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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Two-Disc Special Edition



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#1 of 2 Ken_McAlinden

Ken_McAlinden

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Posted December 13 2009 - 03:35 PM

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Two-Disc Special Edition

Directed By: David Yates

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rubert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton


Studio: Warner

Year: 2009

Rated: PG-13

Film Length: 153 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: December 8, 2009

The Film ****

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, adapted from the penultimate book in the mega popular "Harry Potter" series from J. K. Rowling, picks up quite literally where its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left off, with an exhausted Harry (Radcliffe) and Professor Dumbledore (Gabon) exiting the Ministry of Magic where the climactic confrontation of the earlier film took place. That confrontation has finally convinced the larger wizarding world that the evil Lord Voldemort is indeed alive and thriving. No longer keeping a low profile, Voldemort's followers, known as "Death Eaters" are now operating out in the open, even wreaking havoc in the non-magical "muggle" world. In this environment, Harry begins his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Due to being a rare survivor of multiple hostile encounters with Voldemort, Harry is viewed by some in the Wizarding world as "the chosen one". Keeping him grounded as usual are his close friends, Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), awkward romantic feelings towards Ron's sister, Ginny (Wright), and an assignment from headmaster Dumbledore to get close to the new fame-obsessed Potions Master, Professor Slughorn (Broadbent) who may hold the answer to an important mystery concerning Voldemort's past. Paralleling Dumbledore's newfound solicitation of direct aid from Harry, Draco Malfoy (Felton), a Hogwarts student whose father was exposed as a Death Eater and imprisoned, takes on a secret task from Voldemort abetted by Professor Snape (Rickman), who has sworn an oath to watch after him.

Director David Yates turned Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, considered by many to be the weakest book in the series, into one of the best Harry Potter films by ruthlessly cutting the book down to its essence. He and screenwriter Steve Kloves take a similar approach to streamlining Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with only slightly less success. ...Half Blood Prince being a much more tightly constructed novel than its predecessor, the film adaptation cannot always hide a number of the character details it is glossing over. This occasionally undermines certain key moments of drama, most notably the reveal of the identity of the titular "Half-Blood Prince", but is far from a fatal flaw.

On the other hand, the film succeeds at establishing a distinctive tone which sets it apart from the other films in the series. The thematic darkness that was always lingering in the background of the series and came to the forefront at the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has found its visual complement in this film. Lord Voldemort never even appears in the film except in flashbacks, and yet the dark and desaturated cinematography gives the viewer the impression that his presence is lingering over every frame. The characters in the film are also engaged in more serious and adult-like tasks appropriate for their coming of age during dark times. This is consistent with where the series seemed to be headed.

One aspect of the film that may catch viewers by surprise, though, are the various romantic complications relating to unspoken feelings between Harry and Ginny as well as between Ron and Hermione. These sequences serve to throw the otherwise pervasive darkness into relief while introducing some recognizable teen angst into the somewhat less relatable "wizarding world in the balance" angst of the larger plot. I thought this element of the film worked quite well, in some ways better than it did in the books, due largely to the skills of the young cast under Yates' direction. It is a credit to director Chris Columbus that he was able to identify so much young talent eight years ago for the first film in the series, a credit to the producers that they were able to keep the cast largely intact, and of course, a credit to the actors themselves that they would continue to improve their craft over time.

The Video **½

The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 video presentation is best described as inconsistent. Despite devoting an entire dual-layered disc to nothing but the film and a handful of promos, there are numerous passages that look bit-starved with mosquito noise and other digital video artifacts inclusive of "jaggies", aliasing, and macro-blocking in dark areas of the screen. The cinematography of the film is intentionally darker and duller than earlier films in the series, which makes the latter artifact all the more noticeable when it occurs. There are sections of the film that look fitfully very good, but there are too many passages with one or more of the aforementioned artifacts for the overall effect to be satisfactory, especially if viewed on a large screen.

The Audio ****

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, encoded at a bitrate of 384 kbps, is at least a step-up from the video quality. The active and dynamic theatrical mix is generally well re-purposed for the home environment. Fidelity occasionally seems to fall off a bit, particularly when all 5.1 channels are engaged, but this will only be noticeable with critical listening. An alternate Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included.

