OK, let's get all the technical detail out of the way first, all the discs are presented in their theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 are 1080p and are VC-1 encoded. These Blu-rays are identical to their HD DVD counterparts in terms of picture quality - I compared while I still had my HD DVD player - thus I present here the same views as before.
The Philosopher's stone
The picture is all rather soft and grainy, but then so is the original print, as seen by the outdated SD DVD releases, and this is especially true of the opening scenes which are not much better than that standard release. However, once things move to Hogwarts the picture dramatically improves, sharpness vastly improves with some nice distinct edges and grain although evident becomes far less. Colours are pretty well realised, although the entire picture is rather warm in nature leading to flesh tones becoming somewhat more boosted than you would normally expect. However, blues come out well and the reds and greens of the Quidditch player uniforms are strong and bold; there is no bleed or wash seen. Brightness and contrast are set to give some reasonably deep blacks; there is a good depth of frame and whites are well realised. Digitally there are no compression problems and there was only the tiniest hint of edge enhancement but the added clarity did tend to show up the inconsistencies of the CGI, the troll and Quidditch players were particular examples here. Original print problems were limited only to the amount of grain. In all a well above average picture, far superior to the standard release, but falling short of the HD sparkle to give top marks. Individual rating 7.
Chamber of Secrets
Everything that made the Philosophers stone average has been sorted out for this transfer, the clean up is better, the detail is better, the colours are better. The image is now far clearer, of course this is because the source material is that much cleaner and free from the many soft filters; this renders the picture clear and precise. Detail is far better, the long landscape shots of Hogwarts are definite, brickwork has texture, skin has texture, interiors have a distinct feel to them, the many cluttered areas of the various teaching rooms or offices have much to see and read. Colours have far more depth, reds, greens and blues are now quite striking and bold without bleed or wash and skin tones are far more natural. Contrast and brightness are very well set; there is some very good depth to frame with lovely deep blacks and decent shadow detail. I noticed no compression problems or any edge enhancement. The original print was free from dirt or noise and the grain was far more acceptable. A decent picture this one and deserves a good solid 8.
Prisoner of Azkaban
Now we're talking, this is a sparkling transfer. Detail is spectacular, from skin defects and clothing weaves to the bark and leaves of the Whomping Willow, to the bottles and brickwork of the Leaky Cauldron. Since the production was taken to Scotland for the first time Cuarón takes time to show us the lush and harsh landscape and in HD it looks breathtaking, the crags of the exposed rock, the sway of the grass, the reflectance off the lake, the branches of the trees in winter, all are pristine in their clarity, postcard quality. Colours too have undergone a change, the film is far darker, so the pallet is more muted, but there are strong greens and browns with a defiance on the screen. Contrast and brightness too are set to give lush, deep and wonderful blacks; the scene when Harry is waiting for the night bus, when the bush moves and we see an outline of a possible dog like creature in the SD, here it is as clear as a bell, the shadow detail is exquisite, take a look at the detail in the Dementors. There are no digital compression problems and the original print is pristine, with only the faintest smattering of grain here and there, but in all this is a wonderful picture, fully deserving of its reference mark 9 and one that I thought couldn't be bettered, that is until I watched
The Goblet of Fire
a disc that had been available in the UK for a while and was always used in the trailers for the new HD Format. The picture was clearly reference, although I never thought Warner used the best parts for their ad's. However, this transfer has undergone a little tweaking making a reference picture better. Detail is just as good, my scene of choice is when Dumbledore presents and unveils the Goblet of Fire, take a look at the food on the tables, the detail on the pedestal of the Goblet and the detail in the walls of the Great Hall; they are all a true wonder to behold; I still can't get over how good the puddings look, the swiss roll, or the mountains of ice cream. The detail doesn't stop there it's consistent through the entire film with moments of 'take you breath away' clarity. The colours are deep and lush, with a solidity and boldness to really pop out of the screen. Contrast and brightness give deep blacks that have a sheen to them, again with a depth to frame that is enormous and enough shadow detail that nothing is lost, take a look at Dumbledore's office, or the anteroom behind the Great Hall with all the clocks. There are no digital problems and neither are there any print problems, so this disc too gains a worthy reference mark of 9 that is a higher 9 than the previous film. It too cannot be bettered, that is until you pop
The Order of the Phoenix
into your player and sit back and marvel just how good the format truly can be. If the detail is postcard perfect, if the colours are lush and bold and the black levels are deep and impenetrable in everything you've seen so far; then you are in for a real treat because this transfer is even better than the previous four discs and I simply cannot award it anything less than a perfect 10. You can take everything I've said about the above transfer and apply it to this one, only more so. Right from the very beginning of the film, the strength of the colours in Little Winging, the solidity of the yellows and greens in the passageway when the Dementors attack, the depth of blackness to the Dementors themselves, right through to the end in the Ministry of Magic, the depth to the Prophesy room, the blackness of the Death Eaters, the whiteness of the Order, the brightness of the colours as Dombledore's and Voldemort's wands collide, the detail of the tile work, of the elements used as weapons during the duel, folks, this is breath taking stuff, and I feel my words can't do justice to just how good this picture truly is. A reference disc, I don't think I can say any more.
