Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Ultimate Edition [Blu-Ray]
Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets: Ultimate Edition [Blu-Ray]
Chris Columbus

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Ultimate Edition [Blu-Ray] <br />Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets: Ultimate Edition [Blu-Ray] Chris Columbus
The annoying practise of releasing new versions of the same movie on DVD again and again has reached new heights, with Blu-Ray finally catching on. But at least some studios are making it worth picking up these new versions by making them look better than ever, and also filling the discs to bursting with quality extras. Such is the case with these Ultimate Editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets. At this point, finding someone who isn't familiar with either the Harry Potter books or movies is almost impossible. J.K. Rowling's creation has become so familiar that the inevitable transfer to the big screen was only going to add to her success. The adult cast is like a who's who of famous British actors, while the newcomers do a great job of throwing themselves into their parts. In fact, there is very little to complain about the movies because they do exactly what they should do: entertain. Chris Columbus does a decent job of directing the first two movies, sticking very closely to the books that, at this point, were pretty straight-forward. That translates into a rather one-dimensional story in the first film, but Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets begins to flesh out the mythology and hint at what lies ahead, hence the somewhat long running time. Columbus's real success, however, was to create a totally convincing world in which the action takes place. It really is the book come to life, and Hogwarts in particular is absolutely majestic. He did make it easier for all the later directors that followed because he did a great deal of the heaving lifting, leaving them to push things in more artistic, creative directions. As the self-proclaimed "Ultimate Editions," expectations should be high for these sets. After all, the sheer size implies they house something special. And for the most part, they deliver. Each set has two Blu-Ray discs and a DVD in a foldout case, a hardcover book of behind-the-scenes photos and a flimsier box that houses a digital copy and two oversized character cards. It is a nicely put together, comprehensive set. The downside of the transition to Blu-Ray is that the limitations of these earlier films are apparent. They do look sharper than they have in the past, but there are some grainy moments, and a few of the flying scenes look really green-screen-y. This is as good as they are going to get though and the rather excellent sound performance more than makes up for it. Each movie is presented in the standard theatrical edition, and an extended edition that adds a few more minutes (seven for Philosopher's Stone and 13 for Chamber Of Secrets) that don't add much to the overall experience. The in-movie commentary is quite entertaining though, as director Columbus pops up from time to time in the corner of the screen to talk about particular scenes or to show storyboards and other behind-the-scene pictures. But the most satisfying extra is a brand new collection of documentaries, which will be split over the entire series of eight Ultimate Editions. The first two instalments, "The Magic Begins" and "Characters" (clocking in at about 60 and 80 minutes, respectively), cover a lot of the background of how the films made it to the screen in the first place and the casting of the main parts, all in glorious HD. The same Blu-Ray disc also house the deleted scenes and a long list of other less consequential extras, like TV spots and trailers. The final DVD in each set collects all the remaining extras, which have appeared on earlier versions. Naturally they suffer in comparison to the new stuff because they are in standard definition, and utilise an irritating Easter Egg-like mechanism to reveal all the material. Still, it does suggest that Warner is serious about the moniker Ultimate Edition, bringing together pretty much everything that has been made previously about the first two Harry Potter movies. Hopefully they realise they can stop now and spend their time getting the rest of series upgraded to the same level. (Warner)