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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone(2001)
Harry Potter is a ten-year-old orphan who has been living under the stairs in the house of his cruel and abusive aunt and uncle. But on his eleventh birthday, Harry receives a letter informing him that he has been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he learns not only that his parents were wizards, but also that he is destined to become a powerful wizard himself. Along with his new friends Ron and Hermione, Harry hones his magical powers and uncovers the secret of the Sorcerer's stone, which leads him into a confrontation with the evil wizard who murdered his parents.
For more about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray release, see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Chris Columbus
Writers: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling
Starring: Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Saunders Triplets, Daniel Radcliffe, Fiona Shaw
» See full cast & crew
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray Review
The airy filler that dominates this series opener will make fans long for later entries...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 7, 2009
Regardless of what might be said or written about author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter mythos, her novels and Warner Brothers' subsequent box office smashes have dared to do two things few others have: allow a successful series' young heroes to age, and allow the tone of their tales to age right along with them. Watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone some eight years after its theatrical release -- in which time a steady stream of ever-darkening Potter entries have all but rendered the first film's cheeky whimsy and playful spirit a distant memory -- is like being transported into the past to study the milky white roots of something that's since grown deeper, more intriguing, and far more captivating. Viewers who've grown up with Harry and his fellow wizards will be propelled by nostalgia, a crafty siren with whom Star Wars and Star Trek fans are intimately familiar. Everyone else? Those unaffected by Lady Nostalgia's song will find little more than a decent children's film; a flawed, slightly awkward introduction to the Potter Universe that rises and falls with its dated special effects, its syrupy pacing, and the at-times shaky performances of its fledgling stars.
For those unfamiliar with Harry Potter and the increasingly perilous years he's spent attending the prestigious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, allow me to offer a crash course (in one paragraph no less). Orphaned as a baby after his parents were killed by an evil menace named Lord Voldemort, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) was left in the care of his aunt and uncle (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw), a pair of greedy, abusive monsters who treasure their own child (Harry Melling) above all else. Potter's life is filled with misery and neglect until, on his eleventh birthday, a half-giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) arrives to inform him of his true origins, his birthright, and his acceptance to Hogwarts. Ecstatic to get away from his aunt and uncle, and curious about the innate talent as a sorcerer he's rumored to possess, Harry embraces his future and leaves with Hagrid to prepare for his first year of wizard schooling. While there he meets a memorable assortment of classmates, professors, and school staff, many of whom play key roles throughout the entire series. He quickly befriends humble freshman Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), eventually accepts the counsel of self-assured hopeful Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), grows suspicious of the actions of his Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and seeks the guidance of the school's headmaster, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris). As Harry learns more about Voldemort and the death of his parents, he has to prevent the dark lord's resurrection, protect a magical stone, and survive the many dangers of Hogwarts.
Harry's first adventure is a sweet one, but it lacks the raw resonance and tenacity of future installments. Whether you chalk it up to the age of the series heroes, the likelihood that Rowling hadn't yet envisioned the bleak overtones that would come to rule her stories, or director Chris Columbus' colorful, overtly cartoonish embellishments, the outcome is the same: The Sorcerer's Stone struggles to establish its identity and often lacks narrative weight. Its third act certainly improves upon the first two, injecting a welcome dose of momentum and direction into a mystery that sorely needs both, and its climactic showdown and relatively surprising twists will satisfy those who've grown to appreciate entries like The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire. However, the whole of the film is akin to a slow and leisurely stroll through Hogwarts, dotted with the sort of endearing slapstick and grade-school humor kids will readily enjoy but adults will depart from shrugging their shoulders. Yes, Quidditch matches and the like deliver some respite from the occasionally uneventful proceedings, and yes, Radcliffe and his two co-stars are magnetic leads that make the wonder of the school's wizards and wizardry seem all the more wondrous, but it's difficult to immerse oneself in a two-and-a-half hour warm-up to the Potter series proper.
