Despite being completed and ready for a November 2008 theatrical release, The Half-Blood Prince saw a postponed release until the summer of 2009, in order to guarantee Warner Bros. a blockbuster in 2009. It’s hard to fault their logic, although fans of the series threw quite a tantrum when this change in plans was announced. Although I have to say that I found the wait to be more bearable than I expected and after the way this film ends it will no doubt soften the wait for The Deathly Hallows when it drops in 2010 and 2011. Oh and Warner definitely got their blockbuster for 2009, as this film pulled in nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Not a bad choice on their part.
Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching. Together they work to find the key to unlock Voldemort’s defenses and, to this end, Dumbledore recruits his old friend and colleague, Professor Horace Slughorn, whom he believes holds crucial information. Even as the decisive showdown looms, romance blossoms for Harry, Ron, Hermione and their classmates. Love is in the air, but danger lies ahead and Hogwarts may never be the same.
Perhaps it was just because I’d only read this book once and forgot the majority of what it was about (seriously—I went to see this movie with my aunt and she kept asking me questions throughout it and I honestly wasn’t able to answer a single one of them), but this was definitely my favorite of the series by far. It may be entirely related to the fact that I remembered so little I wasn’t annoyed by what they left out, but this over two and a half hour long film didn’t feel abbreviated in the least. Well, ok, it did—it was a pretty lengthy book, but at the same time they packed in everything that was required to help move the story forward.
As great as the books are to read, it’s also fantastic to see all of this in motion. The amount of romantic angles that were packed into this film felt awkward at first, but it was quite a dark film and the romance (and the copious amounts of humor that accompanied each relationship) really helped lighten the mood for this film considerably. Considering that it ended with one of the greatest cliffhangers of our time (well, for those who didn’t read the books at least…although we had to endure that cliffhanger as well), it was all really quite wonderfully pulled off.
Although I greatly enjoyed the film in the theater, I was really quite astonished by how much of it I’d already forgotten. Now, granted, I want a ton of films each month but usually these big action films I tend to remember a bit more…but this one, not so much. It came flooding back as I watched it on Blu-ray, granted, but it was still a bit disorienting because I knew I should be remembering more; not only about the film but about the book as well. To this day I couldn’t tell you what was missing from this film, only that I know something was a bit off. I know the invasion logistics were a bit different in terms of how they happened in the book and how they happened in the film, but other than that nothing felt overly “new” to me. Except the opening with the subway station girl, anyway. I knew that wasn’t in the book cause I kept wondering just what the hell was going on.
But comparisons aside, the film was quite a delight to enjoy. The early shot of the Death Eaters flying over the bridge and it swaying back and forth was nauseating in theaters (not quite as impressive on my [much] smaller TV, I’m afraid…but still cool) and it helped the film feel as if it hit the ground running. Plus the early mystery with Malfoy (Tom Felton) helped a lot too; I honestly felt Felton did a fantastic job in this film and in many cases overshadowed what Radcliffe and Co. brought to the table. You really felt the turmoil in his confusion about what to do about his given task. I certainly don’t remember feeling sympathy for him while reading the book, so it was definitely a curious feeling to experience while watching him on screen.
The film wasn’t flawless, however. The film’s subtitle, The Half-Blood Prince, was barely made mention of throughout the film. Sure, Harry had the book early on in the film and there were the warnings from Ginny about not listening to what a book says, but all in all it was a very small part of the film. Granted there were a lot of things going on in this film, but when Harry’s confrontation with Snape came at the end of the film and Snape dropped the bomb about the Half-Blood Prince, it was a “Huh? Oh….right, that’s what this film was about” moment as you realized exactly what he was talking about. That whole element I felt was very poorly handled, but at the same time I don’t know how it could’ve been better handled; it revealed a lot about Snape’s character, but in the long run I guess it didn’t change the public opinion about him much so it was ultimately frivolous (especially considering the amount of attention he’ll get in the final two films).
Overall The Half-Blood Prince is a highly enjoyable film. That should come as no surprise, of course, but as someone who once despised the films for their slipshod adaptations of the books (I still don’t like Azkaban), I’ve definitely warmed up to them in recent years. Of course that might just because I care less now that the books have long since finished…and also that I forget most of them, but regardless. The action in this film is entertaining, the acting is great, the humor is fantastic and the action is top-notch as always. A Highly Recommended film.