The Extras ***½

Disc One

There are no special features on the first disc, but when the viewer first spins it up, they aree greeted with the following series of skippable promos. All are presented in 4:3 video letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:
  • LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 Video Game Trailer (1:06)
  • Harry Potter Spells iPhone/iTouch Game Trailer (:43)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince The Video Game Trailer (16:9 enhanced video - 2:32)
  • Harry Potter Ultimate Editions BD and DVD Trailer (2:35)
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Orlando Resort Promo (16:9 enhanced video - 1:05)
  • Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove DTV Trailer (2:13)

Disc Two

Disc Two greets the viewer with the following skippable promos when it is first played. They are presented in letterboxed 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
  • Sherlock Holmes Theatrical Trailer (2:21)
  • Harry Potter Wizarding World Interactive DVD Game(1:16)
Disc Two is otherwise completely dedicated to special features which consist of the following series of featurettes, all presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:

First Footage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (1:50) Slightly less than a minute of introductory comments from Producer David Heyman and Director David Yates with a little behind the scenes footage is followed by a slightly less than one minute teaser trailer.

Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter (28:33 with "Play All") is a feaurette hosted by actors Matthew Lewis (who plays Neville Longbottom in the film) and Alfie Enoch (who plays Dean Thomas). It is broken up into a series of short vignettes in which young cast members who play a Hogwarts students in the film visit a non-actor member of the production team to learn about what they do. These vignettes are viewable separately or via a "Play All" feature, but since each segment begins with interstitial comments from Lewis and Enoch that reference the previous segment and introduce the next one, it works best with "Play All". The segments are as follows:
  • Editing with Daniel Radcliffe - is a discussion between Editor Mark Day and Daniel Radcliffe in which they discuss how scenes are assembled
  • Special Effects with Matthew Lewis, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton - is a review of the inner workings of various practical mechanical effects props with the actors, Special Efects Technician Matthew Harlow, and Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson
  • Owl Training with Jessie Cave - finds the actress in a field discussing the extensive work involved in training Oels with Owl Trainer Guillame Grange
  • Stunt Training with Rupert Grint - finds Stunt Performer Nick Daines putting Grint in a harness on a trampoline to achieve various Quidditch moves
  • Costume Designs with Evanna Lynch - is a conversation between Lynch and Costume Designer Jany Temime in which they discuss the film's wardrobe as well as some jewelry that Lynch made for her own character.
  • Art with Bonnie Wright - is a visit to the prop department during which Wright interviews Graphic Designer Eduardo Lima
  • Behind the Camera with James Phelps - reviews the Assistant Director Department where Phelps actually worked behind the scenes on the movie when he was not acting.
  • Makeup with Emma Watson - is a visits with Make-up Designer Amanda Knightwho has been with the film series for all six titles to date. She helps Watson apply a "Death-Eater" "dark Mark" to her arm and discusses various elaborate make-ups and anecdotes from the six movies.
J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (49:43) - is a made for television documentary from 2007 in which author and filmmaker James Runcie follows J.K. Rowling with his cameras over the course of a year beginning shortly before she completes the final book in the Harry Potter series. In addition to catching up with her at significant private and public events leading up to and including the book's publication and worldwide launch, it also includes several private interviews with her and narration filling in biographical details. The overall tone is deathly serious, perhaps in keeping with the uniquely British phenomenon of not wanting to be caught enjoying one's success too terribly much. As such, a lot of emphasis is placed on Rowling's difficult childhood, her bout with depression following her divorce and the loss of her mother, and her estrangement from her father. Despite brief appearances and comments from her sister and current husband, the documentary is rooted exclusively in Rowling's point of view. As such, the viewer learns a lot about the details she is willing to discuss, while being left wondering about the details of events that are mentioned but upon which she does not elaborate. It proves to be an interesting if unbalanced look at a fairly private personality. Fans of the book series will likely enjoy the segments where she details her vision of the future of the characters who survive the series as well as a hint as to what her next, non-Harry Potter, project will be. The documentary wisely is preceded with a warning that viewers who are not familiar with the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will encounter spoilers, so viewers beware.