Hopping between The Sorcerer's Stone and The Half-Blood Prince though, it becomes abundantly clear that the first film is a rosy-cheeked relic; a fading burst of innocence that only serves to make the ominous events that transpire in future installments seem all the more hopeless and despairing. To that end, The Sorcerer's Stone actually proves itself to be an asset to the series, one that enhances later films and makes their mounting tension more unnerving and unbearable. Seeing Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they were -- charming children exploring the sparkling dreamscape of a school brimming with possibilities -- evokes sadness; seeing their earliest encounters with Voldemort and his servants reminds Potter fans just how far down the rabbit hole the trio have ventured. While such realizations won't quite redeem the film's faults or make it feel any less bloated, it does make it all worth watching, if only so newcomers can witness the full arc of the tale unfold. I can't recommend The Sorcerer's Stone outright, at least not to anyone who isn't between the ages of seven and twelve, but it accomplishes much of what it sets out to do, effectively introduces its world and characters, and gives birth to concepts and themes that have tremendous payoffs over the course of the series. Flaws notwithstanding, it has something to offer Potter regulars and Hogwarts inductees alike.
Reviewer's Note: want a truly unforgettable experience? Download Brad Neely's "Wizard People, Dear Reader," a hilarious audio track in which the witty, gravel-voiced genius narrates the events of The Sorcerer's Stone. Simply burn the audio files to two CDs (or stream the track via your computer), synchronize it with your Potter playback (press play as soon as the Warner Brothers logo appears at the beginning of the film), and listen to Neely lovingly eviscerate every scene. It's a decidedly R-rated track, but it's one of the funniest things I've ever had the good fortune to stumble upon. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Sorcerer's Stone may have received Ultimate Edition packaging, but its 1080p/VC-1 transfer is strikingly similar (if not identical) to the video presentation featured on Warner's 2007 Blu-ray release. Both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film boast warm, vibrant colors and a variety of showcase sequences, but suffer from mild contrast inconsistencies and intermittent softness, both of which undermine the picture's finer qualities. Blacks, though often deep and well-resolved, are sometimes either overpowering or underwhelming. Fleshtones, though frequently lifelike, occasionally appear flushed and oversaturated. While each case is certainly the exception rather than the rule, too many shots are hindered by such distractions; pesky oddities a complete overhaul could have presumably eliminated. Detail is also a bit too unreliable -- several potentially breathtaking establishing shots are marred by indistinct textures and lackluster definition, and a few closeups are simply too cushy for their own good -- but overall clarity remains a step above average. To its credit, a quick comparison to the standard DVD reveals little contest as the Blu-ray edition bests its last-gen counterpart in every conceivable way. Moreover, artifacting, aliasing, banding, source noise, and other digital riff-raff are held at bay, and edge enhancement is kept to a reasonable (at-times meddlesome) minimum. Ultimately, Warner's transfer isn't going to leave Potter fans shaking their fists at the heavens, but it won't leave them singing its praises either.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Regardless of whether you enjoy Harry's first adventure or find it lacking, it's tough to walk away from The Sorcerer's Stone without humming themes from John Williams' rousing score. But trust me... it's even more difficult after hearing it erupt through your speakers courtesy of Warner's newly produced DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. Yes, the theatrical cut is blessed with a DTS-HD MA 6.1 mix and the extended cut only earns a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, but both are sonic standouts and both deserve solid accolades. Dialogue is clean, intelligible, and nicely prioritized, even when bursts of flame, fizzling spells, and sweaty-toothed beasties invade the soundscape. A few lines get trampled in the mad whimsy of it all, but most instances should be attributed to the original sound design rather than Warner's technical efforts. LFE output is rewarding and aggressive (arguably too aggressive at times), injecting power into Williams' music and palpable intensity into the film's action sequences. The rear speakers are also brimming with a fair amount of activity, allowing gawking crowds to surround Harry and the listener, a bustling marketplace to enhance the immersiveness of the soundfield, and a lumbering troll to strike fear into more than the children it's pursuing. Granted, the soundscape, I suspect by its very design, isn't nearly as involving as those that grace later entries in the series (look no further than the film's Quidditch match), but it still delivers when it matters. Are the tracks perfect? Not quite. Memorable enough to please audiophiles of any age? I think so.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Despite its size, four-disc payload, list of special features, and "Ultimate Edition" moniker, this newest release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone doesn't have as much to offer as fans might expect. Yes, it includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film, and yes, it serves up the first admittedly mesmerizing portion of a planned eight-part documentary, but its touted Picture-in-Picture experience is an inconsistent track that falls quite flat, most of its second disc features are mere ports, and its third disc is packed with cumbersome content Warner should have left out completely. Don't get me wrong, it's still a nice collection, one fans will scoop up in a second, but it isn't nearly as fulfilling or captivating as they'll no doubt anticipate.
