Confession time: I haven't read all of the 'Harry Potter' books. GASP! As I write this I am only halfway through the second book. So, in order to get some details straight I have to rely on my wife who is a huge Potter fan (who may or may not have dressed up in Potter garb at one of the midnight book releases).
With Lord Voldemort growing more and more powerful, Harry, Dumbledore, Ron, and Hermione find themselves smack dab in the middle of another adventure. At one point Professor McGonagall approaches the three of them after a student is attacked by an unseen force, and asks them "Why is it, that whenever anything happens, it's always you three?" Ron Weasley replies, "Believe me, Professor. I've been asking myself that same question for the past six years." One of the strengths of this newest 'Potter' film is its ability to poke fun at itself. The story has become self-aware, and points out things viewers might be wondering too.
'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' finds itself almost completely disregarding the last movie, where Harry built up Dumbledore's Army with some of the students at Hogwarts. As a person that has been slow to get to the books, this is bothersome. 'Half Blood Prince' takes full advantage and assumes that the audience has indeed read the books (Example: Never, ever in the entire movie is the "Half Blood Prince" thing ever explained. We find out who it actually is, but not what it means at all). Even after my second viewing of the film, I still find myself confused as to why Harry and Dumbledore know they need to go to that cave. I'm sure Potter purists will be able to fill me in on that, but a movie based on a book needs to be able to stand on its own.
Our three heroes find much more than danger from the Dark Lord this year at Hogwarts. They're all grown up and are ready to act like angst-ridden teenagers with overactive libidos. Much of the movie is spent going over the soap opera-esque relationships. Ron is being stalked by an insanely weird girl named Lavender. Hermione is jealous of Lavender's relationship with Ron. And to top it all off, Harry is trying to get with Ron's sister Ginny, but she's dating someone else. Far too much of the film is spent worrying about these relationships, which seem to flounder about '90210'-style, until the very end.
The most interesting parts of the movie are the flashback memories of Tom Riddle. I'm informed that there are many more memories stored in the books that give us much more information on Riddle and his plans. I'm saddened by the exclusion of these flashbacks, as I think Voldemort is truly the most interesting character in the whole series. The flashbacks are engrossing, but when they end it's right back to the awkward teenage love stories. The transitions are somewhat jarring.
The climax of the film has an air of incompleteness to it. Even without having read the books it feels like something is missing, imagine my surprise when I found out that a large and ferocious battle between the students and the Death Eaters is completely disregarded. As I have said, I think a movie based on a book should indeed be able to stand on its own, but overlooking something as big as that seems like it gives the movie an anti-climatic ending. A big battle involving Hogwarts students would have also, tied the fifth film into this one much better.
With this installment, the 'Potter' franchise is diving deeper and deeper into darker territory, which is not at all kid friendly. The PG rating on this film is, in this reviewer's opinion, a joke. I personally enjoy the darker aspects as the franchise matures, but I don't think younger children should be watching this.
It would seem by my review that I think pretty harshly of the film, but after all is said and done; I think it's one of the better movies in the franchise. It isn't without its flaws, but how do you please everyone anyway? Especially a fan base as rabid as Harry Potter fans. For me, 'Half Blood Prince' is arguably the best of the series (this is very debatable I know), but its lukewarm climax holds it back.
There have been some rumblings about the 'Half Blood Prince's transfer. The rumors have consisted of a myriad of problems that may exist with Warner Brothers' product. I hope to address those issues here.
It was mentioned in our forum, by forum member Hogarth, that the disc he bought was defective. He mentioned watching it and having lighter bands appear at a certain interval in the film. Following the time stamp given I watched the scene (timestamp 1:12) and couldn't see anything wrong with the transfer. I didn't see any lighter horizontal bands appear at that time or any other time during the film. Hopefully this problem, if it is a defect in some of the Blu-rays, is localized to a certain group of discs and is easily replaceable.
There has also been talk, around the web, about groups of artifacts muddying up the screen in certain areas. I hope to straighten this out right now. Take for example the timestamp of 47:47. It has been said that Lavender's face is completely confounded by artifacts. Indeed if you travel to that point in the movie, you'll find that her face is quite hard to see, but it is not because of artifacts like blocking. Instead I believe that people may be confusing the heavy layer of grain in this film, for digital artifacts. The grain is very heavy here, but it still isn't as heavy and nauseating as it was in 'Burn Notice: Season 2.' The grain ends up creating an artifact-like mess, because the movie is so outrageously dark by design.
