Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent, Elarica Gallacher, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman
Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Dark Secrets Revealed.
Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Together they work to find the key to unlock Voldemort’s defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, Professor Horace Slughorn, whom he believes holds crucial information. Even as the decisive showdown looms, romance blossoms for Harry, Ron, Hermione and their classmates. Love is in the air, but danger lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same.
$77.835 million on 4325 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 153 min.
Release Date: 12/8/2009
• First Footage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
• “Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter” Featurette
• “JK Rowling: A Year in the Life” Documentary
• “One-Minute Drills” Featurette
• “What’s On Your Mind?” Featurette
• “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” Sneak Peek
• Eight Additional Scenes
• Digital Copy
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince: Special Edition (2009)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2009)
With 2009’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we get the series’ penultimate tale, though we still have two more movies to go. Huh? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the final book in the franchise, but the film producers decided to break it into two separate flicks a) to better serve the story and/or b) to make more money. (I lean toward “B” myself.)
Prince follows Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) during his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Evil Lord Voldemort’s minions the Death Eaters wreak havoc and even cross the line between wizards and non-magical “muggles”. This creates an unprecedented sense of danger that threatens many magic-related businesses, Hogwarts included; plenty of people are afraid to send their kids back to school there. Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) returns, though not without controversy: Harry suspects the Death Eaters have recruited his classmate to their cause.
Into this setting comes a new professor: Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). A former educator who even taught Harry’s parents, headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) brings Slughorn back to the fold as potions instructor because he thinks he possesses information that will help in the inevitable final battle against Voldemort. Dumbledore entreats Harry to cozy up to Slughorn and learn more about a crucial memory that relates to Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane), the boy who grew up to be Lord Voldemort.
Although the first three Potter flicks didn’t enchant me, the fourth and fifth started to draw me into the franchise. I thought those two provided more drama and excitement. While they weren’t great films, they allowed me to become more interested in the characters and their adventures.
Because of this, I looked forward to Prince. Given its spot so late in the series, it seemed likely that it’d provide a good escalation of tension and dramatic stakes. Also, it brought back David Yates as director; I really liked his work on Order of the Phoenix, so appeared likely that Prince would be another winner.
When I saw Prince theatrically, I definitely viewed it as a major disappointment. My main complaint at that time? Too much snogging! After I left the theater, my main impression of the film was that it focused heavily on teen romance and didn’t do much to advance plot. I also thought it lacked much action.
The latter gripe remains pretty accurate, as Prince fails to deliver the same level of thrills as its predecessors. The movie generally takes on a more subdued tone, and it feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the Potter series.
Which it is, in a way, since it sets up the action for the franchise’s finale. The Empire connection also comes up in the way Prince ends, meaning that it doesn’t have a concise finale. Granted, none of the Potter films ever finished in a decisive manner since they came as part of a running string, but Prince leaves us hanging more than the others; like Empire, it concludes with a very strong look toward the future.
And that’s fine, but at least Empire gave us plenty of satisfying action. Prince doesn’t deliver much pizzazz, and it also gives us less plot material than usual. Actually, it does okay in this regard – or at least it’s more story-based than I thought after I saw it theatrically. When I reflected on it following that first screening, I felt that Prince boasted only a minor plot, but now I can see that it has more substance than that. No, it doesn’t offer the revelations of its last few predecessors, but there’s definitely meat on its bones.
So my second viewing dispelled the notion that Prince was seriously light on story – did the follow-up screening rid me of the belief that it came with too much teen romance? Yeah, pretty much. Those elements still come up with moderate frequency, and they arguably dominate the movie’s second act. However, the first and third acts essentially eschew the teen drama, so those moments aren’t as prominent as I first thought. Obviously I didn’t care for them or I wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed with them, but on second glance, they’re not that bad.
And they do make sense given the series’ balance of plot and characters. Realistically, all these teens should be focused on smooching and related drama, so I can’t complain about the romance. I don’t much care for it, but it’s not as omnipresent as I thought, and the movie handles it fairly well.
