minutes. These are all quite brief and are simply missing moments frmo scenes in the movie, save for a musical montage. The Disc also contains promotional material for the Harry Potter theme park (but never shows us the actual park) and the next film in the series.

Warner Home Video has also brought Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to DVD. The film is available in a film-only DVD, or one with extra features. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace of grain and no defects from the source material. The picture here is noticeably darker than the Blu-ray Disc. The image isn't totally dark, but there are some scenes which look murky. The colors look fine and there is no overt artifacting. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very well done and the surround sound effects always make their presence known. The subwoofer effects provide a deep rumble.

The DVD contains all of the extras found on the Blu-ray Disc save for the "Maximum Movie Mode".

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long