Warner Bros. // 2009 // 153 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // June 27th, 2011
Dumbledore: You must be wondering why I brought you here...am I right?
Harry: Actually, sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it.
Voldemort's return is now common knowledge in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray). Sadly, though, the Ministry of Magic has been singularly ineffective in putting a stop to his reign of terror. Back at Hogwarts, Dumbledore has given Harry the daunting task of winning over the new potions teacher, Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, Iris) so that they may learn more about Voldemort, while Draco Malfoy struggles with his conscience as he attempts to complete a task given to him by Voldemort himself. For their own part, Hermione and Ron do their best to support Harry; however, they face a challenge as daunting as a group of Death Eaters: their own rampaging hormones.
There are some minor spoilers; I'm assuming you have at least read the book.
Previous installments tended to be heavily plot-driven, with relatively little time for character development. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in sharp contrast, is almost completely character-driven -- which can easily be seen in the task Dumbledore sets for Harry. Years ago, Slughorn gave into to pride and told Tom Riddle about Horcruxes, a magic most dark that has been the source of Voldemort's continued existence; Slughorn's been hiding from that memory ever since, just as surely as he has been hiding from the Death Eaters. His refusal to accept the consequences of that one act is the pivot point for a plot far more character-driven than previous outings. For instance, Harry initially tries to use guile on Slughorn, attempting to play him just as Tom Riddle had. Tellingly, it's only when Harry (aided by Felix Felicis) takes a more direct and honest approach that he succeeds, just as Hermoine and Ron have to be honest about their feelings for one another. Harry doesn't pull any punches with Slughorn -- he makes it clear that only by accepting responsibility for his actions can he achieve any sense of closure. It makes for a lovely scene between Broadbent and Daniel Radcliffe, and it's a testament to how far Radcliffe as come that he can hold his own against an actor such as Broadbent. In a lovely little parallel, Draco's own reluctance to accept the consequence of his actions effectively prevents him from acting; his attempts to use intermediaries -- to keep his own hands clean -- all backfire, setting the stage for a powerful scene between Michael Gambon and Tom Felton that focuses on -- of course -- Draco's character.
Returning screenwriter Steve Kloves, who took Order of the Phoenix off, gives the actors more to work with than they've had in quite some time; that Broadbent and Gambon shine particularly brightly should come as no surprise, but really, the entire cast rises to the occasion. If there's a weakness (apart from that attack on The Burrow -- this court agrees with Judge Jennifer Malkowski's ruling in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that the sequence comes out of nowhere and seriously disrupts the flow of the movie), it's that so much material is excised from the ending that it borders on fragmentary. When Draco lets a contingent of Death Eaters into Hogwarts, we expect the pitched battle from the book; instead, the Death Eaters slink into the night after the deed is done -- inexplicably leaving Harry alone on the ground. Snape won't let Bellatrix kill Harry, averring that he is for only the Dark Lord -- but why not pick him up and take him? (Yes, we all know why Snape wouldn't do that, but there's no reason the others wouldn't at least suggest it.) Even the revelation of the Half-Blood Prince is disconcerting if you haven't read the book; Alan Rickman identifies the prince with the appropriate amount of venom, but since we never get any kind of context for the name, it's somewhat anticlimactic -- and this is the title of the film we're talking about. The more recent movies have shared this same trait; The Goblet of Fire doesn't so much conclude as it simply stops.
Technically, the disc is a delight; the VC-1 video positively sparkles, and the HD-DTS audio is immersive.
Extras are a mixed bag. Maximum Movie Mode is back, offering a combination of occasional pop-up commentary plus the ability to go behind the camera for certain scenes when an icon appears on screen (the "focus points" can also be accessed directly from the menu. There are also little text commentaries scattered throughout as well, but unless you have an exceptionally large television, there's a good chance you won't be able to read them. The one extra exclusive to the Ultimate Edition, Episode 6 of The Magical World of Harry Potter, "Magical Effects," is great fun, particularly in seeing what effects were done with CGI as opposed to on-set effects. You'll be surprised in several cases. There's also a separate featurette focusing on HBP. Making the extras a bit more substantial is "JK Rowling: A Year in the Life," a fairly candid look at Rowling's life, focusing on the year surrounding the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There's also a relatively lightweight section in which various cast members go behind the scenes of certain aspects of filmmaking -- editing, makeup, etc. There's a smattering of deleted scenes, but with perhaps one exception, none are of note.
While the movie itself is superior to the previous outing, the court is forced to recycle it's remarks from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray) regarding this Ultimate Edition: At the $49.99 MSRP, the set is a complete ripoff. Since you can usually find it for closer to $29.99, it becomes a more palatable purchase, particularly if you're not upgrading. If you're looking into the entire series, though, you'd best free up a large chunk of shelf space.
Ultimate? Does anyone really think this is the last edition we'll see? I didn't think so.
Guilty of being a shameless marketing ploy.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Catalan)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Dutch)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Flemish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
* German (SDH)
Running Time: 153 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Focus Points
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review
* Harry Potter Wiki