As they did with the Ultimate Edition of the first movie, Warner's do not seem to have altered the transfer at all from the original release. Having run this alongside the original disc, I can find precious little difference between the two 1080p OAR transfers.
The picture presents a very different palette to the original film - being much darker, grittier and grimier than the first movie. This presents the transfer with quite a challenge - one that it doesn't always master. Detail is sometimes excellent, but when we descend into the darkness of the climax of the movie, for example, this can seem somewhat lacking. Edges are clear and well defined, but the detail does tend to get lost somewhat in the shadows. Faces can also seem somewhat soft throughout the bright, earlier part of the film which is distracting. This, like the detail, is not a consistent problem - but the transfer is certainly nowhere near as stunning as some of the later films in the franchise.
On the bright side, though, colours are bright and vibrant when they are required to be, and the contrast is excellent. Basically, it is exactly the same as the previous release.
As with the previous Ultimate edition, Warners have upgraded the original soundtrack to a DTS-HD MA track here. The theatrical version gets a 6.1 track, whilst the extended version gets a 5.1 mix. Whereas the first film didn't sound that different in the Ultimate Edition, running this side by side with the original release seems to show a bit more of an improvement - although you still have to listen carefully to really notice.
The front separation is not the widest that I have ever heard, but the dialogue is nicely anchored to the center, and is always clear whatever else is going on within the mix. The music is crystal clear and well mixed, never overcoming other areas of the mix but well prioritised.
The sub is the biggest improvement. It really kicks in this release, making the room shake at times. Just listen to the whomping willow attack near the beginning. There was definitely not this much bass in the original release.
The surrounds also seem slightly more aggressive here as well. The directionality is excellent, and the placement of sounds is accurate and well steered. There are still too many times when the surrounds are not used, but when they are then they really enhance the experience.
I was rather shocked at the price of these new Ultimate Editions - until this one turned up on my doorstep. Far too big to go through the letterbox, it turned up in a box that required two hands by the postie. Opening it up, it was soon clear why. The box is a nice red colour, in fitting with the whole set, and is the width of between 4 and 5 standard Blu-ray cases. It is slightly taller than a standard case too, but not so big that it won't fit on a standard shelf. This means that if you are planning to collect them all, they are likely to take up around the space of forty standard boxes. This is a not inconsiderable amount of space!
The sets, though, really are stunningly gorgeous. I own the Blu-ray trunk box set, and that was nice, but these trump even that with their presentation. The boxes are solid and robust, and have a hidden magnetic strip either side of the opening meaning that they close securely, but open easily. The left hand side of the box (when opened) has a montage of scenes from the film, whereas the right hand side is an open repository for what is included.
Obviously, the first draw is the inclusion of an extended edition as well as the theatrical edition but as with the first film, what has been added in is only the previous deleted scenes which were on the original release. There is nothing here that you haven't seen before, and nothing that adds much to the release. The theatrical version includes a brand new In-movie experience that provides much insight into the production process. It is not the most extensive of experiences, often going completely quiet, but the information it imparts is excellent and is well worth a watch.
Next, we have the second part of Creating the World of Harry Potter. This part is 80 minutes long, and focuses on the characters. This is up to the high standard set by the first part and is the one single reason to upgrade if you own the original release. This is a truly outstanding documentary - it is never dull, and manages to impart a lot of fascinating information whilst entertaining the viewer at the same time. There is also a book that ties in with the theme, presented in hard back, and providing some interesting photos.
Disc two also contains some screen tests which fascinate, showing a very young Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson trying out for their roles - The Chamber of Secrets which is a puff piece documentary, some trailers and TV spots, and 17 minutes of deleted scenes which are the same ones as have been integrated back into the extended edition.
Disc three is basically the extras DVD from the original release. The first feature is a 16 minute conversation with Steve Kloves and J.K Rowling which offers some interesting, if a little dry, information about how the two work together. More interesting is Build a scene which shows how a scene is put together, and a collection of interviews with various cast members.
Absolutely bizarrely, the deleted scenes are then included a second time, and then various games and activities which are aimed at the younger generation. Finally, the whole package is rounded off with two more character cards, this time the characters included are Hagrid and Snape.
As with the first Ultimate Edition, this cannot be an unqualified recommendation. The film is fascinating for its status within the Potter universe, but is not the success that later instalments would be. The picture and sound are not significant upgrades over the original release, and the much vaunted extended version only contains scenes that were on the original disc as extra features.
What makes this Ultimate Edition extremely attractive, however, is the second part of the documentary series, which is almost worth the entry price on its own - and the superb packaging which really makes this piece an artefact worth owning. At the end of the day, true Potter fans and completists will want to own this set, and will be extremely glad they purchased. It looks good on the shelf next to its predecessors (and will eventually be part of a lovely set), and provides enough extra features to make the upgrade worthwhile. Casual Potter fans who own the original release probably will not consider the upgrade worthwhile.
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