Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Release Date: Available now Studio: Warner Brothers Packaging/Materials: Three-disc Blu-ray case with lenticular cover Year: 2009 Rating: PG Running Time: 2:33:00 MSRP: $35.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 Partially 1080p high definition, partially 480i or 480p standard definition Audio Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 (dubbed in Quebec), Spanish 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish English SDH and French (on select bonus material) The Feature: 4.5/5 The wizarding world has finally accepted the truth of Voldemort's return, but that doesn't make fighting the dark wizard any easier. His followers, the Death Eaters, are growing in number and strength by the moment, and growing so bold as to attack Muggles in broad daylight. The world is beginning to look like it did 16 years ago, when Voldemort was at the height of his powers. But then, as now, that time included Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), the "chosen one" who nearly destroyed him then and who is prophesied to defeat him again. The key to victory may be locked in the mind of Professor Slughorn (James Broadbent), the returning Potions teacher at Hogwarts who taught Voldemort when he was a student and revealed to him an arcane piece of witchcraft that lies at the heart of his apparent invincibility. While Harry is tasked by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to ferret out the memory, Harry's schoolyard nemesis Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) has been given an assignment of his own, one that makes him increasingly distant and moody. Eventually their concurrent missions will collide, with the aftermath being more devastating than anyone would have expected. Undeniably the darkest of the Harry Potter films, "Half-Blood Prince" is also the most mature, a reflection of the practically adult main character and his comrades. Having accepted the mantle of "chosen one" and the sacrifices it entails, Harry's resolve to defeat the Dark Lord is focused and intense as we begin to see the hero we all know he would become. And though young love blossoms for both him and his best friends, there's not a moment when the clouds of the impending storm aren't casting their shadow. Though it makes for a particularly gloomy installment, it also affords the actors some of their strongest performances, in particular when each must return to the comfort and strength of their friendship. Though much of the events of this sixth film can be seen as set up for the two-part finale, I doubt anyone will deny it whets the appetite for what is to come and cannot come soon enough. Eleven months is an awfully long time to wait. Video Quality: 4.5/5 The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The cinematography is particularly dark and dim in this film, with very few moments of color or brightness. In such plentiful moments of limited illumination, black levels prove to be deep and stable, with very good shadow detail. Contrast appears accurate with the full range of values, though again things tend to hover towards the bottom end of the scale. Though the color palette is pretty limited as a result, scenes like the Weasley Twins' joke shop prove to be satisfyingly deep and saturated in their appearance. Fine object detail and overall sharpness can be a little difficult to judge in the darkness, but moments of exceptional clarity in skin and hair, and consistent resolution between close-ups and wide shots, show there's no need to be concerned. And with no indications of sharpening or noise reduction measures, it all adds up to another first rate transfer from Warner Brothers. Audio Quality: 4.5/5 The surround channels in the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track provide balanced and detailed support for the score and a great blend of directional and atmospheric effects. The experience in the more involving sequences, like the Quidditch match and trip to the cave, is immersive, but I found myself noting a lack of ambiance during the quieter, dialogue-heavy scenes. Dialogue itself can be a bit difficult to discern with some of the accents in play, but I can't find fault with the amount of detail or the levels in relation to the other channels. LFE is deep and robust and effectively balanced with the rest of the activity. Overall it's an excellent presentation with only a few minor quibbles. Special Features: 3.5/5 The second disc of extras is a pretty superficial affair, the one exception being the documentary on J.K. Rowling. The interactive video commentary on the feature disc makes up for it with plenty of interesting behind-the-scenes material, but the lack of independent access to the majority of items is an inconvenience. The inclusion of both a DVD and digital copy seems a bit redundant, but I suppose it covers all the conceivable bases. On the whole it's a decent set of extras, but one that will likely be expanded when the title gets the "Ultimate Edition" treatment. Digital Copy: In a slight change of practice, Warner Brothers provides a URL to download the digital file rather than an optical disc. Disc