Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Blu-Ray/DVD Combo

Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith
Format: NTSC
Language: English
Number of discs: 3
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: December 8, 2009
Run Time: 135 minutes



The hour grows short for Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends. His long-delayed confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) can only be postponed for so much longer, and while previous entries in the franchise spun their wheels a bit, The Half-Blood Prince has much clearer priorities. It needs to set up the big finale crisply and cleanly, with a minimum of foolishness and an eye on clearing the stage of any remaining subplots. With director David Yates overseeing things (he handled both the previous Order of the Phoenix and the upcoming Deathly Hallows double bill), Half-Blood Prince can get down to business with a firm eye on keeping us entertained in the process.

Voldemort himself plays almost no role here, reduced to a few flashbacks courtesy of the wizard Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Instead, his remaining underlings take center stage, led by the pernicious Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) who has waited patiently for his moment in the sun. The franchise struggled at times to provide solid villains without overshadowing the Big V, and until now Malfoy has suffered the bulk of it.

Schoolyard bullies really pale in the face of all-encompassing evil and while Felton was always suitably sneering, you started to wonder why Harry didn't just smack him with a rolled-up newspaper and send him on his way. But he virtually dominates The Half-Blood Prince, a brooding doom-laden presence which adds volumes to the character without saying a word. Malfoy has a job to do, and his efforts to summon the requisite will hold as much power as Harry's own penultimate steps to adulthood.

The other villain of note is Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), far more complex from a moral standpoint and indeed perhaps ultimately on the side of the angels. Rickman has only a few scenes himself here, but he takes marvelous relish in delivering them: balancing Snape's eternal hatred for Harry with a lingering enigma about his final loyalties. It allows for a last bit of intrigue to color Deathly Hallows while granting The Half-Blood Prince one of the best final acts of the entire series.

Together, the two antagonists provide a fitting frame for Harry's journey, which enters its toughest and potentially darkest stage. Several direct challenges await, such as discovering the identity of the titular character and the need to worm a key secret out of Hogwarts' newest professor (Jim Broadbent). But while Yates maintains focus on those aspects, he also keeps the bigger picture in mind, allowing The Half-Blood Prince to work on its own merits as well as serving as a key part of the larger story.

In the end, of course, it stands or falls with its fellows. It has a solid pedigree behind it, providing it with reliable support and freeing it from the constraints of exposition which doom so many other fantasy films. While it may not be the strongest entry in the franchise, it doesn't need to be; it must only live up to the standards of its forbearers and provide a reasonable lead-in to the climactic chapter. If it's a bit predictable in its duties, that's only because we know what to expect by now: the people involved have gotten too good at this to let us down.

THE DISC: The Blu-Ray edition includes 3 discs - with a regular DVD copy and digital copy to help ease the transition to Blu-Ray for those so inclined--packed with the expected array of extras. Most notable are the additional scenes, which address one of the big complaints about these films: the inability to capture more of the books. The cutting room floor holds at least one large subplot, revealing just how hard the filmmakers work to cover as much of the source material as possible, and how much we lose for the sake of a reasonable running time.

the remaining features are certainly entertaining, but much less insightful: some behind-the-scenes features, a piece covering the life of JK Rowling, and a look at early footage from The Deathly Hallows. The Blu-Ray also includes scene comparisons and an ongoing "Maximum Movie Mode" featuring Radcliffe.

WORTH IT? The Blu-Ray offers improved sound and picture - always worthwhile for a blockbuster like this - but otherwise the extra features are comparable to the DVD. (Warners was wise to package them as one.) Regardless, both the Blu-Ray and DVD versions make for a reliable purchase, with enough bells and whistles to keep fans of the series satisfied.

RECOMMENDATION: A fitting addition to the Harry Potter franchise, though newcomers to the series should view the first few movies before deciding whether this one is worth picking up.

- Rob Vaux



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