Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. From start to finish, the movie looked terrific.
Sharpness was immaculate. At all times, the film appeared concise and well-defined. Even in the widest shots, elements remained tight and precise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was absent. I also failed to discern any source flaws in this clean 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 instances of more vivid tones – usually from fire - were rich and full. Blacks were dark and dense, and shadows looked fine. The film’s design made low-light scenes a bit dimmer than usual, but they were appropriate. Overall, I felt quite impressed by the film’s stunning visuals.
In the case of the film’s DTS-HD MA 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 – especially the climactic one – 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.
How did the picture and sound of this Ultimate Edition compare to the film’s original Blu-ray version? That one already offered excellent audio and visuals, so the UE seems about the same in both departments. It changes the original Dolby TrueHD track for a DTS-HD mix, but the end result remains virtually the same.
The UE includes all of the prior Blu-ray’s extras plus some new components. On Disc One, we open with Maximum Movie Mode. This provides a mix of different components. We get “scene comparisons” that show effects breakdowns or pre-visualizations. We also find production stills and close-ups of props.
Picture-in-picture clips provide comments from various participants. We hear from producers David Barron and David Heyman, director David Yates, and actors Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Tom Felton. They focus exclusively on story/character topics, as they dig into the film’s events and participants.
I’ve always enjoyed Warner’s “Maximum Movie Modes”, and this one continues to please. However, it’s unquestionably weaker than siblings found with flicks such as Terminator Salvation, mostly because it offers more limited options. Other “Modes” were more involving and dynamic, while the Prince edition lacks a great deal of depth.
That said, it still proves useful. I especially like all the character notes, as they embellish our understanding of the participants. Watson offers the most insights; she pops up quite frequently and demonstrates a good understanding of the situations and personalities. This isn’t one of the best Blu-ray interactive features I’ve found, but it works well.
One nice aspect of the “Mode”: it’s very user-friendly. Some programs of this sort force you to sit through the whole film to inspect all the components, but the Prince piece allows you to skip ahead without interference. When one piece ends, just hit your remote’s right arrow and you’ll leap to the next element. This ensures a smooth experience without unnecessary frustrations.
We can check out the 14 Focus Points on their own or as branches of “Maximum Movie Mode”. These include “The Millennium Bridge” (3:26), “Shooting on Location” (1:56), “Professor Slughorn” (2:48), “Building Relationships” (2:04), “Director David Yates Returns” (2:44), “Wool’s Orphanage” (2:49), “Ron and Lavender’s Kiss” (2:06), “The Burrow” (2:55), “Harry and Ginny’s Kiss” (2:03), “Aragog Returns” (2:58), “Creating the Cave” (2:28), “Designing the Virtual Cave Environment” (3:40), “The Inferi” (3:25) and “The Underwater Sequence” (3:25). Across these, we hear from Yates, Heyman, Barron, Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, 2nd unit director Stephen Woolfenden, aerial coordinator Marc Woolf, City of London Police’s Tim Dixon, production designer Stuart Craig, special effects supervisor John Richardson, makeup and creature effects designer Nick Dudman, visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander and Tim Burke, associate visual effects supervisor Robert Weaver, visual effects art director Aaron McBride, and actors Jim Broadbent, Bonnie Wright and Jessie Cave.
These quick featurettes look at various effects, stunts and action, set design and creation, locations, and cast/characters/performances. Despite their brevity, they provide nice details about the various topics. None of them stand out as particularly stellar, but all offer good details and insights, so they’re worth a look.
With that we head to Disc Two, which mixes old and new materials. 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, and the piece is less useful now that the first Hallows is already out.
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, Barron, Craig, 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, supervising art director Alan Gilmore, 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 Deleted 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.
The rest of the review covers materials exclusive to the UE. Creating the Magical World of Harry Potter Part 6: Magical Effects runs one hour, four minutes, nine seconds and features notes from Radcliffe, Richardson, Grint, Watson, Heyman, Burke, Dudman, Yates, Barron, Craig, Enoch, Wright, Heyman, Lewis, Lynch, Oliver and James Phelps, directors Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron, Framestore visual effects supervisors Craig Lyn and Tim Webber, MPC visual effects supervisors Ben Shepherd and Greg Butler, Double Negative visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin, Double Negative CG supervisor David Vickery, visual effects producer Emma Norton, visual effects supervisors Jim Mitchell, Chris Shaw and Theresa Corrao, MPC animation supervisor Ferran Domenech, props concept artist Miraphora Mina, and actors Ralph Fiennes, Emma Thompson, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Andy Linden, Pam Ferris, Robert Pattinson and Robert Hardy.
The show looks at the use of visual effects and practical effects throughout the various movies. Of course, other aspects of this disc touch on these topics, but this one digs into them with a bit more gusto. Expect a lot of good details about the effects used to bring Potter magic to life.
Hosted by Ben Shephard, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Behind the Magic lasts 46 minutes, 50 seconds and offers remarks from Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Felton, Broadbent, Burke, Yates, Barron, Heyman, Oliver and James Phelps, Wright, Gambon, Cave, costume designer Jany Temime, stunt coordinator Greg Powell, 2nd AD Jane Ryan, casting director Fiona Weir, actor Dave Legeno, and extras Olivia Rhind, Marcus Rhind, Giles Rhind and Jacob Davies. The program gives us a story recap and also looks at sets, costumes, effects, cast and characters, stunts, and Shephard’s work as an extra in the film.
We’ve gotten a few more of these “Behind the Magic” shows with Shephard, but this is probably the best of the bunch. Like the others, it tends to be fluffy and promotional, but it throws in a few more fun nuggets than usual, such as Shephard’s experiences on the set. “Magic” provides an enjoyable little glimpse of the production.
In addition to four trailers, we get a collection of five Interstitials. These fill a total of four minutes, 42 seconds and show notes from Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, Heyman, Yates, Cave, Broadbent, Gambon, Lewis and Barron. These TV ads offer quick plot/character blurbs. They’re not especially interesting.
The package also provides a few materials not found on various discs. A 44-page Photo Book presents a variety of images. Called “Creating the Magical Effects of Harry Potter”, it mixes production/behind the scenes photos, design art, and movie stills. These span many years and don’t just concentrate on Prince. This is a good little book with some interesting images.
Two Character Cards finish the package. Prisoner includes cards for Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore. On the positive side, these are better constructed one might expect; they’re thick and sturdy. On the negative side, they don’t really tell us anything. One side shows a black and white photo of the character, while the other sticks with extremely basic facts. Maybe fans will dig these, but they seem superfluous to me.
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 Blu-ray offers amazing visuals, very strong audio and a generally interesting mix of supplements.
Since the original Blu-ray looked and sounded great, the Ultimate Edition doesn’t improve on it in that department, but it adds a few nice bonus materials. It’s pricey but it’s a quality release that will please serious Potter fans.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition of HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE