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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [Blu-ray]

 

(David Yates, 2009)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Heyday Films

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:33:30.910

Disc Size: 31,102,798,977 bytes

Feature Size: 27,311,665,152 bytes

Video Bitrate: 17.93 Mbps

Chapters: 30

Case: Standard Blu-ray case w/ flip-page & slipcover

Release date: December 8th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1523 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1523 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio French 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
Dolby Digital Plus Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• WB Maximum Movie Mode with director David Yates, producers David Heyman and David Barron, and cast members Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Tom Felton, including Focus Points, picture-in-picture and image galleries

• J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life: a fascinating and intimate look into the life of J.K. Rowling over the last year of writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – in HD (49:30)

• Close-Up with the Cast and Crew of Harry Potter: hosts Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom") and Alfred Enoch ("Dean Thomas") lead us on an entertaining look at the cast of Harry Potter as they explore their interests away from acting and spend a day on set with the production team – in HD (28:30)

• One Minute Drills: the cast has 60 seconds to describe their character's personality, history, relationships and other traits before time runs out – in HD (6:35)

• What's On Your Mind: hosted by Tom Felton, the cast is put on the spot when asked a series of rapid-fire questions on their likes and dislikes. – in HD (6:41)

• 8 Additional Scenes – in HD (6:40)

• First Footage of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows – in HD (1:45)

• Universal's "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" Sneak Peek: get an inside look at the amazing world of magic and excitement being created at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida – in HD (11:35)

• BD-Live Media Center

• Digital Copy & DVD of the feature film

 

 

The Film: 8
With the film version of the sixth of J.K. Rowling's phenomenally popular series of magical books about the boy with the mysterious mark on his forehead, we have officially begun the countdown phase of Harry's adventure at Hogwarts and his war with Voldemort, "He-who-must-not-be-named." The seventh, and last book will be released in their cinematic counterparts in two parts: November 2010 and July 2011. More than any Harry Potter movie thus far, The Half Blood Prince ends without resolution.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is by far the darkest story thus far. We see this, not only in its relative lack of lighthearted moments – and even those are singed with the mark of the Death Eaters – but in its imagery. And while other books in the series have had their brushes with death, none end as tragically. The movie is so dark that without a competent display, I imagine many buyers will question the software. That concern aside, it is in this movie that Harry faces personal growth issue that previously were held at bay, partly because, of his age, and partly because Rowling had other plans for him, just as she does for Professor Snape – a man whose loyalties are forever in question.

We all have our favorite and less favorite Harry Potter books – likewise for the movies. As for the latter group, I found Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be one of the better transitions to film . The actors have matured enough to give us more than their old wide-eyed (I'm thinking mostly of Radcliffe here) response to the world in which they find themselves. Director David Yates cut his teeth on The Order of the Phoenix and can now be seen to have taken the measure of the Harry Potter Universe and the drama of personal growth, of loyalties, love, friendship and death that lay within – all this in a context of magical and mystical fate.


 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I think it was bold of director David Yates and production designer Stuart Craig to opt for a shadowy, murky, often colorless, image for a story that begins on the edge of Hell, as does this. There are times when it's hard to tell subject from background, though Bruno Delbonnel's lighting highlights telling fragments of the frame just often enough to keep the drama alive and the dots connected. I remember noting to myself that this would be a tricky film to bring to video – if not technically, then commercially. But Warner brings it off, remaining faithful to the theatrical intent, without worrisome digital manipulations or editorial brightening.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/7
Like the visuals, the audio mix can feel rather underwhelming. Yet without its sure, if subtle sense of ambiance, supported by Nicholas Hooper's space opening music score, the whole enterprise could have fallen completely flat, dramatically and theatrically. Many of the effects, such as Dumbledore's teleportation act and Harry's flooding memories, come and go so quickly we might take little notice. Others, like the busy marketplace and the cavernous, fiery battle with the undead are more engaging, as they engage the surrounds in localizing cues and swirling pans. Everything from a whisper to a flying attack by the Death Eaters is neatly executed, with dialogue always clearly discernable.
 

Operations: 8
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is accessed in all of its features and chapters with flair and intelligence. Warner's fast loading, getting right to the feature with a minimum of fuss. Except for the designation "Maximum Movie Mode" – what's not to like?
 

 

Extras: 8
There are two sets of bonus features for Harry Potter VI: the first of these are to found on Disc One in the Special Features section called "Maximum Movie Mode" – a misnomer if there was. It should be Maximum Home Theatre Mode" or some such, since no theatrical experience – so far – has included picture-in-picture commentary or interactive full frame 16x9 "Focus Points" (Yes, this is "full frame" not that idiotic thing people have been calling 4:3 renderings of whatever.) All by itself Maximum Movie Mode (I retch) is the major resource for behind the scenes looks at production and the like – and they're pretty good, especially when you consider that this is the sixth go around for Harry on Blu-ray. I liked the idea of pausing everything completely for a Focus Point, which can also be accessed independently from the menu. Great idea. Dumb name.

Disc Two is a single layer Blu-ray and contains the remainder of the bonus items in high defintion, targeted for fans of the movies, the actors, and the books. There's an extensive documentary of nearly an hour "J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life" that follows Ms. Rowling about in a variety of settings - at work, signing autographs, , and trying to vege out. A note of caution: you'd best know how the book series finally ends before watching this, for you may find out prematurely.

My favorite bonus item is titled "One Minute Drills" where six of our favorite younger cast members try to summarize the arc of their characters over the six movies in just one minute. Their comments are offered as voiceovers to footage from the movies. Seen in such compressed form, it is a smile and a half to see these kids grow up before our eyes. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, especially, look like they are still in single digits in their first movie.

The "Close-Up with the Cast & Crew" is a half hour segment hosted by Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) and Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas) as they take us off set with eight cast members to see what they do when they're not working. There's also a bit where we see the cast working with the production team. And if you still haven't gotten your fill, there are eight additional deleted scenes to enjoy. Kind of short, though - I'm not sure than less than a minute qualifies as a scene.

"Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" is an extended ad for the theme park. But the hyped "First Footage of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows" is a serious misdirection of advertising. Not only does what footage there is look unfinished, of its 1:45 a full minute is introduction. Teaser, indeed!

Finally, even though this is a very time-sensitive announcement: on December 12 David Yates and Daniel Radcliffe will field questions in a "Live Community Screening, only for owners of the Blu-ray.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one of the better entries – possibly the best – in the field. David Yates has the dramatic core of this story in hand - and we can be grateful that he will be there for the final two installments. The young cast, too, has reached a level of maturity that can engage us more deeply. The Blu-ray, though it is sure to be too dull for many, is, I felt, very much an accurate reflection of the cineplex experience to home theatre. Warmly recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
December 12th, 2009

 

 


 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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