Each disc has a huge array of different sound tracks to choose from including English, Castilian, French, Danish, Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and French (dubbed in Quebec) Dolby Digital-Plus EX 5.1 surround, but for this review I shall concentrate on the English PCM 5.1 Surround that is found on every disc, which, sounds identical to the Dolby TrueHD track that accompanied the HD DVD discs, thus there is nothing new to add.
The Philosopher's Stone
The track is, first and foremost, far louder, far better realised, cleaner, more precise and fuller than anything that SD could provide. John Williams' score is given the full reign of the speakers with plenty of bass to really ground you into the music. There are plenty of ambient effects which are given directionality when needed are steered lovingly around the room, see the flying keys or the Quidditch match for fine examples. There are LF effects aplenty from the various spells and the chess board scene being particularly bombastic. Dialogue is natural sounding and never drowned out by the happenings on screen. In all a very impressive sound track, not totally immersive but extremely close missing reference by a whisker, individual score 8.
Chamber of Secrets
While the picture maybe an improvement I felt that this sound track took a slight step backwards. Yes the track was loud, bombastic and pumped the score all around the room, but overall the effects were a little stodgy and false sounding, lacking that clarity and separation of a really top notch sound experience. That's not to say the track is bad, oh no, it has much to go for it; bass is particularly heavy with bountiful LF effects, witness the rogue bludger in the Quidditch match, in fact this whole scene was one of terrific sound design with plenty to keep all the speakers busy. Dialogue is natural sounding with a little directionality, the sound of the basilisk is also well realised being particularly menacing as it slithers around the stage. I just didn't think it has that edge that one associates with a reference score but it is far better than average so whilst I am awarding it an 8 it is a lesser 8 than the previous disc.
Prisoner of Azkaban
Just as the picture seems to have taken a step forward with this disc, so too has the sound. Every little nuance can be heard right down to the rustle of paperwork in the classrooms. The separation is very wide, really opening up the sound stage, this is especially true of the many surround effects, for example the Quidditch game that takes place in the rain, you are really in the thick of the storm, rain and wind batters you from every direction, but more than that, the whiz of the snitch and the spray it makes in the water are clearly audible over the rumble of the thunder. When the Dementors attack, both times, there is a wash of sound and they swoop across the screen helped amiably by the score which takes hold of the room and shakes it. Bass and LF effects are plentiful and dialogue sounds natural and given directionality when needed. It is a terrific mix and one deserving of a reference score, I award 9.
The Goblet of Fire
What started with the above disc continues with this one, another terrific sound experience. Once again the mix allows every little nuance to be heard, this works well for the water scenes, the bath and more so for the underwater rescue, whereas on the old SD and to some extent the DD+ track of the HD DVD the Merpeople's speech is muddy, this PCM track is crystal clear and perfectly understandable; when underwater the movements of the water and the 'thickness' of the sound really make you feel as though you are under water. Bass is, once again, nicely rounded with some highly effective results; see the dragon attack for one. Dialogue is nicely natural with some directionality when needed and the score, again, fills the room. I particularly liked to the mix given to the band at the maze, sounding as if it was actually playing outside, with the thump of the base drum resonating around. Contrasting wonderfully to the score which places you in the centre of the field, top stuff and once again I award a 9.
