Plot: What’s it about?
J.K. Rowling’s book about a trio of wizards turned the world upside down and the subsequent books and films have literally grossed billions of dollars around the world. While Harry Potter ended its film run in 2011 (and the book run in 2007), odds are that this be speckled wizard will be remembered for decades to come. Warner, never one to miss out on a marketing opportunity, began re-issuing the Harry Potter films in Ultimate Editions back in 2009 and we’ve now reached the end. The final Ultimate Edition of the final two movies (thankfully housed in one edition and we don’t have to wait for a part II) is here. Since we’ve already reviewed the films, those are below. But we know what the real draw is, so if you want to skip ahead down to the supplements – feel free!
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Nearly fifteen years ago, a single mother on welfare authored “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (though in the UK it was called “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”). The book went onto become an international best seller and, as they say, the rest is history. And this is it. This is what all the fans have been waiting for…sort of. You see the “Harry Potter” franchise is finite in regards to the written material. There were seven books. There will be no more. Warner Brothers has made a lot of money off of the “Harry Potter” movies and anyone knows that pleasing the fans is great, but pleasing the stockholders is even better. And so it was deemed that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” would not be one movie, but rather two. This was great news to the fans (who believed that some of the previous movies should have been split in half as well) as it gave the filmmakers a chance to explore the final book dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s.” As someone whose read all of the “Potter” books more than once, I was elated to hear this news. But as anyone knows all of the good stuff happens near the end of the book. Nevertheless, the penultimate chapter in the “Harry Potter” franchise is now on Blu-ray so let’s dive in, wands first, and see what’s happening.
It’s been a rough summer for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). His best friend and mentor, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) was killed at the hands of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) at the end of the last movie. The Ministry of Magic is now in danger of being overrun by Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) and his henchmen, the Death Eaters. Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are outcasts, forced to flee their homes and go into hiding. Hogwarts, their school, is no longer a place of protection for Harry and his friends, but rather the first place the Death Eaters will look. Harry is “Undesirable No. 1″ and Voldemort will stop at nothing to get his hands on Harry. So what to do? Run! Harry, Hermione and Ron take off in an effort to avoid the Death Eaters, but have the added task of finding the horcruxes – pieces of Voldermort’s soul that are scattered around the globe. These horcruxes give him near immortality and if not found and destroyed, Voldermort will remain alive. And, in essence, that’s what “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” is all about: running, hiding and waiting. That might sound somewhat dull in comparison to the other “Potter” movies, but I assure you that it’s not. We see some new faces, some old faces and we lose a few of them as well. Perhaps it’s just because we haven’t yet been exposed to the final movie in the series, but this is a necessary step in the series to reach the finale.
The main trio of the “Harry Potter” films aren’t kids anymore. They’ve spent more than half their lives on the set of the movies and their journey is nearly over. The franchise has become the top-grossing series of films in the history of cinema and we’ve still got one more movie to go. As any casual fan of the books/movies knows, the story of Harry Potter gets darker as the books progress. The first two were for the kids, but as we progress deeper in the series, we’re faced with much more drama, death and desperation. The absence of Lord Voldermort in the sixth installment (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”) is more than made up for in this installment and he’ll play an even more important role in the final chapter. Diehard fans of the series will already know what the fates are for everyone involved, but to see it played out on screen is what it’s all about. I can prattle on about the movie and what’s forthcoming, but odds are that if you’re reading this then you already know. The wait is nearly over and this first installment of the final chapter is a necessary step.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
This is it. This is what every Harry Potter fan in the world has been waiting for. Back in 1997 if you’d have told anyone that a single mother on welfare would go onto write a series of books that would produce a series of movies that would become the highest-grossing film franchise in the history of cinema, well it’s a bit far-fetched to say the least. However it did happen. First off I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this review then you know the story (or back story) of Harry Potter. I mean this is the second part of the final movie and if you don’t know what’s going on then you really shouldn’t be here reading this. Go read the reviews for the other movies first! As we all know the final book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was divided into two parts. This was done so that the movies could fully show what happened in the books and to really give the characters the depth they really needed in some of the earlier books. But let’s be real here. It was really done because the “Harry Potter” franchise is done after this. No more books. No more movies. If Warner wants to capitalize financially on these wizards, this is their last opportunity to do so. As the posters last summer said “It all ends.”
