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Blu-ray Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Ultimate Edition

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a landmark film in the series with many scenes that evoke emotion and conflict within the world of Harry Potter. The film was already an edgy, suspenseful, and terrific entry in the franchise and becomes that much better with the Ultimate Edition treatment.

The Film

click to view larger imageHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince begins in a much different way than all the other films. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is recovering from the shock of seeing his surrogate father Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) get killed and is forced to grow up in ways he never expected. For the first time we do not need to deal with the Dursleys as the film starts with Harry alone in a diner flirting with a waitress. As he eats he sees Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) staring at him from across the way. Going across to see him Dumbledore informs Harry that he needs his help and, with a wistful look at the waitress who seemed to show interest, Dumbledore and Harry Apparate away.

Dumbledore brings Harry to see a colleague named Horace Slughorn (Jim Bradbent) who has vital information needed to defeat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Using Slughorn’s curiosity and propensity for wanting to gather together prominent students, Harry and Dumbledore convince him to teach at Hogwarts. This is part of Dumbledore’s master plan to find a way to defeat Voldemort; the key is a memory of Slughorn’s that was altered. If Harry can get the memory by befriending Slughorn then Dumbledore can solidify his plan.

click to view larger imageOver the course of the film Harry reunites with his friends Ron Wesley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Harry also notices that Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) is growing up fast, and there is an undeniable chemistry between them. Heading back to school the students are surprised to hear that Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) has finally been given the Defense against the Dark Arts teaching post leaving room for Slughorn to teach the Potions class. When Harry joins the class (late) he is forced to use a threadbare Potions textbook that no one wanted. It turns out that this textbook was used by an extremely talented student who called himself “the Half-Blood Prince.” Using the notes written in the book Harry excels in Potions class (much to Hermione’s dismay) and even learns a few darker spells and tactics from it.

We also see Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) entering center stage as he is enlisted by Voldemort into the Death Eaters. He is tasked with a terrible duty and, over the course of the film, we see Malfoy conflicted, scared, and angrily determined. It was a very refreshing change of pace for the character who until this point was a mostly harmless bully. Being thrust into this dark role truly shows the character in a new light. He is often accompanied by Snape due to a blood oath he took to help Malfoy anyway he can in his task. This adds a nice twist to the Snape character as we truly cannot decipher his motives. Dumbledore seems to trust Snape completely, but all signs continue to point to him as a villain in Voldemort’s camp.

click to view larger imageMeanwhile Dumbledore continues to elicit Harry’s help, first to try and get the missing memory from Slughorn and then later to accompany him on a mission to retrieve an item they need to stop Voldemort. These scenes are very powerful as we see the strong bond between Dumbledore and Harry as well as the difficult choices they both have to make. All of this leads into the final act of the film where we see perhaps the most heart wrenching scene in the entire series and one that was captured perfectly in this film.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a powerful film that is epic without being overbearing, deep without losing focus, and executed excellently from start to finish. All of the characters are extremely well realized, even if they do not get a great deal of screen time. In particular Ron and Hermione are off camera a lot, but when they are on screen they shine. This film has a very dark edge with many evocative scenes and it is perhaps my favorite in the series and a terrific lead up to the final chapters of the franchise.

The Video

click to view larger imagePresented in a nearly flawless 1080p/VC-1 transfer Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Ultimate Edition looks absolutely amazing. Much of this film is set in dark or dimly lit environments, and it is a testament to the cinematographer’s skill and the excellent transfer that it looks this good. The black levels are excellent and colors are handled extremely well. Most times the colors are muted to highlight the darker scenes, but when daylight shots occur they become vibrant and lush.

Textures are sharp and realistic with small details standing out and giving the image a nearly 3D feel that you can almost touch. The effects are handled brilliantly and flow together with the live action flawlessly. This was an expertly shot film and is beautiful enough to be a presentation film for your HD setup. Another excellent transfer from Warner Brothers and one that other studios can (and should) learn from.

The Audio

click to view larger imagePings, flashes, screams, and subtle dialogue have never sounded so good. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince becomes an aurally perfect experience with this 24-bit/48kHz DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. The surround field alone is worth the price of admission with dialogue, effects, and ambient sounds filtering all around you in a subtle but extremely effective way. Music envelops you, the bass thrums when required and is subtle all other times. Dialogue is always crystal clear even when a swarm of creatures is storming Harry and Dumbledore’s safe haven in one of the better scenes in the film. Bottom line the audio is flawless and makes this great film even better because you can lose yourself in the audio experience.