I was wrong about the absence of plot, and I was wrong about the prevalence of snogging. Though I still would like more action, at least this removes my two major complaints about Prince. Both realizations paint the film in a much more positive light for me, though I still don’t think it’s among the series’ best entries, partially because it still feels a bit like a placeholder film for me, something that exists mostly to set the stage for the finale.
One could make the same claim about Empire, but I think that’s the best of the Star Wars series. Why do I embrace one “placeholder” and criticize another? I think the difference comes in the way the respective franchises handled their tales. It’s hard to fathom this now, but back in 1980, George Lucas didn’t assume that Empire would be a huge hit and he’d be able to continue the story. 30 years ago, sequels didn’t enjoy the guaranteed success they seem to assume today; if a sequel made two-thirds of the money earned by the first chapter, it was seen as a smash, whereas now such a box office take would be big disappointment.
Because a third Star Wars film wasn’t a sure thing, I think Lucas and company worked harder to make Empire a big event in its own right; it may end inconclusively, but it still stands on its own. In the case of the Potter series, though, they knew Prince would do fine at the box office. The Potter flicks vary in terms of overall gross, but they never bomb, and they never will. They enjoy too devoted a fan base for their totals to dip too far.
This meant that the film’s producers also knew unquestionably that the series would continue after Prince. Virtually nothing would impede the production of the final flick, so the folks behind Prince didn’t need to worry that a lack of action, plot or general conclusiveness would endanger the franchise.
And when I eventually see the final two movies, I’ll probably appreciate Prince more, much in the way that I came to like Back to the Future Part II a lot more once I saw the finale. That said, Prince works acceptably well without knowledge of the final films. It leaves us hanging too much for me to fully embrace it at this time, but I do appreciate that it does many things right and it sparks an interest in the series’ conclusion.
The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.
The sixth Potter movie came with a surprisingly ugly transfer.
Sharpness was iffy at best. Some of the movie demonstrated decent clarity and definition, but too many problems emerged. I noticed moderate edge haloes, and the image tended to be rather rough. Jagged edges abounded, and the movie often took on a ropy appearance. Shimmering was also a concern, and various forms of digital artifacts were a nearly constant concern. I saw tons of mosquito noise and found this to be a murky presentation.
Prince lacked many prominent hues, as its colors always stayed pretty subdued. Within the production design, though, the hues looked decent, and the occasional instance of a more vivid tone was reasonably rich. Blacks were dark and dense, but shadows looked awfully heavy. Low-light shots could be rather opaque; they made details tough to discern. This wasn’t a thoroughly awful presentation, but it definitely disappointed.
In the case of the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it seemed very good but not quite up to “A”-level standards. I thought the soundfield didn’t quite present the consistently enveloping experience I’d require to earn that higher grade. Not that it didn’t offer some strong bits. The variety of action sequences created a lively sense of environment in which different elements zipped around the room. These opened up matters well and allowed the action to become vivacious.
I just didn’t think we got enough of these to make it to “A”-level. However, the track remained engaging, even during quieter scenes. Music showed good stereo imaging, and environmental elements formed together in a smooth, natural fashion. All of these made the soundfield quite good, if not killer.
Audio quality always satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded bright and vibrant, while effects came across as tight and powerful. Bass response appeared deep and firm. Across the board, this was a very good soundtrack.
Virtually all of the set’s extras appear on Disc Two. We get a taste of the next flick via First Footage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In this one-minute and 50-second clip, we hear from producer David Heyman and director David Yates; they offer very vague notes about the franchise, and we then see a brief teaser. None of these elements make the segment too exciting.
We see the performers go behind the scenes during the 28-minute, 33-second Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter. Introduced by actors Matthew Lewis and Alfie Enoch, we then split into a bunch of chapters. In the first, Daniel Radcliffe learns about the work done by editor Mark Day, and then we follow Lewis and actors Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton with practical effects creator Matthew Harlow. Next comes a segment with Felton and special effects supervisor John Richardson. Actor Jessie Cave learns how they get the birds to do their work with owl trainer Guillaume Grange, and actor Rupert Grint chats with stunt performer Nick Daines about that side of the process.
