Please Note: The stills used here are taken from the DVD editions included in the Ultimate Edition, not the main Blu-ray discs under review.
Had I known that the Harry Potter series was going to end up here, in a dark and challenging world where life is not all magic spells and problems dispensed with a wave of a wand, I'd have probably gotten on board and read the books when they were coming out like everyone else. I had no idea that the tone of the material was going to age with Harry and his friends, that we would go through the difficult periods of adolescence, including awkward growth spurts and fumbled first loves. It's rather ingenious, really. If you started reading the Harry Potter novels at an age near Harry's, you'd grow up together.
I got into Harry Potter thanks to the movies, and while the series was never perfect--it didn't gel into inclusive moviemaking until the third installment; the sixth film, The Half-Blood Prince, stiffed--I looked forward to each new release even as I feared they wouldn't stick the landing. Thankfully, this turned out not to be the case, and I'd even go so far as to say the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is in contention as the best finish for any multi-film franchise ever. It does what very few big-budget series manage to do: it saves the best for last.
I covered both films at length upon their theatrical release. (Part 1 here, Part 2 over here.) My feelings about them pretty much stand. The first part is a lot of set-up, a slow burn as the full effects of the curse that Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has inherited weighs on him and his friends. An early attack by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his minions has left many of Harry's allies dead and wounded, and it's forced Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) into hiding even as they continue to carry out their mission. They must find all the Horcruxes, mystical objects that contain pieces of Voldemort's soul, secreted away presumably to protect them. Well, the secret is out, and that plan backfired.
But this half is less about destroying evil than it is about recognizing the dark places in oneself. Stranded in the wilderness, the teens must wrestle with their own doubt, fear, and anger. Their anxieties are reflected in the outer world by Voldemort's increased influence. Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) has taken over Hogwarts, while the dark lord has also gotten a few of his people into the magic council. This has turned the mystical realm into an oppressive, near-fascist state, where people are scared to stand up for fear they'd be knocked back down. The trio of teens will also have illusions shattered as more is revealed about the secret life of the late wizard Dumbledore, a good lesson in the moral difficulties of a life of ambition and power and the downside of hero worship. The whole thing culminates in a showdown with Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), which shows the kids just how bad things can get. Torture, intimidation, prejudice--it's fairly heavy stuff, made all the heavier by the fact that The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 ends with heartbreak.
The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, then, is the kids getting it together and getting back in the fight. New clues give them leads on where the remaining three Horcruxes are sequestered. This allows for one of the entire series' most exciting action sequences: an underground battle in the goblin bank that quickly goes above ground. Way above ground! (Helena Bonham Carter doing an impression of Emma Watson when Hermione has disguised herself as Bellatrix, is also one of my favorite bits of acting in these movies.) The trail naturally leads back to Hogwarts, where Harry quickly wrests control from Snape and, now that he is fully exposed, attracts the attention of Voldemort. Armies amass, and the epic clash we've been waiting for finally occurs.
And one that looks way better on Blu-Ray than it did in the theater, I might add. Without the added 3D element, the dark screen is lifted from the movie and we can actually see all the fighting and special effects. (Sometimes too clearly: why are people falling and people in front of a fire still the most difficult effects to master?) There are many great sequences within the melee, including several designed to give certain characters their last rousing moments and the audience something to cheer about. Best of all, there is never a sense that victory is a foregone conclusion. The dark pallor that hangs over the first half, and the harsh escalation of tactics on Voldemort's part, are not rolled back to give us a bright and sunny climax. There is still much to fear here, and many things to dread.
It's kind of fitting that I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on Thanksgiving eleven years ago, and that I would spend this past Thanksgiving revisiting the final two films in the cycle. I wouldn't exactly call it coming full circle, but there is a sense of satisfaction of seeing the series come to fruition. I know my reaction to the first film was that it was pretty good, but that it could have been better. It had the wobbly legs of a complicated, well-known property trying too hard to please too many different audiences. By this stage in the game, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves had enough experience with J.K. Rowlings' world to know where the balance lies, and also enough faith in every member of the audience to know that we've come this far and we are on board regardless of how we first came to Hogwarts. There is a freedom in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it makes for smartly realized, nimbly executed finish.
Both main features have AVC-encoded, 1080p transfers, shown at a wide 2.4:1 aspect ratio. I know that over the last couple of years there has been much debate about the transfers on these films, I think largely growing out of the fact that the movies are dark by design, and we tend to desire a certain illumination in our high-definition. I fall on the side of believing that the Blu-Ray transfers are just right, conscientiously working with David Yates and director of photography Eduardo Serra's careful designs to bring out the detail when necessary, but also to obscure where the spooky nature of the story requires a bit of mystery. Levels of detail are strong, with lots of great flow between dark and light, letting a special effect like the ghostly deer that leads Harry to a revelation being all the more effective by standing out against a dark sky. I noticed some increased grain on some scenes, usually when the proceedings turn more gray, but I didn't really pick up on any crushing in the blacks or smeared enhancements. Honestly, I found nothing much to complain about. As noted above, with the 3D removed, Part 2 looks better than it did theatrically, to the point where some of the computer-generated effects became too apparent. (Check out Michael Zupan's review of the standard Blu-Ray release of Deathly Hallows, Part 2 for a really good description of the picture quality.)