I’ll just say it now: buy this Blu-ray. You’ve no real reason not to. Sure you could buy the single disc DVD edition for $10 on Amazon, but for $5 more you can get the three-disc set which boasts two Blu-ray discs, a DVD copy and a digital copy of the film. And, as I’ll divulge shortly, the Blu-ray is absolutely fantastic looking and sounding so just spring for the upgrade and stuff this in someone’s stocking this coming holiday season. Regardless if they have a Blu-ray player or not, this is a great film to get their collection jumpstarted for when they do eventually adopt the format. Of course these prices I’m mentioning are just as of this writing, Amazon could have changed them by the time you read this. In any case the set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with the usual inserts (firmware notice and digital copy/warnerblu rewards code). Outside the set is a standard slipcover with a 3-D lenticular image on which changes from Harry/Dumbledore to Malfoy/Snape. It’s a really well done lenticular, I must say. But then again most of Warner’s recent lenticular’s have been.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. Do I even need to say that this transfer is brilliant and beautiful? One of the things about this film that I found to be quite brilliant was the cinematography and directing and this Blu-ray transfer brings it to life with exceptional quality. The film is laden with dark colors for most of it, but that doesn’t hurt the transfer in the least; colors pop out of the darkness (when there are colors, anyway) and detail runs rampant around Hogwarts. Clothes, cloaks…all of it looks absolutely fantastic. Even Malfoy’s slicked back hair is filled with detail and Luna Lovegood’s kooky visuals always manage to look great as well. It’s a modern transfer and so it shouldn’t be any real surprise that this transfer looks as good as it does. Plus it has nearly the entire first disc to itself (aside from the “Maximum Movie Mode” that is included), as extras are all housed on the second disc for the most part so there’s plenty of room to breathe.
When Warner included a DTS-HD track for Terminator: Salvation I’d hoped it was a sign of things to come that they’d make all their blockbuster style films have the DTS-HD format. Sadly that’s not the case with Half-Blood Prince, as we’re given a standard TrueHD 5.1 mix…although it’s certainly nothing to scoff at. In truth the two audio formats are nigh identical at times, but there’s just something more cinematic sounding about DTS-HD so I tend to swoon over that more than necessary. But to be honest this TrueHD track is every bit the powerhouse you’d expect. While dialogue is copious in this film, it’s all crystal clear in the fronts; surrounds are lively and animated throughout the film as action or Hogwarts chatter gets tossed about the room. The subwoofer comes alive quite frequently as well; not just during the action sequences but also during quieter moments between Harry and Dumbledore (and particularly as they’re in a boat wading through a creepy and dark cave). Overall you won’t be disappointed with either the video or audio formats chosen for this film—it’s pristine and brilliant from start to finish.
Extras are pretty satisfactory as well. Included:
– WB Maximum Movie Mode with David Heyman, David Yates, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint
– Exclusive first footage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
– J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life – a personal look at the journey in creating and launching the final book.
– The Cast Close-up
– Wizarding World of Harry Potter Sneak Peak
– What’s on Your Mind? – Lightning-round Q&A with cast/crew.
– One-Minute Drills
– Additional Scenes
The “Maximum Movie Mode” isn’t quite as impressive as the Snyder or McG elements for Watchment and Salvation, but there’s still a lot of enjoyable moments here. It’s also nice that in addition to the director we get some chatter from the main cast as well. I would’ve liked a dedicated commentary track as well, but the Movie Mode is a nice substitute as the bits that are commented on are more focused and more formal than the casual nature that most commentaries are. Disc 2 starts off with a bang with some Deathly Hallows footage and fans will no doubt view that endlessly as they wait for the film to hit in 2010. The other pieces are relatively brief in nature, but worth checking out none-the-less. The “A Year in the Life” bit is kind of a strange inclusion considering this wasn’t the final book, but I guess they’re already setting aside disc space for what is to be a (hopefully) packed release for Deathly Hallows.
Overall Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a Highly Recommended release. Budget pricing + a killer A/V transfer and solid extras (including an exclusive look at the next film)? Nothing about that seems wrong to me…in fact, it all seems very, very right.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is now available on single and two-disc DVD and three-disc Blu-ray.