The final installment takes place literally right after Part I ends. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has reclaimed the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s tomb. Voldemort believes that this wand will make him the most powerful wizard in the world and also undefeatable. Meanwhile Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) are hot on the trail of Voldemort and his horcruxes (pieces of Voldemort’s soul that are hidden in magical devices). You see, in order to destroy Voldemort they must also destroy the horcruxes that are keeping him alive. These aren’t easy to come by and even when they’re found, it’s not a snatch and grab. No, rather they must procure a dragon to break into a wizard’s bank to get one and battle some dark wizards to get another. This is no small feat. But the real appeal of the final installment of the final movie is the ultimate showdown between Harry and Voldemort. The entire series has been leading up to this and as we’ve followed Harry since “Sorcerer’s Stone” it’s all led up to this. The Battle of Hogwarts is perhaps one of the best battle scenes I’ve encountered and suffice it to say we lose some characters that have been around for quite some time. Those who have read the book will know what happens in the end and probably those who haven’t will as well (or can at least surmise a guess). But I really couldn’t think of any ending more suitable than the one we have here.
I’ve read the entire “Harry Potter” series. Twice. I’m sure there are those out there that have read it a dozen times. I’ve seen all the movies and have even been to the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in Orlando, FL. Still, I’m probably a lesser fan than those out there. While it’s nice to finally have the entire series on Blu-ray, it’s also a double-edged sword in that there will be no more. We’ve watched Harry and his friends literally grow up on screen and I’ll come right out and say that I was moved to tears twice in the final movie (the same two places in the books that affected me in a similar way). The “Harry Potter” films and books stand as a landmark in terms of pop culture and cinema much in the same way that the “Star Wars” films were a generation ago. If, for some reason, you’ve never experienced a “Harry Potter” movie or book – do NOT start here. Start at the beginning and work your way through them. It’ll make it that much more enjoyable.
Video: How does it look?
I’ve still got both of the original Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films on Blu-ray and, try as I might, couldn’t find any differences with the transfers. Simply put, it’s the same transfer in this Ultimate Edition as in the standard Blu-ray release. No worries as it looked good the first time around! The final installments of the franchise represent the darkest of the dark and anything less than a perfect transfer simply won’t be acceptable. The 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer is about as good as it gets. Detail is amazing, just look at the streams emitting out of the wands, the cuts and scrapes on Harry’s face and the dilapidated ruins of Hogwarts. Amazing. Contrast and black levels are right on the mark as well. The entire film gives off a very film-like look and feel which is both consistent with the other films in the series. There’s nary an error to be found and what better way to end the series than with a transfer that looks as good as this.
Audio: How does it sound?
As with the video transfers, the DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks for both of these films is that of purity and clarity (and a lot of “oomph”). There are some moments of dead silence and some towards the end that will shake your room (and everything in between, of course). Suffice it to say that the Battle of Hogwarts will give every one of your speakers as well as your LFE a very good workout. Surrounds are almost always doing something and there seems to be an atmosphere of suspense that leads up to the final battle. This movie would have worked with a lesser soundtrack, but it’s so much more with what’s been included on this disc. Again, it’s a testament to the filmmakers who made sure that every “i” was dotted and “t” crossed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Moving onto the supplements, that’s where this Ultimate Edition really takes off and we’re treated to almost too much information. Let’s start off with Deathly Hallows: Part I. We get some new material here and some that was somewhat previously available on Best Buy’s 4 disc exclusive a few years ago. But owners of this 6 disc set will revel in all the wizardy goodness (yes, I just typed that) as it’s all in one neat and tidy place. Right, now let’s get started! All of the previously-released supplements are here and the main draw here is Warner’s “Maximum Movie Mode” which is pretty darn cool. Hosted by actor Jason Isaacs (who plays Lucius Malfoy in the series), we get a look at the film and get insight and commentary from various people who worked on the movie and the series in general. They literally stop the movie, show us scenes from past “Potter” films and even throw in some deleted scenes and give us insight into why the scene was cut. Now this is great if you’re a fan, but the down side is that it makes the already long running time of 146 minutes well over a three hour experience. Also included are several “Focus Points” which can be accessed via this Maximum Movie Mode or played independently via the home screen. The Focus Points are interesting and concentrate on the more technical aspects of the film like makeup, set design (did you know that Malfoy Manner was inspired by Xanadu from “Citizen Kane”?) and stunts. The disc is also BD-Live enabled. We get a standard DVD of the film as well as a digital copy for your mobile device.