The soundtracks are mixed as a DTS-HD Master Audio track in 5.1. They sound great, with lots of boom when turned up loud, and plenty of ambient effects working through all the speakers. Dialogue is given appropriate clarity in the mix, and there is also plenty of genuine silence when required. The fight scenes pick up some pretty heavy-duty levels of noise, and they all seem perfectly separated here.
Alternative audio options are French 5.1 (dubbed in Quebec) and Spanish 5.1, both Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in both languages, as well as English Closed Captioning.
The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2: Ultimate Edition package is an impressive brick of cardboard and paper. The discs are housed in a large folding case, which fits inside an outer slipcover that has a removable lenticular image card of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. There are six discs in all here: each movie on both a Blu-Ray and DVD disc, and two Blu-Rays with new extras.
Physical bonuses include an envelope with four character cards, this time of Bellatrix, Voldemort, Ginny, and Neville. The 48-page hardback book Creating the World of Harry Potter: Growing Up collects together movie stills and on-set photos to show how much the actors have changed since 2001.
You also receive codes to access a digital "Ultraviolet" version of the movie. It's nice to get, even though the Ultraviolet program is the worst digital option. It's not really a download, because the copy you save to your computer requires the Flickster program to run, and so is not really compatible with your mobile devices (I watch my digital movies on my iPad). You can also stream the movies via an internet connection.
On-disc extras are on the main discs themselves, and there is also a bonus disc for each movie, both of which mainly focus on the ongoing documentary spread across all the Ultimate Editions, under the heading Creating the World of Harry Potter. The 47-minute 7th installment, "Story," is an excellent and extensive conversation with J.K. Rowling and screenwriter David Kloves about the back and forth between the books and the movies. The 50-minute 8th section, "Growing Up," catches us back up with the film series' main stars.
Both films also have the Warner Bros. Maximum Movie Mode, their excellent update of the audio commentary function, using both picture-in-picture and sidebar featurettes, called "Focus Points," to give a more interactive feel to the experience of watching the movie with enhanced commentary. If you take the time to watch any extras in this set, make it these.
For the Deathly Hallows, Part 1-specific bonuses, there are the following:
* The Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Behind the Magic (44 mins.): A middling television special released to promote the theatrical run of the film, so a bit cagey with its info as a result. Decent enough promo piece, but a promo piece nonetheless.
* The Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Behind the Story (80 mins.): A collection of 14 different featurettes focusing on different aspects of the production, a handful of which were available before. These look at both story and production points, talking about characters and also about make-up and prop design.
* Harry Potter on the Road (20 minutes): Traveling to real locations with the film crew.
* Deleted Scenes (11 mins.): Eight cuts from the film, each well chosen to show an interesting nugget, a glimpse of what might have been.
* Sneak Peek at Part 2 (4 mins.): Part of the carryover from earlier releases.
* "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" Tour (6 mins.): J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe, and others visiting the Harry Potter theme park.
* Behind the Soundtrack: A brief few minutes with composer Alexandre Desplat.
* Trailer: The teaser and the full theatrical trailer.
The Deathly Hallows, Part 2-specific bonuses are:
* The Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Behind the Magic (47 mins.): A TV special similar to the one for Part 1.
* The Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Behind the Story (43 mins.): Seven mini-featurettes about the production, only one of which was released before. This, again, looks at both character and technical subjects.
* The Deathly Hallows, Part 2: The Quest Featurettes (52 mins.): Sixteen more featurettes, this time taking some steps off the set to look at things like the London Premiere, thank the fans, and revisit what came before.
* A Conversation with Rowling and Radcliffe: Extended Version (63 mins.): Adding ten minutes to the excellent chat between the author and the actor that appeared on the previous Blu-Ray release.
* Deleted Scenes (7 mins.): Eight cuts, mostly small moments, which should be self-evident given the length.
* Hogwart's Last Stand: Extended Version (30 mins.): A complete look at the film's big battle.
* The Women of Harry Potter (23 mins.): A special look at the strong ladies in the Rowling series.
* Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: A 2-minute commercial for the UK-based tour.
* Pottermore Preview: A personal introduction from Rowling for her new website.
* Trailers: Again, a teaser and a full theatrical trailer.
All extras are in high-definition.
DVD Talk Collector Series. Well, that's the way you finish a film franchise! Warner Bros. has bundled up both parts of the final Harry Potter films as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2: Ultimate Edition, creating an impressive package with lots of extras and an excellent presentation of the best movies in the series. See how Harry Potter has grown up! Marvel at Neville Longbottom getting handsome! Watch all the narrative threads collide in one epic battle! The Ultimate Edition is a must for all Harry Potter fans, and Deathly Hallows is best watched in one go. You'll be sad it's over, but you're going to love how it ends.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.