One Maximum Movie Mode: The multimedia commentary features "Focus Point" featurettes; cast and crew offering thoughts and analysis of the film's story, themes and character motivations; behind-the-scenes still images; and scene comparisons deconstructing the visual effects work. Though only the Focus Points are accessible separately, the viewing mode does allow the user to skip to the next sequence of material without having to sit through the entirety of the film. It's an improvement to the accessibility issues of the past but still not a perfect solution, though I do tend to enjoy these enhanced commentary features for both their breadth of information and visual variety. Focus Points: Each featurette is presented in high definition. Millennium Bridge (3:26): Logistics of filming the national landmark. Shooting on Location (1:56): Advantages of shooting outside of a studio. Professor Slughorn (2:48): Analysis of the character and actor James Broadbent's particular interpretation of him. Building Relationships (2:04): The film's themes of friendship and romance. Director David Yates Returns (2:44): The director's work style and vision. Wool's Orphanage (2:49): Design and inspiration for the set. Ron and Lavender's Kiss (2:06): Anticipation and nerves around the scene. The Burrow (2:55): Filming the invasion of the Weasley home. Harry and Ginny's Kiss (2:03): The actors talk about preparing for and filming the scene. Aragog Returns (2:58): The work of building a giant spider to scale. Creating the Cave (2:28): Challenges in constructing and filming the set. Designing the Virtual Cave Environment (3:40): The visual effects work expanding and enhancing the set. The Inferi (3:25): The inspiration, design and animation of the creatures. The Underwater Sequence (2:04): Filming the scene and adding the CGI elements. BD-Live: Includes a streaming trailer and information about the December 12th live community screening of the film with Daniel Radcliffe and David Yates. Go to www.harrypotter.com/blu-ray for more information. Disc Two Close Up with the Cast and Crew (28:34, HD): Members of the cast visit various phases of the production in this entertaining, but somewhat juvenile, piece. Daniel Radcliffe visits editing; Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) visit special effects; Jessie Cave (Lavender Brown) visits the owl trainer; Rupert Grint visits stunts; Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) visits the wardrobe department; Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley) visits the art department; James Phelps (Fred Weasley), who worked as an assistant director during the shoot, shows what his day is like; and Emma Watson visits the makeup department. One-Minute Drills (6:45, HD): James and Oliver Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton and Emma Watson attempt to explain their respective character arcs in less than a minute. First Footage from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (1:50, HD): One-minute trailer for the final Potter films is preceded by some general comments from Producer David Heyman and Director David Yates. J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (49:46, HD): That the documentary covers a year in Rowling's life is rather inconsequential. Even though it's a pretty important year, when she completed and released the final Harry Potter book, the follow-alongs to publisher meetings and the book's premiere ultimately pale compared to the more personal pieces. Rowling is very candid about her early life experiences - the death of her mother, her estrangement from her father, and her failed first marriage - and how they informed the creation of the Harry Potter universe. Her openness throughout makes for an engaging look at one of the most successful writers of our time. What's On Your Mind (6:43, HD): Superficial fluff piece has Tom Felton asking members of the young cast various questions, like "Do you like chocolate or strawberry ice cream?" The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (11:40, HD): Promotional piece teases the 2010 opening of the new Harry Potter theme park at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. There are very few glimpses of the actual park, most of the material consisting of artist models, sketches and lots of people talking about how great it will be. Additional Footage (6:51, HD and Dolby Digital 5.1) Eight scenes, of a mostly inconsequential nature. There isn't much more to them beyond the very descriptive titles: 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 the 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 Disc Three DVD Copy: If the digital copy download isn't enough, there's also the feature on DVD. Recap The Feature: 4.5/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4.5/5 Special Features: 3.5/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 The penultimate chapter in the Harry Potter film series gets an excellent audio and video presentation and a decent set of extras. Though it will probably take some time to hit the market, those who want an expanded special features package should probably wait until the inevitable Ultimate Edition treatment.