The Extras

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Ultimate Edition is packaged in the now familiar hardbound case and contains many physical and digital extras. There is a 48-page hardcover book containing rare images from the series, two character cards (Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore), codes to download a digital copy of the film, as well as a DigiPak case containing the film on one Blu-ray and a number of extras on a second disc. The supplements are uniformly excellent and the “Creating the World” feature with this release is perhaps my favorite so far as it looks at creating the magical effects.

  • click to view larger imageMaximum Movie Mode (Disc 1, HD, 154 minutes): Despite the silly name this is an excellent picture in picture supplement that brings a ton of depth to this entry in the series. Unlike the Order of the Phoenix’s PiP mode this one is not hosted by Daniel Radcliffe (unfortunately), but it does feature interviews, animatics, behind the scenes antics and the focus points that expand the details of a scene. It is well worth a watch during a second viewing of the film as it really shows the passion and effort that went into The Half-Blood Prince
  • Focus Points (Disc 1, HD, 38 minutes): There are fourteen focus points that can be viewed during Maximum Movie Mode (recommended) are separately via the menu. These focus points look at specific scenes and expand on the how, why and what’s involved in making these key scenes. Featured scenes are “The Millennium Bridge,” “Shooting on Location,” “Professor Slughorn,” “Building Relationships,” “Director David Yates Returns,” “Wool’s Orphanage,” “Ron and Lavender’s Kiss,” “The Burrow,” “Harry and Ginny’s Kiss,” “Aragog Returns,” “Creating the Cave,” “Designing the Virtual Cave Environment,” “The Inferi,” and “The Underwater Sequence.”
  • Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 6: Magical Effects (Disc 2, HD, 64 minutes): Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Harry Potter film franchise is the look of the magical spells that are the hallmark of this world. This “Creating the World” feature digs into the ever evolving effects used to create the magic, big and small, featured in all the films. Cast and crew from the entire series (even The Deathly Hallows) are featured as they look at the effects from the very beginning and how they planned, designed and executed the spells that fuel the entire series. An excellent addition the “Creating the World” features and one that every fan should watch.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Behind the Magic (Disc 2, SD, 47 minutes): Ben Shephard once again hosts this excellent TV special that looks at the process of creating the film. It is witty, fun to watch, and quite well done with the requisite behind the scenes action and interviews. Well worth watching to get a deeper look at this entry in the franchise.
  • Additional Footage (Disc 2, HD, 7 minutes): Eight short but quite good deleted scenes presented in HD that could have easily stayed in the film.
  • Interstitials (Disc 2, SD, 5 minutes): One of the weakest extras on the disc these are short promo reels looking at aspects of the film. Not worth watching at all.
  • J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (Disc 2, HD, 50 minutes): A surprising addition to the package but am appreciated one as it is quite good. This well done documentary has us looking at J.K. Rowling’s life, creative process and thoughts as she looks at the entire saga’s creation. This is a very nice feature and one that deserves to be watched and enjoyed.
  • Close-Up with the Cast of Harry Potter (Disc 2, HD, 29 minutes): I really enjoyed these eight short featurettes as they had many of the principal cast sit and chat with various crew members. Daniel Radcliffe talks with Editor Mark Day, Matthew Lewis, Oliver Phelps, and Tom Felton learn about the effects with FX supervisor John Richardson and Rupert Grint visits the stunt department as examples. It is a nice, if a bit cliché, set of featurettes that is handled very well.
  • One-Minute Drills (Disc 2, HD, 7 minutes): All of the main actors are given one minute to describe their character’s progress through the six films.
  • What’s On Your Mind? (Disc 2, HD, 7 minutes): Tom Felton interviews his fellow actors in a quick manner.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Disc 2, HD, 12 minutes): A look at the Harry Potter attraction being launched at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.
  • First Footage from The Deathly Hallows (Disc 2, HD, 2 minutes)
  • Theatrical Trailers (Disc 2, HD, 8 minutes): Four trailers finish out the supplements.

The Final Word

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Ultimate Edition is the total package as they say. The film itself is easily one of the best of the series, the audio and video transfers are superb, and the supplements are excellent and substantial. Once again Warner Brothers have given us an Ultimate Edition that truly lives up to its name and is well worth getting even if you have the original release on Blu-ray.

 

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.