Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Listing-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Capturing The Stone
|Year Of Production||2001|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Chris Columbus|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Pan & Scan||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has been released on DVD in R4, so 'let the magic begin' . . .
The movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is based on the children's fantasy book of the same name, by J.K. Rowling. According to urban legend, having fallen on hard times, Rowling wrote the first half of the book on a kitchen table, with a baby on her lap, in a shelter in Scotland. Despite these very humble beginnings, both the Harry Potter books and the movie have been exceptionally successful. It is estimated that there are around 20 million Harry Potter books in print, in 40 languages. Harry Potter merchandise has also swept the globe, and a 1998 UK first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was recently offered for sale at $10,000 USD. In regards to the movie, by many accounts, the Harry Potter movie now sits behind Titanic as the second highest grossing movie of all time. According to both HMV and Amazon, based on pre-orders and the first day of sale, Harry Potter is set to become the number one selling DVD of all-time, surpassing previous favourites Titanic and Gladiator.
The success of Harry Potter perhaps lies in the fact that the books and the movie do not exclude adults, but on the contrary, they welcome adults into that enchanted world. Indeed, I imagine that the vast majority of Harry Potter fans are adults, judging by the number of people I see on public transport reading the books. Harry Potter seems to hold that very special and very elusive quality that allows adults to suspend disbelief, and slip comfortably into a second childhood of imagination. This is very rare, and I have seen this happen only with very special children's books, such as C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, and Roald Dahl's great works, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach.
The movie has been very faithful to the book, and the story of Harry Potter is a bit like 'Tom Brown's School Days' with broomsticks: Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has been orphaned, and is being brought up by stifling, selfish, and mean-spirited relatives. Harry's lonely and sad life changes dramatically on his eleventh birthday, when he is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There, Harry meets and befriends the easy-going Ron (Rupert Grint) and the bookish Hermione (Emma Watson), who are also first-year students. While attending their classes in magic, the three friends become aware that dark forces are afoot in the school, and bravely, they team up to foil the evil. In doing so, they must solve the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone.
The movie features wonderful production values, and a great script. Importantly, the excellent special and visual effects are utilised to serve the story, rather than the other way around. Also of great importance, this American production doesn't repress the Englishness of the story or the characters. The direction from Chris Columbus is thankfully restrained, the cinematography by John Seale is sublime, and the acting performances from the entire cast are brilliant. Quite a few renowned English actors fill the supporting roles, and I always enjoy seeing the likes of Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, John Hurt or Richard Harris onscreen. Harry Potter is an extremely well-crafted and magical escapist movie for young and old alike, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Alas, this is where things turn rather nasty. No doubt all readers would be aware of the slap in the face that we have received in R4 from Warner Home Video. Harry Potter has been released on DVD in R4 as a 'standard version' (1.33:1) only, while US and European consumers get to choose either 'standard' or widescreen versions. The back cover reads that the film has been "formatted to fit your screen". As I own a widescreen television, dear Warner Home Video, I can assure you that this is definitely NOT the case.
Interestingly, I also own the R2 widescreen version of Harry Potter, which has been formatted for R2 and R4 (I have tested it on a non-multizone R4 player). No doubt this version will be released here later this year. Perhaps Australian consumers are being used in some sort of horrible marketing experiment? I wonder if the distributors are finding out if they can 'double-dip'? Will we be stupid enough to buy both versions of the DVD, if they don't tell us a widescreen version is coming? Time will only tell.
Anyway, the transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but to describe it as full frame or pan & scan may be a little misleading. The principal photography utilised Super 35mm film, and the 2.35:1 transfer captures a lot of this, while the 1.33:1 transfer captures a 'square' chunk, usually in the middle. So the 2.35:1 transfer has more image horizontally, while the 1.33:1 transfer has more image vertically. This is perhaps best explained visually, and one helpful reader, Ted Harper, alerted us to a site which has cleverly composed images comparing the two versions - see http://plum.cream.org/HP/dvd.htm.