But that’s not all! Actor Evanna Lynch visits costume designer Jany Temime to learn about clothes, and then actor Bonnie Wright tours the art department and yaks with graphic designer Eduardo Lima. Actor James Phelps also did some work an assistant director, so we see that side of his day. Finally, actor Emma Watson gets the scoop from makeup designer Amanda Knight. All of these fly by very quickly, so don’t expect great depth. However, they boast a lot of energy and provide some basics for fans to learn these behind the scenes details.
Next comes a documentary called JK Rowling: A Year in the Life. The program looks at the novelist and runs 49 minutes, 43 seconds. At its start, it warns us that it’ll contain plot/character info about Deathly Hallows; apparently it look at Rowling during the creation of that final book. While I’m no super-fan of the Potter series, I do want to go into the final two movies spoiler-free, so I didn’t watch this program. Sorry! It looks interesting, though.
While One-Minute Drills sounds like the title of a porn film, it’s actually a six-minute, 45-second featurette. It challenges various actors to give us short recaps of their characters’ arcs across the first six films. It includes James and Oliver Phelps, Wright, Radcliffe, Grint, Felton, and Watson. Poor Radcliffe gets the toughest task since Potter is the main character, so his summary is the most superficial. It’s still fun, and the others actually cover their roles pretty well. If you want a primer before you watch the next movie, this is a good place to go.
Felton returns for What’s On Your Mind?. It goes for six minutes, 43 seconds, as Felton asks many of the other actors to answer simple personal questions in a rapid fashion. It’s a cute piece.
We learn about a new theme park via ”The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” Sneak Peek. In this 11-minute, 40-second reel, we hear from Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, Heyman, Felton, Oliver and James Phelps, Lewis, Universal Parks and Resorts Creative VP Thierry Coup, Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury, Wizarding World of Harry Potter show producer Paul Daurio, film production designer Stuart Craig, supervising art director Alan Gilmore, producer David Barron, Universal Parks and Resorts executive chef Steve Jayson, and actors Robbie Coltrane and Michael Gambon. They tell us a lot about the new addition to Universal Orlando.
Does the “Sneak Peek” act as anything more than a long ad for the park? Nope, not really. We don’t get a real tour of the place; we just hear people talk about how much fun it’ll be. And it might be a blast, but the program itself is pretty dull.
Eight Additional Scenes run a total of six minutes, 48 seconds. We find “Harry and Hermione Walk Through the Walls of Hogwarts” (0:29), “Harry and Hermione Discuss Marauder’s Map” (1:02), “Harry, Ron and Hermione Discuss the Vanishing Cabinet” (1:06), “Harry and Dumbledore Arrive at Cave Entrance” (0:41), “Harry and Dumbledore Leave Cave” (0:21), “Clouds Gather Over Hogwarts as Flitwick Conducts Choir” (1:42), “Harry Joins Ron, Hermione and Ginny in the Common Room” (0:43), and “Harry and Hermione Discuss Ron at Astronomy Tower” (0:43).
Given their brevity, you shouldn’t expect much important content from these scenes. Many offer some light exposition, and most of those look at Harry’s attempts to trace Draco’s antics. “Choir” seems too reminiscent from a scene in an earlier movie for my liking. The others are mildly interesting but pretty inconsequential; nothing here really needed to make the final film.
We also get a Digital Copy of Prince. This enables you to transfer the film to a computer or portable viewing device. Donuts!
Disc One opens with some ads. We get promos for the Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, Harry Potter: Spells, and Half-Blood Prince videogames, the Universal Orlando Potter theme park, and the Potter Ultimate Editions, and Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove. Disc Two also launches with promos. It includes clips for Sherlock Holmes and the Harry Potter: Wizarding World interactive DVD.
Though I initially found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be a weak entry in the series, a second viewing better revealed its charms. While the movie suffers from some issues that stem from its place in the chronology, it still manages to create fairly good drama. The DVD offers effective audio and a decent smattering of supplements, but picture quality looks surprisingly awful much of the time. This is an enjoyable Potter adventure, but the DVD’s visuals sorely disappoint.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4 Stars|| Number of Votes: 5|