When I previewed 'Half Blood Prince' in the theaters I did notice a very processed and stylized look to it. All of the colors are muted. Soft mustard yellows, dingy greens, faded blues, and soft earth tones take over the film. If it weren't for the engulfing darkness that constantly surrounds every scene, I'd think I was watching a Wes Anderson film.
Because of the heavy grain, the film does lack some fine detail, especially in the characters' faces. Crushing shadows persist throughout the movie. This is a directorial choice, but nonetheless, it does hamper the details at times. The overly stylized look also plays its part in making fine detail unnoticeable.
Overall the dark, grainy, and muted video presentation is representative of what the director envisioned and how it appeared during its theatrical run. Because of the crushing shadows and lack of fine detail, this wouldn't really be a disc you'd show off to friends as demo material, but it is a disc that is free from malicious artifacts, as far as I can tell.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio presentation is an experience. While the video isn't quite demo material, this is. Make sure to have everything in your system situated, because as the WB logo comes up on screen the LFE starts thumping as rolling thunder builds. Literally, the bass shook the walls. It's never overpowering either. Throughout the movie the LFE stays constant and deep. The soundfield is vast in this film. Every sound, from crackling thunder to the tiny sounds of a chirping bird disappearing in the vanishing cabinet are clear, distinct, and perfect. Never once is dialogue hampered or too low, even with Dumbledore's incessant whispering. Directionality works nicely, and panning effects are top-notch as the Death Eaters fly through London causing havoc. The audio here fully envelops you in the story. It makes you feel like you're right in the middle of the action. Very nice indeed.
Editing with Daniel Radcliffe (HD, 4 min)- Daniel Radcliffe visits editor Mark Day and talks about editing a certain part of the film with Hermione and Harry in the library. They talk about how the movie is edited and how the editor decides when to switch shots.
Special Effects with Matthew Lewis, Oliver Phelps and Tom Felton (HD, 4 min)- Special effects guru Matthew Harlow shows some of the actors how pyrotechnics work on the film with a rigged up cauldron. They also show some of the toys that can be found in the Weasley Twins' toy shop.
Stunt Training with Rupert Grint (HD, 2 min) - Rupert visits stunt performer Nick Daines to learn about the stunts that are used in the movie. Rupert gets put into a harness to practice Quidditch moves.
Owl Training with Jessie Cave - (HD, 2 min) Jessie Cave (Lavender) visits Guillaume Grange, owl expert, to find out how the owls used in the 'Potter' series are trained.
Costume Designs with Evanna Lynch (HD, 4 min)- Jany Temime, costume designer, explains how she designs the costumes used in the film. 15,000 yards of fabric were used during the filming of 'Half-Blood Prince.' Clips from the films are used to see a lot of the different costumes.
Art with Bonnie Wright (HD, 2 min)- Bonnie takes us around the art department and shows us a lot of the different props used for the Weasley Twins' store. Graphic designer, Eduardo Lima shows us how they came up with some of the names for the fictional products. The detail is really stunning.
Behind the Camera with James (HD, 4 min)- Phelps shows us what it's like to be an Assistant Director. He actually does acting and helps out behind the scenes as part of the crew. The rest of the cast talks about how they feel with one of their fellow actors being an AD.
Makeup with Emma Watson (HD, 5 min)- Emma vists Amanda Knight, the head of make up for each of the films, and gets a Dark Mark tattoo. They spend most of the time talking about a tattooed man who never actually appeared in the film.
One Minute Drills (HD, 7 min)- Each of the main actors gets 60 seconds to describe, to the best of their ability, their character's story arc throughout the last 6 films.
"Harry and Hermione Walk Through the Halls of Hogwarts"
"Harry and Hermione Discuss Marauder's Map"
"Harry, Ron & Hermione Discuss the Vanishing Cabinet"
"Harry and Dumbledore Arrive at Cave Entrance"
"Harry and Dumbledore Leave Cave"
"Clouds Gather over Hogwarts as Flitwick Conducts Choir"
"Harry Joins Ron, Hermione and Ginny in the Common Room"
"Harry and Hermione Discuss Ron at Astronomy Tower"
The scene with the clouds gathering over Hogwarts is a pretty extended and well thought-out scene that definitely could have been included in the film. It would also have given a better explanation about the skull-shaped cloud in the sky.
Warner's 'Half Blood Prince' release is a no-brainer to add to your growing 'Harry Potter' movie collection, unless you're waiting for one of the other Special/Ultimate/Box Set editions. The audio is demo material and the video recreates the vision of the director and cinematographer. The special features, especially the in depth documentary on JK Rowling, are well-done. 'Half Blood Prince' comes recommended.