Order of the Phoenix
And if the best couldn't get better, you'd be wrong, just as the picture for this film is absolute, so is the sound. Chock full of surround effects and little ambient touches there is always something to bring a smile to your face and a joy to your ear; whether it is the swoop of the giant pendulum in the exam room as the rustle of papers and scratching of quill on parchment allow you to be writing yourself, or if it's the boom and sprinkle of the fireworks in the same room as the Weasley twins make their exit. Everything is precise and everything is outstanding. Bass is once again magnificent witness the crashing down of the prophesies at the end or the clash of wand against wand. Dialogue is natural sounding, Kreacher has a throaty gargle and given directionality when called for. The score, once again, fills the room giving every speaker something to sing about. Another track to show off your system and I award the highest 9, shying away from a perfect 10 by a whisker; this is the best track of the set.
At last there is some variety to the extra content I viewed before, shame it's all so pants.
The Philosophers Stone
- Capturing the Stone - 0:16:24
Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Klove give on set interviews about the various aspects involved in turning the book into a film and casting decisions etc; pretty basic stuff and only worth viewing as an archive since most of this information is common knowledge.
- Deleted Scenes - 0:08:57
There are nine minutes of additional and extensional scenes which can be watched individually or all together. There is no reason given to their excise particularly since most are plot relevant, if not for this film then for the others following it, but presumably time was the issue. I quite liked these scenes. The new extended versions will have this lot reinstated to their proper place, yay!
- Around the World: Multi-Language Clip
You can watch a single scene is eight different languages demonstrating the worldwide appeal or the films ... a rather questionable extra this one.
- Yearbook Character Clips
Clips from the film to highlight each character ... another questionable extra.
- Ghosts of Hogwarts - 0:00:38
A retrospective of the various ghosts that inhabit the School.
- Dragon Egg Lesson - 0:00:30
Want to know how to hatch a dragon's egg, this will tell you how.
- Lessons in Quidditch - 0:00:43
A feature with film clips and tips on how to play the game.
Lastly there is the film's teaser and theatrical trailer.
The Chamber of Secrets
- A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves - 0:16:09
The pair are interviewed and asked various questions about adapting the books to the films. Actually quite entertaining even if the questions are themselves largely obvious; the pair share a good chemistry and their working well together is demonstrated by the products they produced.
- Building a Scene: Filmmaking Magic - 0:17:20
Featurette which takes an overall look at what it takes to bring a scene to the screen, right from the initial design aspect, through to building, decorating, dressing, lighting and including actors' costumes and music as well. Packs a lot into its run time and is not too heavy in its technical aspects.
- Interviews with Students, Professors & More - 0:17:54
Nothing more than a list of questions that are answered by the cast and crew, all very light and fluffy and probably only a one watch feature.
- Deleted scenes - 0:16:25
All have been fully rendered complete with music, which is nice to see. As in the previous film these are elements of the book that delve further into the various characters and situations, probably cut due to time. Interesting.
- Lockhart's Classroom - 0:01:28
A look at the various awards and certificates, supposedly won by Lockhart, that adorn his classroom walls.
- Year One at Hogwarts - 0:01:54
A recap of the first film. Why?
Prisoner of Azkaban
- Creating the Vision - 0:11:45
A brief set of interviews with producers, writers and the director in which they discuss the challenges of bringing this and the previous films into fruition. Reasonably entertaining but little new information.
- Shrunken Head Interviews - 0:43:04
A series of interviews with Johnny Vaughn and the Shrunken Head as voiced by Lenny Henry. Now I quite like Johnny, he is at his best when he is improvising, but there is precious little of that here, it's all very scripted; however his style does put all his interviewees at ease and they speak quite freely to him, the only hold up being the interruptions of the 'Head'. Set into individual chapters and with a play all function. All the major cast are interviewed, up to three at a time, it's light hearted enough, although Johnny does tend to ask the same (scripted) questions, but it is fun to see the actors out of their costumes and letting the 'guard' down as they chat and laugh away.
- Choir Practice - 0:01:40
A sing along with subtitles to the main 'Toil Toil' theme song.
- Conjuring a Scene - 0:15:37
Short feature that talks about various aspects of the film, from costume design and make up of the principles to the CG werewolf. Packs a lot into its run time even if there is plenty of film clips for padding.
- Deleted scenes - 0:04:47
Each add a little something from the book, but were unnecessary for the film, missed but not forgotten.
- Care of Magical Creatures - 0:04:46
A feature on the many different animals used for filming, has interviews with the handlers and trainers.
Finally there are three theatrical trailers from years 1 to 3.
