Potter totters onto 4K disc with release of first four films
By Jim Bray
Warner Brothers plants its corporate feet even more firmly in the 4K UHD disc marketplace with the release of Harry Potter and his little friends' first quartet of adventures. These four titles join the final four that were released on 4K earlier this year.
Alas, while they're all terrific movies - and these new versions are definitely their best video incarnations yet - they aren't the stuff of 4K dreams. But if you're a Potter fan (a Potter person?) and you haven't yet added the series to your library, this is the best way to get them all without worrying about them becoming obsolete due to the onward march of technology.
Well, not obsolete as quickly as the DVD or Blu-ray versions…
You won't get DVD versions in these packages, but I can't imagine that to be a big deal in 2017. And you do get lots of other fun stuff that's worth having. Each package contains a 4K UHD disc, with HDR (High Dynamic Range) of the movie itself, plus a conventional 1080p Blu-ray of the movie and a second Blu-ray with supplementary stuff. You also get a code for a digital download.
So, really, you get the best of all high definition worlds right now, though you should note that the first two movies - Philosopher's Stone (a.k.a.Sorcerer's Stone and I don't understand the difference) and Chamber of Secrets - are only available in 4K in their theatrical versions, whereas the 1080p Blu-rays contain the theatrical and the extended versions.
Not to worry, though; I watched the extended editions when they first came out on Blu-ray and can safely say you don't miss anything important because the extended editions basically consist of some padding that fleshes out a few scenes.
I've always thought the first two Potter productions were the best. I love origin stories, whether in fantasy or superhero movies, and that's what we get with "Philosopher's Stone," which recounts the tale of how Harry became to be, well, Harry. We meet him living with his horrid aunt and uncle and cousin, see him go away to become a rookie at Hogwart's, the wizards' school, as well as his first major battle with someone who they don't seem to want named for some reason - perhaps in a similar manner to why Obama refused to call out radical Islam.
I love this movie! Director Chris Columbus helmed this one and the next, and both have a sense of wonder that seems muted, if not missing, from subsequent films, as the series got darker and scarier. Don't get me wrong: all the films are well worth watching and owning, but I missed the sense of wonder and fun that are in the first (and, to a slightly lesser extent) the second movies.
"Chamber of Secrets" sees Harry, Hermione and "the Weaselly one" once again tracking down an evil force, this time one that's petrifying students (and at least one pussycat) and threatening the life of Mr. Potter himself. If you're freaked out by spiders and snakes, you'll want to watch this one with the lights on or a loved one close!
Prisoner of Azkaban, the third movie, sees Harry reunited with his Godfather, who near the end of the movie turns out to not be the evil person he's supposed to be and, in fact, ends up making Harry an offer he can't refuse - though he isn't really that type of Godfather. And Goblet of Fire sees Harry competing against the best young wizards from around the world, in the TriWizards contest, all while fighting off that dude who can't be named, yet who seems nearly as ubiquitous in this universe as Ernst Stavro Blofeld is in the Bond franchise.
The third and fourth outings aren't as much fun, and they've also made some serious changes to the franchise's look and feel. For example, in the first movie, Hagrid's home appears to be just across a large field from Hogwart's itself, but once we get to "Prisoner" it's father away, down a rocky path. It's prettier this way, but it makes me wonder why they'd bother reinventing a wheel that worked fine anyway.
The series also gets better technically as it goes on, which is a shame, because as mentioned above these first four - the first three in particular - aren't the best examples of 4K movies that you can get. It's a complaint I had with the Blu-rays, too, but I was hoping Warner Brothers would pull out all the stops and give consumers the best representation they could. But NOOOOOO!
The 1080p picture on the Blu-rays looks about the same as the original Blu-ray releases, which means they're good and get progressively better as the series unfolds. The 4K is definitely a step up, but not the visual revelation of some other 4K titles I've reviewed, such as Cars 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, the Star Trek reboots and Passengers. They aren't as good as the last four movies in the Potter franchise, either.
It isn't like they're crap, but I hoped for much better. Yet, the video is definitely upgraded, and you'll be able to notice it in textures, dark scenes (of which there are plenty) skin surfaces, etc. There's more detail, but even more effective here is the HDR feature, which opens up the colours, making things look more lifelike.
Remember, to enjoy 4K you need a 4K TV, a 4K disc player and a high speed HDMI cable. The TV and player should have HDR capability as well (check your firmware if your equipment doesn't have HDR yet; it might be downloadable as it was with my reference Panasonic 4K TV).
Audio is presented in DTS:X, which appears to be an upgraded version of DTS-HD Master Audio. I don't know if it's an upgrade or not, but the sound quality is just fine, thanks. All the home theatre's audio channels will be given a nice work out here, with lovely fidelity and very involving and realistic sound.
Each of the titles also comes with some pretty decent extras, including parts of a series "Creating the world of Harry Potter." Each title's section of the "world" focuses on an aspect of the production, from the first movie's "The Magic Begins," through "Characters," "Creatures," and "Sound and Music." It's interesting stuff.
Incidentally, all eight Potter productions are also being made available as a set, in 4K, so you can maximize your Pottering in one swell foop.
Should you? Well, in my never humble opinion the Potter collection (yeah, even "Fantastic Beasts," though not as much) belongs in the library of any fan of cinefantastique, so that's an incentive if you don't own the movies yet.
As to whether you should run out and pick up the 4K set if you already have the movies on DVD or Blu-ray, I'd say "Yes" if you only have the DVD's. If you have all the movies on Blu-ray already, you may not get as much value, especially from the first four films covered here. They're a definite improvement over the Blu-rays, but not enough that I'd want to throw away my BD's in favour of the 4K discs, especially if your video equipment does a good job of up converting content to 4K on its own.
On the other hand, they're still Harry Potter movies and therefore very watchable and very ownable (if you don't have them already).
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.