The Ultimate Edition is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a 1080p transfer. I compared this and the original release side by side, and I could find no discernable difference.
This means that we still have a bit of a curate's egg here. There are times when the transfer absolutely stuns. The level of detail can be immense, and the clarity of some scenes (in particular the murky scenes on the way to the final showdown) can be superb, even in the shadows. Black levels are generally deep, and contrast is good.
However, there are many scenes where faces can look washed out and detail can be lost. These are mainly in the outdoor bright scenes, where the contrast can sometimes seem unbalanced. The special effects, too, suffer from the increased resolution - with the troll and the Quidditch Match looking poor in particular.
At the end of the day, people who upgrade from the original release are going to know exactly what to expect here. The set has had much care lavished onto it, so I can only assume that it was not possible to make the transfer look any better. One thing that I should note is that the deleted scenes are well integrated back into the film, there is no noticeable difference in quality.
This is where there is a change. The original disc had a PCM soundtrack - this has a DTS HD-MA soundtrack. The theatrical version is 6.1 and the directors cut 5.1.
The front separation is nice and wide and the surrounds get a nice workout, particularly during the Quidditch match and the scene where the letters arrive at the house. LFE is similarly impressive when it does kick in, although there are some places where you expect it to underpin the action only for it to not be there at all, which is a bit puzzling. These moments are few and far between, but they are there which seems a bit strange.
Dialogue is always clear, precise, and well-mixed, and whatever is going on around is always clear. The music is similarly well served, and really soars within the mix.
The only slight problem with the mix is one that was present on the original mix too. That is that there is a slight inconsistent nature around the sound field. There are times when you feel that the surrounds should be underpinning the action with ambience, and they are not at all utilised. I have already mentioned a similar issue with the LFE. These are not deal breakers, but they are enough to reduce the mark slightly.
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 blue 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.
We start with a Forty Page Full Colour Book. This ties in with the theme of the documentary, which on this disc is Creating The World of Harry Potter. We get to see lots of pictures of various set designs and behind the scenes information. There are no words (other than captions) which is a shame, but the book is beautifully put together and is a nice artefact for fans to own. We then get a nice envelope which is again designed to fit in with the general colour scheme. Inside we get a digital copy of the film and two character cards. The character cards are bigger and far more solid than the ones included in the trunk box set, and like the book are well produced and have a sheen of quality about them.
Finally, we get a fold out slip case that contains three discs - the movie disc, the documentary disc, and the special features disc. The movie disc contains the theatrical cut, the extended version, and the IME, whereas the second disc contains the documentary. The third disc contains most of the features from the original Blu-ray release
So, lets dive in with the actual features. Obviously, the centre piece and the main reason for upgrading is the documentary. Designed to run to an eventual eight parts (one on each disc), the documentary will last around nine hours. I would probably venture that this will be the most comprehensive documentary committed to disc yet. The first part, on this disc, is Creating The World of Harry Potter Part One : The Magic Begins. The quality of this feature is quite simply breathtaking. It goes into an amazing amount of detail about the making of the film, and is amazingly frank about the process. Dealing with everything from the casting through to some surprising revelations - there is no fluff here at all and is something that is likely to provide considerable re-watch value for fans.
On the first disc we have an In-Movie Experience track. This, again, provides much interesting information and is not on the original release. This can feel a little sparse at times, sometimes disappearing completely for quite a while, but the information it does impart is always interesting. The second disc kicks off with An Introduction from Daniel Radcliffe. He tells us that we may be cynical about this new Ultimate Edition, but promises us that there is much of interest here. He is not wrong. However, the nine minute A Glimpse Into The World of Harry Potter does not belong in the “of interest” category - being mere promotional fluff.
Finally, we get the Additional Features from the previous release - the same scenes that are integrated back into the extended version. There are also a rather superfluous 15 minutes of trailers and TV Spots.
Now, onto disc three, which is presented on a standard DVD. This contains the original, child-friendly extras from the first release and as such are unlikely to be of much interest to most here. All the interactive games are included, and also the 16 minute documentary Capturing the Stone : A Conversation with the Filmmakers which is a very interesting feature on adapting the book which covers ground not covered in the new feature. There are just two features missing : Yearbook character clips and the featurette showing how the film looks dubbed into different languages.
So, I could summarise the quality of the film, the AV and the extras but all that has been covered in the main text. What you really want to know is, whether you should upgrade to the new release?
Well, the film receives no notable video or sound upgrade from the original release. The much touted extended edition really does not offer anything new, as the extra footage was on the original disc anyway as deleted scenes and they do not add much to the plot. We know that there is more footage out there which disappointingly has not been included here. So, if you are purchasing just for the extended edition then it really is not worth upgrading.
However, with the rest of the package Warner's have really excelled and treated the film with love and respect. Probably the biggest criticism of the original release was that the extras were far too “kiddie-friendly” - mainly consisting of rather poor interactive games that would have no interest for adults. Whilst these are still included, Warner Brothers have also included the first part of a brand new nine-hour plus documentary, a new IME, a book, collectable cards, and a digital copy of the Theatrical Edition. Add to this the superb packaging and the upgrade becomes rather more compelling.
The reality is, though, that the casual viewer is going to find very little here to tempt them into jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon once again. Fans, however, are going to find the new package a treat and with no sign of them appearing in the UK yet, importing is the only way to go. Thankfully, the sets are region-free so the fans should buy with excitement as I cannot imagine that the sets will ever get any better than this.
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