Goblet of Fire
- Conversations with the Cast - 0:30:36
Interviewer Richard Curtis sits down with Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint and asking them some reasonable questions; the three answer well and seem at ease even if the questions are pretty standard fair. The last ten minutes is given over to fans of some competition or other and they ask their own questions, not as informative as the previous segment but reasonable all the same.
- Making of Featurettes
A trio of featurettes entitled Harry vs. the Horntail (0:06:08), In Too Deep (0:09:48) and The Maze (0:06:48) in which the various elements of the Tri-wizard challenges are dissected and examined. They are short and to the point concentrating on design and execution, of reasonable value.
- Meet the Champions - 0:13:03
A set of video diary entries with on set interviews from the three other champions; follows them from the beginning of the day through to makeup and costume, actually more worthy than I make out.
- He Who Must Not Be Named - 0:11:09
Another short feature, this time following Ralph Fiennes as he becomes Voldemort with the use of costume and make up.
- Reflections of the Fourth Film - 0:14:13
As the title intimates is a series of interviews with the cast as they look back over the series of films up to this point, contains plenty of material from their young selves concentrating on how they have grown up together. Pretty good.
- Preparing for the Yule Ball - 0:09:03
The cast discuss learning to dance and getting made up for the scene.
- Deleted scenes - 0:10:08
Unfortunately adds nothing new and in some cases look positively naff.
- Theatrical trailer - 0:01:17
The, ummm, trailer.
The Order of the Phoenix
- Trailing Tonks 0:19:25
Actress Natalia Tena takes us on an extended tour encompassing impromptu interviews with various designers and others, of the Harry Potter set. It's pretty much aimed at kids with her bubbly nature and constant interrupting herself via video cuts, but it's light and fluffy enough to not out last its time.
- The Magic of Editing - 0:05:21
David Yates and his editor Mark Day discuss the power of editing a scene together from the raw footage to music and effects and how each has a bearing on the tone of the final presentation. It's pretty standard stuff and quite light but it does show how a film is made in the editing suit and not in front of the camera. Also acts as an interactive game allowing you to edit your own scene with the remote by picking camera angles, music and sound effects, very limited in scope but gives you an idea.
- Deleted scenes - 0:10:54
Comprises of a few short scenes and extensions.
- The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter - 0:43:54
A made for TV special that is nothing more than a blatant advert for the up and coming film; interviews with so called 'scholars' are liberally interspersed with film clips that comprise around half of the run time; cast and crew do get a look in but only from previously recorded material - purports to give a retrospective of the first four films, but even that is geared to selling the latest in the franchise - as for hidden secrets? There are none.
- In Focus - 1:00:03
The HD Exclusive material comprise of a full extensive set of interviews and material that can be watched individually, with a play all, or seamlessly branched off while watching the main features in the Focus Points Viewing Mode; everyone gets a little screen time from cast and crew and all have something of semi-relevance to say. Also includes short run featurettes that go into a little more depth of the scene they are about.
You will notice the complete lack of 'in movie experiences' or any internet functionality, that is because these were very early pressings and as such Blu-ray wasn't yet a finished product and these profiles were unavailable - that has all changed now, of course, and HD DVD has gone the way of the dinosaur, so these discs do look like something of a relic. However, the content is still pretty good and does mature, like the books and the films, the further into the series you get.
Harry Potter seems to be an unstoppable franchise. Each of the films run a close parallel to their literary counterparts and whilst some may lament the filleting of their favourite book, most agree that the films are indeed excellent adaptations. Each film also acts as an advert for the book and I hope they continue to do so. As the films develop we get to watch the cast mature, but it's not only them, the films, like the books, also mature becoming more adult and darker and this is reflected very well by the filmmakers; whose own ideas, techniques and technology have matured to bring us some truly wonderful family entertainment. They are a joy to watch and I can't see the series flagging any time soon.
This review could be regarded as a waste of time, or my easiest to date, depending on your perspective. For the Blu-ray package is pretty much identical to the HD DVD release of a few years ago, but with less functionality of the discs; however Warner did do a pretty good job putting everything together, the individual discs are presented very well, picture, sound and extras. At the time of writing this set is near redundant, since there is a new Six part set as well as the new editions waiting in the wings - but I'm sure it will still be able to find a place, Harry Potter is, after all, magic.
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- Capturing the Stone - 0:16:24