Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Blu-ray disc
It was probably inevitable that there'd be one comparative stinker in the Potter series of movies. Unfortunately, that day has come to pass with the sixth entry into the franchise, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince".
When we last saw Harry, Ron, Hermione and the gang, they'd joined Dumbledore's Army and had a climactic battle with Voldemort and his cronies in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". There's little of this alliance in episode six, however, which seems to concentrate more on the budding relationships and sexuality of the young characters.
Alas, that means there isn't a lot of real adventure in this outing, and the 153 minutes of the film do tend to drag in comparison with the first five movies. And we never find out what it means to be a "Half-Blood Prince." We do find out who it is, but that's it - and we have to wait until the very end of the movie to even get that much info. Instead, all we know is that Harry is using the "HBP's" old Potions textbook - and the HBP's notes in it - to good effect, but that's it!
Maybe it's because so much had to be cut from the book in order to cram the rest into a film of reasonable length. Dunno; we haven't read the book.
The result is much confusion - for instance, we couldn't figure out what agreement Draco Malfoy has made with Voldemort and his minions or why he made it (though we can guess), and some of the other situations just didn't make sense - or we didn't get them, anyway.
Fortunately, the relationship part, where Harry, Ron and Hermione are following their pubescent hormones into a variety of relationships with the opposite sex, is delightful and makes the movie worth seeing. We've grown to love these characters over the past years and have enjoyed watching them grow up - and in this movie they push their relationship envelopes farther than ever.
Will Ron and Hermione end up together? Who will snag Hogwarts most eligible young bachelor? We, of course, aren't going to tell you, and we have no idea whether or not the relationships that happen in this movie will be carried forward into the last two, but we recommend highly that you experience them if only to enjoy the soap opera that teenaged love can be.
What other "action" there is involves Dumbledore and "new" professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), who has memories of Voldemort before he was, well, seduced by the dark side of The Force. Dumbledore needs the information with which Slughorn is reluctant to part, so he enlists Harry's help - sending him to befriend Slughorn so he can, well, pick his brain, kind of.
The memory Harry snags eventually introduces him to Horcruxes, which store part of one's soul to allow a person to live indefinitely - kind of like the Philosopher's Stone of the first movie can bring immortality, we suppose, though maybe we missed something (or maybe it just wasn't explained well).
Dumbledore tells Harry that Tom Riddle's (Voldemort's name before he turned to evil, kind of like Darth Vader used to be Anakin Skywalker) diary was one of the seven Horcruxes he (Riddle) created, and his and Harry's quest was to track all of them down and destroy them to ensure Voldemort's mortality - in that he's mortal, not necessarily dead (though they undoubtedly hope that'll come, too, and maybe we'll see if that happens in the final two movies).
At the end of the movie, after a pretty traumatic event happens that we won't spoil for you, Harry decides to leave Hogwarts to continue his quest to destroy Voldemort, but of course Ron and Hermione won't let him go alone, and vow to join him. Roll the credits and hope "Deathly Hallows' fills in the blanks.
The two disc Blu-ray is very good, though not up to the video standards of the previous couple of outings. The 1080p picture (2.40:1) is very good - it's just that it isn't the kind of reference quality we were getting used to from the series' later entries. Still, the picture is pretty sharp and clean overall, though it also exhibits quite a bit of grain in places. It doesn't spoil the presentation (you have the screenplay for that!), but we were hoping for better.
Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and it's very good, indeed. Right from the opening Warner Brothers logo, the low frequency effects channel makes itelf known - it's quite in your face, in fact - and the soundfield overall is wide and deep and broad, with a great dynamic range from chirping birds to wild thunder that'll shake your home theater and surround you very nicely.
Extras include Maximum Movie Mode, a Picture-in-Picture thingy that features cast and crew members, and "Focus Points," a "making of" thing you can watch either during the Maximum Movie Mode, or by itself.
Disc Two is stuffed with extras, including a "Close Up with the Cast of Harry Potter", an eight-segment feature whose segments focus on a cast member each, reminiscing about the film. It's hosted by Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom) and Alfie Enoch (Dean Thomas) and each cast member featured looks at an aspect of the production through the perspective of that they'd like to do if they weren't acting - such as editing, stunts, special effects, etc. We could have done without Lewis and Enoch.
One Minute Drills gives each of the main characters (well, the actors who portray them), 60 seconds to tell you about their character's development over the six films.
First Footage from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is disappointing because it's even less substantive than a teaser trailer.
Very worth your time is "A Year in the Life of J.K. Rowling," a look at Harry Potter's creator in which she opens up quite a bit about herself and Harry Potter. There are spoilers here, so beware!
Pretty lame is "What's on Your Mind", in which Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) fires rapid questions at cast members and they have to answer with whatever they think of first. Who cares?
There are also eight extra or extended scenes, the trailer for a new Harry Potter game as well as a "making of" feature relating to the game, some special effects features, and BD-Live.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.