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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Back when the book came out, I remember Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone setting off a publicity firestorm in terms of who would be cast into the significant roles for this hugely popular J.K. Rowling volume. The filmmakers that would be responsible for shaping Rowling's vision into cinematic form were scrutinized as well. For those involved with comic book adaptations, this process was old hat, but this was the first time so much coverage was given to which actors were cast in the roles, along with the filmmakers. So we're all agreed that it seemed to work out well, yes?
Joking aside, what director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) managed to accomplish with Steve Kloves' (Wonder Boys) screenplay was outstanding. Columbus adds a honed sense of comedy and wonder to the storytelling that gives all viewers the same perspective; one of awe and amazement, with a little fun mixed in. Plus, by sticking to a story that would ingratiate a Hogwarts newcomer while doing proper justice for those die-hard fans familiar with every detail, The Sorcerer's Stone became the mold for similar franchise films to model.
It helps that the focus of the franchise, young Harry himself (Daniel Radcliffe), provides us with facial expressions that help the viewer relate to his experiences. From the time that he meets what prove to be best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), the chemistry between them is excellent for actors of their age. Even when there is some inconsistency in the young actors' performances, there's still a whole slew of distinguished, award-winning British actors who pick up the slack. Hogwarts headmaster is Albus Dumbledore, played by Richard Harris, who brings the right blend of gravitas and mischief to the role. As someone familiar with Harry's deceased parents and his background, Dumbledore serves as a guidepost and wise voice for Harry.
But Harris isn't the only one here. One of the first people from Hogwarts that Harry meets is Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, Cracker), who serves as the game and ground keeper for the school of young wizards. In some ways, Hagrid is a man-child, a person who just happens to be working at a wizarding school, but he's comfortable with where he's at in life. That type of comfort and insight seems to work when delivered by Coltrane. Additionally, Maggie Smith, who plays the Deputy Headmistress of the school, Minerva McGonagall, does a perfect interpretation of the prototypical British teacher. Smith shares the same warmth for Harry as Dumbledore, but it's almost done in a more muted sort of way. Make no doubt about it; her role at the school is to make the children better and more effective wizards, but she likely wouldn't hesitate to help any child that had a problem in Hogwarts.
Then you have potions master Severus Snape, whom Alan Rickman plays with a level of contempt for Harry that we only find out about later. His character arc throughout Rowling's books proves to be the most interesting; in fact, I'm looking forward to what kind of performance he delivers in the final Potter films. In the first film, Rickman seems to enjoy his antagonistic character, playing the role with a sort of bad boy panache that he brought to Hans Gruber in the first Die Hard film.
These are all the main players when it comes to the battle against the Dark Lord Voldemort, who ironically had a curse backfire on him when he tried to kill Harry. Now, Voldemort is looking for revenge, which includes removing Dumbledore from the equation. While many of the characters are not aware of their future roles, even back then when the books weren't finished, it sure feels fun to revisit The Sorcerer's Stone once in awhile to admire the foundation and appreciate some of the smaller nods that come around in future installments. And when it comes to franchise films, you can never forget your first.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner gives Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone a 2.40:1 VC-1 encoded high-definition presentation that appears to be the same as the one on the Years 1-5 box set. This is less of a comment and more of an observation; the transfer for the first film is solid. Blacks are sharp, though there is an occasional moment or two of crushing, however, flesh tones are replicated accurately, and the level of background detail and dimension is present, though only really on the larger exterior shots like when the train comes to and leaves Hogwarts. A thin layer of film grain early on shows us that it's present and isn't a distraction as the film unfolds. Overall, it looks good on Blu-ray.
Here's where things start to branch out a bit. The previous sound option was a 5.1 PCM track, which has been cast aside, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround track for the theatrical version has been added. The disc includes an extended version of the film (2:38:50 vs. the theatrical 2:32:21), and that has a 5.1 surround sound option, also in DTS-HD MA. Either soundtrack is excellent, with dialogue coming through clear as a bell. The clarity and effectiveness of the ogre attack scenes through the front channels is a surprise, and directional effects/subwoofer activity is aplenty without being excessive. As the more recent Harry Potter come out on DVD, this lossless track is a great way to start things off.
Warner has taken what was on previous versions of the first film and has added a couple more discs of fun, resulting in a four-disc Ultimate Edition package, which, with its sturdy cardboard packaging and magnetic opening, looks (and feels) similar to the Watchmen Complete Story release.
Disc One: Aside from the theatrical and extended cuts mentioned earlier in the Sound section, an In-Movie Experience is included with the theatrical cut. This is focused mainly on Columbus in the picture-in-picture format while he shares his thoughts and memories of the production, recalling a lot of trivia along the way. He also gets into character development a bit and talks about what he liked about particular scenes. During some lulls in conversation, there are storyboards from the scene being shown. It's not an informational track, but it is fun to listen to without being too technical. The disc is BD-Live enabled, though as of this writing, no content could be accessed from it.
Disc Two: Things start with an introduction by Radcliffe (1:54), where he talks about the new material on this disc and what to expect in future Ultimate Editions. This includes "Creating the World of Harry Potter: The Magic Begins," (1:02:47) the first of an eight-part look at the franchise, with each part on subsequent releases. Obviously, this feature looks at the film's origins with old and new interview footage with the child stars and some supporting actors, and dated interviews with Harris and Rickman. Columbus and producer David Heyman provide extensive interview time as well. The kids recall auditioning for the film, audition clips of each of them, separately or together, are included, and Columbus shares his own thoughts on the casting sessions. The production challenge of shooting around the kids' school sessions is touched on, along with their hopes of a fast schedule in shooting the second film. Production Designer Stuart Craig recalls some of the challenges in creating things like the Great Hall and the living chessboard for Wizard's Chess. Director of Photography John Seale's influence on how Columbus worked with the children is explained by the director. And some of the larger sequences are recalled from the before, during and post-production times. There are even a few minutes in which John Williams covers how he works and what inspired the score for the film. It's a great launching point for these extras, and I'm looking forward to the future installments.
Moving on, "A Glimpse into the World of Harry Potter" (9:15) is labeled as an "international TV special," but is little more than a press kit with the kids' in-character interviews. In this, Columbus shares why he liked the story and what he had to do to land the role of director. Seven deleted scenes (9:36) follow, though they hardly do anything to enhance the story. Three trailers and 15(!) commercial/advertising spots finish up the second disc, which includes all of the new supplements.
Disc Three: "Capturing the Stone" (16:23) features dated interviews with Columbus, Heyman and Kloves as they share their opinions on the film and what they chose to include in the screenplayI, and Kloves specifically recalls collaborating with Rowling. Some additional production aspects, like visual effects and working with animals, are even discussed. From there, you get the same supplements as on the standard-definition release. This is an annoyance because it requires the same labored navigation through the disc menus, rather than just laying them out there in one area for easy access. This could have been better planned.
Disc Four: A digital copy of the theatrical cut of the film, compatible with Windows, iTunes and the usual suspects.
Along with everything else is a 48-page book, filled with storyboards, concept art and photographs from all seven films, fitting snug with all the other goodies.
Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone comes to Blu-ray in an Ultimate Edition that can truly be considered "ultimate." You get all of the good supplements from previous versions, along with some new ones, in a presentation that sounds excellent. I take comfort in knowing that future Harry Potter films will look and sound amazing. And with the likelihood that this could potentially be the last version of the film available on Blu-ray for years, go ahead and start spending your money.