Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bonus video review: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

The Harry Potter saga is wrapping up, so one should think the next-to-last film would feel like it's building toward something monumental. (Well, next-to-next-to-last. They're splitting up the seventh and final book into two movies.)

Instead, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is disjointed and rambling. It finally gathers itself up for a powerful and tragic final act. But it dawdles excruciatingly along the way.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the gang seem to be a in a good place as their sixth year at Hogwarts begins. They fought off a usurpation of Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic that Voldemort was secretly behind. Harry's relationship with headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is stronger than ever, and the elder wizard enlists Harry's aid in dealing with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), the newest Hogwarts professor.

It seems the doddering Slughorn has an important memory regarding Voldemort, who used to be a student of his, but refuses to share it. Harry's assignment is to get him to spill the beans -- or, in this case, the misty magic memories they can pull out of their heads.

Meanwhile, romance blooms unhindered among the student body. I won't belabor all the details -- mostly because I can't grasp them all myself. Suffice to say that Hermione (Emma Watson) loves Ron (Rupert Grint), who's too busy dealing with an overly aggressive admirer to notice. Harry in turn fancies Ron's sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), but doesn't want to rock the boat with his best friend.

The villainous work is left to Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), who seems more foul-tempered than ever around Harry, and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry's schoolyard nemesis since the day he arrived at Hogwarts. For the first time, Felton is given more to do than sneer and bully, and reveals Draco as a more layered character than we've seen before. It's clear that he's doing Voldemort's bidding, and keeps tinkering with a magical contraption in the Hogwarts attic, but his true motives are unclear.

There's a considerable amount of DVD extras, although much of it has the tang of hype rather than enticing fans with behind-the-scenes insights.

I'm thinking mostly of the sneak peek at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new theme park being built at Universal Orlando. It's basically 11 minutes of sales pitch. Same goes for a sneak preview of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the culmination of the film series.

There are about six minutes worth of deleted scenes, although nothing terribly compelling. And there are some quick-hit features where the actors are asked to describe their characters in a minute or less, or answer some asinine questions posed by cast member Tom Felton.

More substantive is a 28-minute making-of documentary. And there's a 50-minute feature called "J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life" that looks at the author over the period while she was writing "Deathly Hallows."

The two-disc DVD package also comes with a digital copy of the film.

In addition to all these materials, the Blu-ray version comes with a 98-minute "Movie Mode" with commentary by directory David Yates, the producers and all the principal cast members. Now that's a pretty special conjuration.

Movie: 2.5 stars
Extras: 3 stars

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