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Warner Home Video presents
"If you two don't mind, I'm going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled."
DVD ReviewDeep within the heart of the Hogwarts School of Magic, young Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) gazes longingly into the unexplicable Mirror of Erised. Its reflection presents the attractive image of the boy standing near his loving parents. Sadly, they were murdered by an evil being named Voldemort ("He who must not be named") when Harry was a very small child. Yet Erised (desire spelled backward) conveys this happy picture with a stunning clarity that seems painfully realistic. Following his discovery, Harry spends hours just sitting contently in front of his innermost desire.
This touching scene presents one of many examples of surprising depth within Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the remarkable adaptation of J.K. Rowling's breakthrough novel. The opening entry in the extremely popular book series is especially difficult to recreate on the screen because every element is so precious to multitudes of children around the world. No one could predict how film audiences would react to the actors chosen to portray the beloved characters. Luckily, writer Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) and director Chris Columbus (Stepmom, Bicentennial Man) have captured the essence of the story and cut few characters and significant events. Upon its initial release, the filmmakers received some criticism for not taking chances and for delivering a straightforward version. Numerous fans of the novels relished the faithfulness to the source material, however, because it contained similar elements to the charm that originally drew them into Harry's world.
The story begins with Professors Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and McGonagall (Maggie Smith) placing orphan Harry with his uncaring Muggle (non-magic) relatives, Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw). While they dote over their fat and spoiled son Dudley (Harry Melling), Harry lives in a small cupboard and does the most arduous household chores. The actors perfectly play the "worst type of Muggles" to the cruelest degree. After just a few minutes on the screen, they inspire hateful feelings and empathy with Harry for his awful situation. Thankfully, relief is in sight when his acceptance letter arrives from Hogwarts. The chaotic arrival of the mass of letters is an entertaining moment and captures the essence of Rowling's writing. Although these early scenes may move a bit slowly for non-fans, the exposition is necessary to clearly define the world of magic.
During his trip to Hogwarts, Harry quickly befriends the red-haired, playful Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and the book-smart Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). These first-years quickly become friends and share hair-raising adventures, including an encounter with a giant troll. All three young actors do wonderful jobs in conveying the specific nuances of their characters. Also, the connection between them appears real and not contrived for the screen, which often occurs when using young actors. Tom Felton displays the proper amount of childish malevolence for archenemy Draco Malfoy. Other memorable students from the novel make appearances, including Neville Longbottom, who has plenty of silly problems at flying class. Hovering above much of the proceedings is the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who provides some of the story's lighter moments.
The adult cast features an excellent group of well-known British actors inhabiting the essential supporting characters that give the story its unique flavor. Harris and Smith give significant weight to the prominent instructors who back the young trio. Alan Rickman plays the possibly devious Professor Snape with just the right level of contempt for the heroes. In a small role, John Hurt injects an entertaining wit into the wand seller Olivander. Other notable cameos include John Cleese as the ghost Nearly Headless Nick and Zoe Wanamaker as Madame Hooch, the flying instructor.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone transports you to places that are unlike anything seen before on the screen. While much of the setting appears through the use of computer animation, it corresponds with the nature of the fantasy. Harry and his friends face such fearsome beasts as a three-headed dog; a dark, unicorn-killing beast, and a strange plant trap. They also play a deadly, life-size game of chess and must choose between a horde of flying keys. Hogwarts itself is a majestic, vast structure that could only exist in a world of wizards. Although geared towards kids, this film contains impressive visions that could charm even the more cynical adult viewer.
This November, nearly the entire cast (and some new faces) return for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Can this movie stand up to the original? I believe it can. The story becomes a bit darker and more complex, which should lead to another enjoyable experience.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone features an attractive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the fantastic visual setting in shining fashion. Memorable images like the massive Quidditch arena, the fierce three-headed dog, and the impressive Great Hall display their array of colors with sparkling clarity. Several of the night scenes contain a tiny bit of grain, but they still maintain a pristine sharpness most of the time. Virtually zero defects exist on this transfer, which stands as one of the better ones released this year. This success is hardly a surprise considering the sweeping popularity of the film, but other supposedly prime discs have foundered in the past.