The gross shortcomings of the 1.33:1 image draw attention on a number of occasions. For example, in the 2.35:1 transfer, at 113:44 the three children and the entire length of the hovering broomstick are visible onscreen. This is not the case with the 1.33:1 transfer, which ruins a great moment of the movie. Also, in the 1.33:1 version, the shot of the scoreboard at 75:45 has been cropped on both sides, and thus the names of the two teams can no longer be read.
The image was a little grainy at times, such as the shot in the corridor at 48:26, but the sharpness and black level are fine throughout. The shadow detail is excellent, as evidenced during the many dark and shadowy scenes in the movie. I did not spot any low level noise.
The colour was also excellent throughout, with very accurate fleshtones. The image was well-saturated, although very rarely, some scenes seemed just a tad oversaturated, such as at 81:35.
Being extremely picky, I would acknowledge that some MPEG artefacts were present, but they were all very, very slight. There was some very mild pixelization evident in some scenes, such as in the tavern at 18:15, or the train station at 32:09. There was also some very slight posterization, such as on Dudley's face at 5:01, or Ollivander's face at 24:25. Let me stress that I never found these to be distracting. In fact, I'm sure many screens wouldn't reveal these very subtle flaws in the transfer.
While it is tempting to say that there were no film-to-video artefacts, they did appear very rarely, and again, very subtly. While aliasing was never a problem, there was a very slight shimmer on some objects, such as on the stairs at 121:50. Also consider the extreme top right of the screen at 17:51, and you might spot the mild shimmer on the windows in the background. Furthermore, I spotted a couple of instances of very slight telecine wobble, most noticeably at 122:49.
Tiny film artefacts appear infrequently throughout the movie, but most are the size of pin-pricks. Examples can be seen in Ollivander's Wand Shop at 24:14 and 24:39.
Occasionally I thought I spotted some mild edge enhancement, but there is also a great deal of green-screen work in this movie. That aside, what appears to be very slight edge enhancement does appear in the form of subtle halos at 31:43, 49:47 and 52:27.
There are three sets of subtitles present on this DVD, and the English subtitles are a slightly simplified, but accurate, reflection of the dialogue.
This is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 70:42. It is reasonably smooth, but as it occurs during a rather tense scene, I found it a little disruptive.
Originally released theatrically in Dolby Digital Surround EX, SDDS (8-track) and DTS, this movie is an audiophile's treat.
There is only one audio option on this DVD, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which, while it does not advertise itself as such, I suspect might be the same as the English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track available on the R2 version.
The dialogue quality and audio sync are excellent, and the audio generally exhibits a beautiful range and great fidelity.
The musical score is credited to the great John Williams, who is perhaps best remembered for his brilliant compositions for the Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones movies. Williams has crafted an enveloping orchestral score that is wonderfully moody, emotive and suitably dramatic.
This is a very immersive 5.1 mix, and the surround presence and activity is simply marvellous. The rear speakers are used effectively throughout to help carry Williams' score, and to provide ambience. There are also a great deal of rear directional effects, and good examples include the letters flooding into the home at 11:38 and the ambience at the train station at 30:36.
There is some very deep bass present, and the subwoofer is utilised very effectively throughout, especially for the many sound effects, such as the storm at 11:55, and when the brick wall rearranges itself at 30:36.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are a few extras on Disc 1, but the bulk of the extras reside on the second disc. Indeed, a very obvious Easter egg on the Main Menu of Disc 1 invites the viewer to insert Disc 2 for the extras. There are a good selection of extras with this DVD, and I might have enjoyed them more if I didn't have to endure a most tedious 'game' to gain access to them. Even worse, every time you want to access the extras on the second disc, one must endure this long and tedious 'game' yet again.
While I was satisfied with the extras present, I would have loved to have seen an interview with J.K. Rowling, or a feature on the Harry Potter phenomenon or the books. Also, a commentary track with Rowling or the director, Chris Columbus would have been welcome.
Spoiler warning: Before you continue reading this section, please be aware that there are a number of hidden extras, such as the deleted scenes, which you are supposed to find on the second disc. I have detailed below where they all are, and how to gain access to them.