The case it all comes bundled in is an act of overkill as well. A thin slipcover nestles a sturdy cardboard cardboard box that seals with a hidden magnetic clasp. Tucked inside is a 48-page hardcover booklet, an envelope containing two heavy character cards, a digital copy disc (in its own paper sleeve), and a digipak that houses the set's main discs in safe, plastic trays. Sadly, the hefty box set will make for an unsightly addition to most consumer's shelves; a problem that can't be remedied by removing and displaying the equally oversized digipak. The dimensions of the components are as follows:
I don't mind large box sets, but I wish studios would start putting standard sized Blu-ray cases inside of these monstrosities so fans without ample shelf space could discard whatever pack-ins and boxes they deem unnecessary, and slide an oh-so-slim case alongside the rest of their collection.
Disc 1: Movies
The set's first disc is devoted to both versions of The Sorcerer's Stone -- its 152-minute theatrical cut and its director-supervised 159-minute cut, as well as a Picture-in-Picture video commentary with director Chris Columbus (viewable only with the theatrical cut of the film). Unfortunately, the PiP track is terribly spotty. Columbus' is an engaging speaker and seems genuinely happy with the film, but he only pops up during key scenes, leaving many elements of the production unexplained and unexplored. Likewise, the behind-the-scenes content, storyboards, concept art, and other material that dots the track barely registers, mainly because there isn't a lot of content to go around. There were such lengthy stretches of silence that I sometimes even forgot the the PiP experience was engaged. Thankfully, as Harry delves further into the mysteries of Hogwarts, the track gets busier, even if it's just to match the ever-increasing pervasiveness of the film's special effects and showcase sequences. It's ultimately a decent track, but I wish Columbus had chimed in more often, if only to fill in the gaps that hinder the impact and extensiveness of the experience.
Disc 2: Special Features
Its second disc offers other notable features, chief among them the first part of an eight-part monster documentary Warner plans to spread across the Ultimate Editions of the series. Future segments are scheduled to include "Characters" (currently available on the concurrently released Ultimate Edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), "Magical Creatures," "The Music of Harry Potter," "The Evolution of Harry Potter," "Special Effects," "Growing Up Potter," and "The Harry Potter Phenomenon."
Disc 3: Special Features
The third disc is comprised of standard definition features, all of which have appeared on previous releases of the film. There's little of note -- other than a single EPK that should have been placed on the second disc -- and the content on hand is aimless, dated, and quite annoying. Oddly enough, some minor supplemental content from the original Blu-ray edition of the film is nowhere to be found on the set's three discs; featurettes like "Yearbook Character Clips" and "Around the World: Multi-Language" are MIA. However, they could very well be hidden within "Diagon Alley" or one of the other more impenetrable activities I tried but failed to explore (more on that in a bit).
Disc 4: Theatrical Cut Digital Copy
Instead of adding an extra disc inside the primary digipak, one users will presumably toss aside after redeeming the DC code anyway, Warner has wisely tucked The Sorcerer's Stone Digital Copy in the cardboard envelope that holds the set's character cards. The disc's access code expires on December 8, 2010.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An imperfect film receives an imperfect release. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a solid introduction to Rowling's universe, but it falters too often to soar. Likewise, Warner's Ultimate Edition suffers from a problematic video transfer and a relatively underwhelming supplemental package. Luckily, a pair of strong DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, two versions of the film, and the first part of what promises to be a stunning, series-long documentary saves the release from mediocrity and bodes well for future Ultimate Edition Potter sets. I'm not ecstatic about the oversized box it all comes packaged in, but diehards will still find value in this release, enough to make it worth its relatively reasonable pricepoint.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Other Editions
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• Today on Blu-ray - December 8th - December 8, 2009
When the Harry Potter film series concludes in 2011, star Daniel Radcliffe will have aged 10 years since first appearing as the young sorcerer and, if the films' success continues, generated over $9B in world-wide box office receipts. Today, the sixth film in the ...
• Harry Potter Years 1-6 Giftset Announced - September 23, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the 'Harry Potter Years 1-6 Giftset' to Blu-ray on December 8th, day-and-date with the DVD release. This seven-disc set will feature all six of the Harry Potter films released thus far in 1080p VC-1 video accompanied ...
• Ultimate Editions Announced for First Two Harry Potter Movies (Up... - September 18, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced and detailed 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Ultimate Edition' and 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Ultimate Edition', due out on December 8, tying in with the release of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'. ...
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