One Minute Drills (6:45) is a brief featurette in which members of the film's youthful cast are challenged to recap their characters' storylines from the six films in 60 seconds or less. Participants are James & Oliver Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and Emma Watson

What's on Your Mind? (6:43) is another brief featurette in which actor Tom Felton interviews his fellow cast members asking a series of brief "get to know you" questions while requesting that they provide the first answer that pops into their heads. Questions include: What is your favorite word? If You could eat just one food, what would it be? Chocolate or Strawberry? What famous person would they most like to spend the day with? Which historical figure would they most like to spend the day with? What musical act would they like to meet? Who is the most famous person you ever met? What would you most like to change about the world? What sport would you most like to master? Rugby or Quidditch? Where would you most like to visit? Desert Island Book? Favorite Sound? Makes you Laugh? If you couldn't be an actor, what would you like to do? What are you most grateful for? Participants include darn near every actor who plays a Hogwarts student in the film.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Sneak Peek (11:40) is a preview of the forthcoming Universal Orlando theme park. It is an entire park developed around attractions based on the Harry Potter universe of the films and books (Hmmm? Sort of a "Magic Kingdom" I suppose). It consists largely of on-camera interviews intercut with behind the scenes peeks at the various attractions at the park. On camera interview participants include Radcliffe, Watson, Universal Parks and Resorts - Universal Creative Vice President Therry Coup, Universal Parks and Resorts - Universal Creative President Mark Woodbury, Show Producer Paul Dario, Film Series Producer David Heyman, Film Series Production Designer Stuart Craig, Supervising Art Director Alan Gilmore, Film Series producer David Barron, actor Robbie Coltrane, Universal Parks and Resorts Executive Chef Steve Jayson, Gambon, Grint, Felton, Oliver & James Phelps, and Matthew Lewis.

Additional Scenes (6:48 w/"Play All") is a collection of eight brief deleted scenes from the film which are viewable individually or via a 'Play All" selection. A lot of them involve exposition that the filmmakers deemed redundant or at least unnecessary in the finished film. Personally, I thought the additional bits of speculation about and demonstration of what Malfoy was up to over the course of the film would have been useful as it was likely a bit confusing for viewers unfamiliar with the source novel. The last few scenes would have worked primarily as mood pieces and were likely deleted for time. They are interesting enough that I am glad they were included here. The "descriptive to the point of not needing a synopsis" titles for the scenes are as follows:
  • Harry and Hermione Walk Through the Halls of Hogwarts
  • Harry and Hermione Discuss the Marauder's Map
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione Discuss the Vanishing Cabinet
  • Harry and Dumbledore Arrive at Cave Entrance
  • Harry and Dumbledore Leave Cave
  • Clouds Gather over Hogwarts as Flitwick Conducts Choir
  • Harry Joins Ron, Hermione and Ginny in the Common Room
  • Harry and Hermione Discuss Ron at Astronomy Tower

Packaging

The dual-layered DVD-9 (Disc One) and single-layered DVD-5 (Disc Two) come packaged in an Amaray-sized "Eco-Box" case with a hinged tray allowing it to accomodate each disc on its own tray. Inside the case is an insert with a code for downloading a free iTunes or Windows Media Digital Copy of the film. Unlike previous such features on Warner discs, the digital copy is not encoded on either of the discs for faster than broadband download capability.  Instead, it must be downloaded via a broadband connection.  The case is in turn contained in a cardboard slipcover with a 3-D lenticular motion image that alternates between Harry and Dumbledore and Malfoy and Snape as you change your viewing angle. A 2-D rendering of the Harry and Dumbledore image is the cover uses for the hard case.

Summary ****

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince occasionally falters in its attempts to condense the immense sixth novel in the series into a manageable film length, but it manages to establish itself as a unique entry in the series by balancing the pervasive darkness of the film's events with some unexpectedly effective subplots involving the foibles of teen romance. It is presented on DVD with disappointingly inconsistent video and generally strong audio. Extras, most of which feature the youthful cast prominently, vary widely in depth, and are highlighted by a 50 minute documentary about author J.K. Rowling and a collection of deleted scenes.

Regards,
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Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 2 Joe Caps

Joe Caps

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Posted December 13 2009 - 10:19 PM

Every time a new HP film comes out, cast and crew tout the new movie saying it is darker than the last film.  I think it meqans darker in tone,  This latest film looks like it was shot during a solar eclipse.

I watched this film straight throu last night.  What a painful experience.  In the theater, I at least could SEE the entire movie.  Watching it on a 35 inch tv was a strain, to put it mildly.  Many things can just not be seen.

As for the film itself, praise can hardly be given for condensing the film into a usable running time. when
A. new things were added NOT in the book (destruction of the bridge,  the mini battle and burning of the Wesleys house.)  and the slam bang finale of the book was thrown out - the battle of Hogwarts and dumbledores funeral !!!!  Shame on David Yates and shame on Warner Vid for allowing this transfer out to the public.





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