New to the first part of the series is the penultimate installment of the “Creating the World of Harry Potter” and this one is simply stated as “Story.” I’d say that’s pretty important, wouldn’t you? Running at 45 minutes, this focuses on J.K. Rowling’s tale and writer Steve Kloves adaptation of it to the screen. They discuss the challenges of bringing such epic tales to the screen and even touch on the issue of Dumbledore’s sexuality. Suffice it to say these two know more about Harry Potter than anyone else out there and it’s well worth the wait. “The Deathly Hallows: Behind the Magic” was one of those features that was previously available on the Best Buy Exclusive a few years ago, but now it’s here for the rest of us. It’s a TV special that was released before the movie aired, so there are a lot of “What If’s..” included. It’s more of a promotional piece as opposed to anything that’s genuinely informative, but still nice to have regardless. Next up is another Best Buy Exclusive entitled “Harry Potter: On the Road” as we follow the production crew all over jolly ‘ol England for location shots. It’s a nice thing to see and some of the more interesting places that the cast and crew went to and got those “perfect shots.” The remainder of the supplements are what appeared on the original Blu-ray disc with some shots of the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios Orlando (and I’ve been there and it’s quite the experience), some deleted scenes and trailers.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II is up next and it’s more of the same. Of course the main draw here are the “Focus Points” and if you watched the film in “Maximum Movie Mode” then these will look very familiar. We get some behind the scenes looks at some of the special effects that were used in the film as well as some of the costume design and make up that took place in the final film. There’s also a promo for “Pottermore”, something which I signed up for and I’ve yet to really be impressed by it. Lastly we get “Final Farewells from the Cast” in which we see the main players in the series as they all say their goodbyes. Awww…The main draw on the first disc is the “Maximum Movie Mode” in which we get to watch the movie and then have it stop only to be greeted by various faces from the film. Actor Matthew Lewis (who plays Neville Longbottom in the film) starts us off and occasionally we see some other faces. As I mentioned earlier, they basically give us some explanation and set up the Focus Points and so forth. If you’ve ever watched a movie in this method before, this is more of the same.
And finally we’ve arrived at the eighth and last installment of “Creating the World of Harry Potter” aptly-titled “Growing Up.” These kids spent more than half their lives on the sets of the Harry Potter movies, so they’re probably more like brothers and sisters as opposed to “friends.” We get some heartfelt statements from the trio as they reflect on their experiences and, as the title suggests, growing up on the film.
The near hour long conversation with author J.K. Rowling and actor Daniel Radcliffe. This is probably the best feature to me as these two probably have the most invested in the franchise. These two have a mutual respect for one another and we learn of all the things that have transpired over the past decade. If anything, this segment is a must watch. “The Goblins of Gringotts” takes a look at how they made the goblins for the bank robbery scene and how they’ve changed since the first film. “The Women of ‘Harry Potter’” is just that – Rowling talks of the strong female leads and what the actresses had to do to fill those roles. There’s a demo for the “Lego Harry Potter” game which I’ve never played, but these Lego games seem pretty entertaining. The disc is also BD-Live enabled but there’s not a lot of content there as of this writing. Perhaps when the movie is officially released we’ll get some more substance. The third disc in the set is a digital copy of the movie as well as Warner’s UltraViolet copy that’s supposed to be the next big thing.
The real draw of these Ultimate Editions are the final two installments in the “Creating the World of Harry Potter” as those were previously unavailable elsewhere. There are four trading cards (Ginny Weasley, Bellatrix LeStrange, Neville Longbottom and the man himself Lord Voldemort), a hard back book full
of production photos and a robust six disc set for the final two installments in the series. Any fan will already have the first six Ultimate Editions and won’t hesitate to snatch this up. About the only thing missing from these Ultimate Editions are the 3D versions of the movies. While I personally don’t care, I’m sure others out there do and I’m sure Warner will be more than happy to re-issue this set that will include the 3D versions of the last two installments.