As we enter the final stretch until the last Harry Potter movies are released (they are splitting Deathly Hallows into two parts) Warner Brothers is releasing Ultimate Blu-ray editions of all the films.
The first cinematic look at J.K. Rowling's now immortal series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is available under the Ultimate moniker. It is a great package for serious fans, but more casual viewers may not appreciate it.
I don't believe anyone needs a lesson on the story of Harry Potter but this is a film review, so here we go. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the story of the boy who survived. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is a wizard who grew up not knowing his legacy. When he was a baby his parents were killed and his mother's love saved him from the dread Voldemort. Voldemort disappeared, presumed killed, and Harry was left with his aunt and uncle.
They refused to acknowledge his wizardry blood and he was treated little better than an animal in their home. Finally discovering his wizard heritage, Harry is brought by invitation to Hogwarts School of Wizardry. With no prior knowledge, Harry is introduced to the hidden world of magic and then to the majestic halls of Hogwarts.
Along the way Harry meets his eventual stalwart friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) who join him on his journey with different perspectives. Guided through his first year of school by Headmaster Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Proffessor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and the imposing Professor Snape (Alan Rickman), Harry learns that he is more important then he ever believed.
The course of the entire Harry Potter series is foreshadowed in this first outing. Harry's rivalry with Malfoy (Tom Felton), his skill at Quidditch, his unwavering courage, and his inevitable confrontations with Voldemort and his minions.
The Sorceror's Stone was directed by Chris Columbus and he was very careful to portray the book exactly as it was written. This is both a boon and a curse. It is truly awe-inspiring at times to see exactly what you read come to life, but during drawn out or over-explained moments you realize why creative license is important when making movies based on books.
Chris Columbus gathered a great cast, the veteran actors a great counterbalance to the newcomers of Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson. While the children's acting is not great, their persona and look are spot on with what any of us imagined when reading the novels.
The story itself is well-crafted and offers a wide range of experiences for us as viewers to enjoy. It does come across as fairly rudimentary at times as it holds very close to the source material which makes it not quite the groundbreaking movie it could have been.
It should be noted that there are two versions of the movie on the disc, the theatrical cut and an extended version. The extended cut adds about seven minutes of character-focused footage; it is tough to pinpoint the differences, which alludes to how important they are.
Regardless of the issues and some pacing concerns Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a great introduction to the universe. The best thing about the movie is how we share the awe-inspiring moments with the characters as we are pulled into he world of Harry Potter.
Found on a dual layer BD-50 disc, the 1080p/VC-1 transfer of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Ultimate Edition is competent but not stunning. Part of the issue lies with the ambitious but ultimately weak CG sequences that are quite dated after only eight years. Particular scenes like the troll and the Quidditch match look quite fake and detract from the scenes that surround them.
Another concern is the black levels. At times they are inky and deep (Snape's classroom in particular) and other times, like in the forest, the blacks are more deep blue/grey. It is disappointing when things are inconsistent in a transfer like this. Fine detail also has issues. There are scenes that look nearly 3D at times and textures look like they can almost be touched while other scenes are soft, muddled, and flat looking.
Having said that, the transfer is far from being bad. Colors are generally handled very well and the transfer really brings across the scope of the movie as intended. When the textures, colors, and blacks are implemented right the transfer is stunning, at other times it is simply average.
The theatrical cut is presented in DTS-HD MA 6.1 and the extended cut is in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Both sound great. The quality of both is very high with very crisp sound, dialogue that is never muddled, and effects that make ample use of the surround mix. I am particularly impressed with the use of rear channels when warranted or with atmospheric noise.
Bass is represented very well with the subwoofer getting appropriate use without being heavy-handed. The score for this movie was very well crafted and the sound carries through perfectly on these excellent transfers. This is a great demonstration of an audio setup although too great at times. There are points where the audio is a little too aggressive and it can get overpowering at key moments.
The movie itself benefits from the excellent mixes. Whereas some dated effects mar the video presentation, the audio raises the movie to higher levels by nature of its quality. This is a great soundtrack and one that sets the benchmark for the series.
This is a review of the Ultimate Edition which is simply loaded with supplements both physical and digital. The package is a very handsome book-style holder that flips open to reveal the discs and pack-ins.
There is the three-disc movie package as well as a hardbound art book focusing on creating the world of Harry Potter, two collectible cards (Harry Potter and Minerva McGonogall), and the bonus digital copy of the movie. The package is very nice and makes me want the whole collection in a row (congrats Warner Brothers Marketing group!). The physical content is nice, but not breathtaking.
The supplements are spread across three discs, with the third being a DVD for some reason and containing many of the older already released materials. There are some great things here ("In-Movie Experience" and "Creating the World of Harry Potter") but the rest falls flat.
- In-Movie Experience – Only available when watching the theatrical cut, this PiP feature is sparse but interesting. Chris Columbus and some of the cast and crew appear in the pop-ups at certain moments to explain various details on creating the film.
- Introduction by Daniel Radcliffe (HD, 2 min) – A brief talk by the actor who personifies Harry Potter, very fluffy and not terribly exciting.
- Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 1: The Magic Begins (HD, 63 min) – The true supplement that makes this the Ultimate Edition, this comprehensive look into Harry’s world is a joy to watch for any fan. This look at the magic that is Harry Potter and his world is well made, in-depth and entertaining. If ypou watch anything in this release (other then the movie) it should be this. I am excited to see the other parts on further Ultimate Editions (another reason to own them!).
- A Glimpse Into the World of Harry Potter (SD, 9 min) – A fairly cheesy PR-created featurette, barely worth watching unfortunately.
- Additional Footage (HD, 10 min) – Seven scenes are included here, none are terribly memorable, but add to the mythos of the Universe.
- Trailers and TV Spots (SD, 15 min) – I personally hate these extras; why show us TV spots of an eight year old movie we have watched multiple times? Makes no sense and should not be here.
Disc 3 (DVD)
- Capturing the Stone: A Conversation with the Filmmakers (SD, 16 min) – Writer Steve Kloves, director Chris Columbus, and others discuss what the process was like making a movie based on the iconic book. Fairly entertaining but a little vanilla.
- Classrooms (SD) – Insert cheesy DVD remote games.
- Diagon Alley (SD) – A puzzle game that I can’t picture anyone really enjoying.
- Library (SD) – A gallery of images disguised as a tour of the library
- Hogwarts Grounds (SD) – Using scenes from the movie you can visit various locales.
- Sorting Hat (SD) – A look at the four houses of Hogwarts.
- Interactive Tour (SD) – An amusing tour of Hogwarts that has commentary on what happened in each area or room.
The Final Word
I wish this release was exactly what it said, an Ultimate Edition, but it isn’t. The movie itself is what it needs to be and is enjoyable. The video transfer is uneven but the audio is stellar, the supplements fall between great and worthless, but the packaging is truly inspired and looks great on a shelf. This release gives us some great things and is highly recommended, but it isn’t quite an ultimate release.