Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

With its more assured performances from the young stars, this is the best Harry Potter yet.

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The DVD package includes an extras disc on which JK Rowling hints that she may return to the wizard world in future books.
Powered by automated translation

Unhappy news for those who rail against the Harry Potter phenomenon. They might think it safe to assume that since the author, JK Rowling, has finished the book series, all will quieten down on the boy wizard front. Wrong: 2010 is set to be yet another bumper year for the franchise.

This DVD has broken sales records, Orlando's Harry Potter theme-park is opening this spring and the first film instalment of the final book is slated for release in November. The magical juggernaut is far from gone just yet, although the closing scenes of the sixth film leave one with the impression that the final showdown is, at least, drawing near. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the second in the series to be helmed by the British director David Yates, and, as previously, pitches the action around the school year at Hogwarts. The main cast return, more hormonally charged but still uniformed, armed with wands and prepared to do battle with them. Also as before, the plot trajectory is a tricky one to explain if you have no prior experience with Harry and his coterie. (Have you eyes? Ears? A pulse? Where have you been?)

Suffice to say that Harry is good and Voldemort is still very bad. In between, there are a few roles that have previously had murky question marks hanging over their characters, but this is all tidied up here as the two sides draw battle lines and ready themselves for the finale. Elsewhere, Hermione and Ron's teenage bickering drips on, the eccentric Weasley family are in situ, Quidditch is back, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore takes Harry further into his confidence and black storm clouds constantly rumble over the school walls in a threatening manner. You don't need magical powers to work out that something's amiss.

So dark, indeed, are parts of this film that one wonders at the PG rating. Producers will have been desperate not to cut off their lucrative young fans, but there are several scenes that will terrify small watchers. Rowling, however, has never tried to soften the good versus evil see-saw on which her story is based, so the film is at least true to that. Better news for the more mature viewer is that the acting skills among the young cast have progressed again. The Half-Blood Prince offers the strongest performances yet from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione) as they sink their teeth into increasingly demanding roles.

End result? It is the most enjoyable film of the series thus far, as well as the funniest (for both young and old) and the most moving. Special applause for Jim Broadbent, who was perfectly cast as the bumbling, fruity old soak Professor Slughorn. For fans though, best of all with this two-disc special DVD are the extra features that are included with it. Most revealing of all is a 45-minute, intensely personal look at the life of Rowling herself, who topped a goodly number of those recent lists extolling icons of the past decade.

A rags to riches story, it's a close-up on her journey from single mother on welfare to Britain's wealthiest woman. "Have you got £570 million (Dh3.4bn)?" asks the interviewer at one point. "That's private," she replies coyly, before jokingly asking if he's "touching" her for a loan. It is a raw scrutiny, which sees her penning the final chapter of the final book, crying as she returns to the small Edinburgh flat where she started out on the odyssey and staying up signing copies for seven hours on the night in 2007 when the last book was published.

Also included is a behind-the-scenes guide to the making of the films. The main characters take it in turns to visit the stunt, make-up, wardrobe, editing and even "owl-training" departments in a commendable move to enlighten their followers about the work that goes into the final product. A handful of scenes cut from the film are there too (the film is already just over 2½ hours), along with one-minute drills that test the cast on the storyline from the beginning and a preview of the Orlando park.

Sure, you're being marketed at, but there's enough extra magic in there to ward off the cynicism. A touch of optimism, too, for those who mourn the end of the tale. In the documentary, Rowling maps out a Harry Potter family tree - spoiler alert - drawing out his three children and remarking that Harry's middle son, Albus Severus, is the one that she's "most interested in". She has often sworn that enough is enough, but that hint perhaps allows the fans to dream, at least.