Despite the fact that this is the 'standard' version, all the menus are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. The main menu is animated with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
Cast and Crew
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, this silently provides text-based information.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17)
This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (letter-boxed), with Dolby Digital stereo surround-encoded audio.
Teaser Trailer (1:46)
This is also presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (letter-boxed), with Dolby Digital stereo surround-encoded audio.
Unless stated otherwise, all these extras are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1
Here the tedious game begins, but to make your life easier, I will detail what is required: 1. The key is an obvious Easter egg on a menu screen; 2. Take the key to Gringotts Bank; 3. Next go to Eeylops to purchase an owl; and 4. finally go to Ollivanders for a wand.
Tour of Hogwarts
This is so blurry that it almost gave me a headache to look at it. Using one's remote, the viewer may navigate around a few rooms in Hogwarts.
The classes are Defence Against the Dark Arts, Spells and Charms, Potions, and Transfiguration. Interestingly, there are clips of the teachers taken from the movie presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
Extras here include the option of viewing a scene from the movie dubbed in to eight different languages, and more importantly, there are six deleted scenes, and one extended scene from the movie. These scenes are all presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby stereo surround-encoded audio. I would have liked to have seen these scenes inserted back into the movie, as I found that they fleshed the characters and story out a little more.
To get these extra scenes, you need to answer three potion questions. Even if you have seen the movie, it is impossible to know the answers. If you answer any of the questions incorrectly, you have to go back to the beginning. The correct answers are as follows:
1. Asphodel and Wormwood
2. Monkshood and Wolfbane
3. Snake Fangs and Porcupine Quills
The potion bottle to select is the round, yellowish bottle.
This allows one to select one of the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin, and audio information about that house is provided.
This mainly provides stills, conceptual art, and themed clips and information from the movie.
This provides information on the game of quidditch, and includes short scenes from the movie, presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. While subtitles were offered here, they did not work.
Interviews: Capturing the Stone (16:24)
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (letterboxed), with Dolby stereo surround-encoded audio, this extra features David Heyman (Producer), Chris Columbus (Director), Steve Kloves (Screenwriter) and others, discussing various aspects of the movie, such as some of the difficulties they encountered in making it. There are a number of interesting insights, such as the producers hoping to make seven Harry Potter movies, with the same principal cast, over the coming years. A number of behind the scene shots are also included.
These are DVD-ROM features which force one to install InterActual Player to access them. Basically, these are a few kid's PC activities which are linked to web-sites.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US. I imagine that this was because the book had previously been released there with that amended title as well. The US version of the book had almost three hundred changes made to it, most of them very subtle. For example, 'car park' became 'parking lot' and 'football' became 'soccer'. This change in terminology has necessitated a number of scenes in the movie being shot twice, with different dialogue, one for each version of the movie. This is not that unusual for a big-release trans-Atlantic movie, but as there was a change in the title, it drew attention to itself. Quite a few movies, such as the James Bond movies, alter slang and other terminology, to produce two versions to better suit the US or UK audience. In regards to the language, Australians stand somewhere in between, as we use a combination of UK and US slang. To use some examples from Harry Potter, while we use the UK 'letter-box', as opposed to the US 'mail-slot', we also use the US 'sneakers', as opposed to the UK 'trainers'.
The Region 4 DVD misses out on:
The Region 1 DVD misses out on:
So, which version is the best -- R1 or R4? Neither. Currently the best version on DVD is the Widescreen R2 edition. This has all the extras, and most importantly, a widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced) version of the movie in PAL, with English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio. This version also matches the book and movie that was released here, and it has all the English, rather than American dialogue.
Okay, I can't resist the cliché - Harry Potter has cast a spell over me. This is an enchanting, delightful movie for 'kids' of all ages, ruined only by the insulting 'pan & scan' treatment. I hope Australian consumers vote with their dollars and shun this 'pan & scan' abomination in favour of a widescreen release.
The video quality is very good, for a 1.33:1 transfer.
The audio quality is excellent.
The extras are good, although accessing them is a nightmare.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Grundig Elegance 82-2101 (82cm, 16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-545|
|Speakers||Sony SS-V315 x5; Sony SA-WMS315 subwoofer|