A warning for widescreen fans: Warner Bros. has also released this movie in a separate full-frame version. Be sure to read the packaging closely when making your purchase.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: This release offers an impressive 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that conveys the diverse sounds with considerable force. Composer John Williams (Star Wars) has once again crafted a memorable score that heightens the magic of the images presented. The music springs nicely from all of the speakers and helps to create an immersive experience. Sounds move efficiently throughout the field and give us the feeling of entering Harry's world. The more intense moments utilize significant power to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Examples include the Quidditch match, the encounters in the Dark Forest, and the tests faced to reach the stone.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Four fold case
Nearly all of the supplements exist on the second disc, organized into a menu of the various locations from the film. To enter Diagon Alley, you must touch the bricks in the proper order. For dumb people like me, they will let you in after a certain number of mistakes. Inside, you can visit Gringotts to pick up your money, than journey to the Owl emporium and Ollivander's Wands (since 382 B.C.) to have the wand "pick you." There is nothing too fascinating here, but it's a fun area.
Next, you can take a guided tour of Hogwarts and closely view several sites, including the dormitory and the Great Hall. This portion is especially cool because it allows you to take a 360-degree look at each place. The animation is very detailed, and there's a lot of things to see here. Throughout the tour, our British narrator offers tidbits from the film that correspond with the sites visited. On a related note, the classrooms are available for a quick stop. Each subject has its own game or hint that will lead you closer to a reward. For example, in Snape's potions section, you must choose the proper combinations of different potions to move forward. Once you've passed the challenges, you will receive the Sorcerer's Stone, which opens up a deleted scenes collection. Each classroom also includes a brief montage of scenes from the film that quickly introduce the corresponding professor.
The seven deleted scenes run for about nine minutes and add a bit more depth to the movie. Most of them are fairly short, but it is still interesting to see some extra material. Radcliffe gets to show a bit more sadness about the Mirror of Erised in one cut scene, and the Dursleys receive a few more silly moments. The lengthiest is an extended take of Snape's class, which runs more parallel to the events in the book.
The Sorting Hat provides brief audio descriptions of the four houses—Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Raveclaw, and Slytherin. Moving on to the library, you can discover a wealth of information about Harry Potter's world. The most intriguing book features numerous designs and drawings of nearly all of the key elements in the film. This is one of the few moments that steps outside of the world and looks at its creation, so it is especially noteworthy. The other major book includes short videos for all of the important child characters and a few others. They don't show any surprising items, but they are a nice touch. Of course, one of the texts screams loudly.
If you're not tired yet, you can visit the Hogwarts Grounds, which give us a comprehensive tour of Hagrid's hut. I enjoyed the clever feature that informs you about the proper method for raising a dragon. Outside, you can learn about Quidditch and its key elements. To reach this area, you must catch the snitch, which is pretty easy. Extra Credit is the DVD-ROM section, which offers even more extras that are not available on a regular player. The sorting hat will designate a house (I'm in Hufflepuff), then you can gather magical trading cards or a screensaver. There is also access to several Harry Potter and Warner Bros. web sites.
Finally, we've reached a segment that does pertain to the creation of this film. The Interviews section holds "Capturing the Stone—A Conversation with Filmmakers." This 16-minute documentary avoids the dull promotional route and simply lets Columbus, Kloves, and several others speak about the production. Everyone seems genuinely passionate about the material, especially the director, who has made me suffer through some awful films in the past. Production designer Stuart Craig offers some nice tidbits, including the fact that the chess board was actually life-size. The creation of this set is an especially impressive sight. During the final three minutes, the discussion shifts to the sequel, and the few items given should whet the appetites of fans everywhere.
Disc one contains a cast and crew list, as well as the theatrical trailer and teaser. Both previews are well done and have decent 2.35:1 widescreen transfers. The main trailer runs only about 30 seconds longer than the teaser, but it does offer more from the basic story.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThe unbelievable success of the J.K. Rowling novels would be impossible to match for any feature film. However, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone comes remarkably close to achieving this goal. The three child stars tackle their roles with surprising energy, and the inventive collection of supporting characters remains intact. Director Chris Columbus and writer Steve Kloves have crafted a magical film that should please both ardent fans and newcomers to the Harry Potter series.
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