Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
0.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Harry Potter Years 1-5 (Limited Edition Giftset)

Street Date:
December 11th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
December 21st, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Warner Home Video
Length:
752 Minutes
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Due to a manufacturing error, some shipments of this Blu-ray boxset included an HD DVD edition of 'Goblet of Fire.' Warner is offering a disc replacement program for affected consumers. More details.

Portions of this review also appear in our individual reviews of the five Harry Potter standalone releases:

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It's hard to believe that we're already five movies into Harry Potter's seven-installment big screen odyssey. It seems like only yesterday that our pint-size boy wizard made his first trek to Hogwarts as a fresh-faced, naive soul unaware of the journey that was to come. Over the course of five movies, he has matured both emotionally and physically, and by the time of this year's 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,' the surprisingly muscular teenager we see before us is almost unrecognizable. It's been quite an adventure, both for Harry Potter and his audience -- this is one film franchise that truly has become a cinematic rite of passage for children and adults alike.

Things got off to just an OK start with 2000's 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.' Directed by family-friendly filmmaker Chris Columbus (best known for piloting the 'Home Alone' franchise) and written by Steve Kloves (who would go on to adapt most of the later installments as well), 'Sorcerer's Stone' is a film that's so slavish to J.K. Rowling's original text that at times it feels more like a flowchart instead of a movie. The youthful performances by a baby faced Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry), Emma Watson (as Hermoine) and Rupert Grint (as Ron Weasley) are likable, even if their inexperience shows. 'Sorcerer's Stone' also has the least amount of action of all of the films, and is weighed down by too far too much exposition and not enough magic. Still, it's ultimately a good thing that 'Sorcerer's Stone' is the weakest film of the bunch -- it only meant that the best was yet to come.

Things start to pick up with 2002's 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.' Though Columbus returned to helm the second chapter (which was shot back-to-back with 'Sorcerer's Stone'), this time he certainly took a few more chances. The material is darker, more serious, and more suspenseful. The visual look of the film also opens up to allow some shadows long with the light, which proves especially effective in the film's climactic scenes, as Harry finally uncovers the deepest recesses of the film's title. The performances, too, grow and deepen. After the plotty first film, 'Chamber of Secrets' is where the Harry Potter franchise really begins.

By the time of 2004's 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,' the series really began to hit its stride. Taking over directing duties from Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron ('Y Tu Mama Tambien') brings a whole new energy to the series, which at last transitioned from pure kiddie fare to exploring the more emotive and rewarding depths of adolescence. One of the many virtues of Rowling's original books is that she doesn't shy away from the tough stuff, and in 'Prisoner of Azkaban,' Harry begins to fully explore his background, and in the process becomes much more aware of the pending horrors of the adult world. Mixed in with some great action sequences and more villainous villains (Gary Oldman is particularly strong as the mysterious Sirius Black), 'Azkaban' crackles with energy and danger.

The magical melodrama is just as strong in 2005's 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.' After all that he's been through by this point, Harry develops a certain wisdom and even some cynicism begins to creep its way into his interactions with the elders of Hogwarts. The sexual awakenings of all the three main protagonists -- Harry, Hermoine and Ron -- is particularly satisfying, as again, Rowling doesn't wimp out and wipe away the tribulations of adolescence just to appease conservative parents. Add to that some fantastic action (the Tri-Wizard tournament is a corker), a terrific turn by the snarly Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort, and tight direction by Mike Newell ('Four Weddings and a Funeral'), and 'Goblet of Fire' is just as strong as 'Prisoner of Azkaban.'

Years 1-5 closes with 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,' easily the darkest chapter yet. The gloom of the preceding chapters have now given way to a palpable sense of foreboding doom -- it's as if evil itself is lurking in every shadow. Harry is now fully a take-charge little wizard, propelling the action forward. David Yates takes the directing reins, and he ups not only the effects but the pacing, as well -- 'Order of the Phoenix' moves the fastest of any of the Potter pictures (it's also the shortest). That does at times give the film a bit of a cramped feel, but the energy and action are so strong that most viewers aren't likely to mind. Top it off with Harry getting his first screen kiss, and with 'Order of the Phoenix,' it's clear that the Harry Potter franchise has finally, fully grown up.

Although each of the individual films bear the clear creative stamps of their directors, the Harry Potter films hold up surprisingly well as a cohesive series. That's a tough tight-wire act to maintain, and if collectively the Harry Potter films aren't without flaws, you've got to hand it to any franchise that can manage to be more than the sum of its parts. With each new installment, the series only gets more dramatic and involving, and there's no reason to think that Years 6-7 won't be just as good as Years 1-5. Indeed, as anyone who has read Rowlings' last two books knows, events will only get darker and more intense (the last one isn't subtitled "Deathly Hallows" for nothing). So if you've still been holding out on experiencing the cinematic world of Harry Potter, why wait any longer? This 'Years 1-5' Blu-ray collection is the perfect introduction. Trust me, once you jump in, you'll be hooked.

The Blu-ray Set: The Vital Stats

'Harry Potter Years 1-5' made its debut on Blu-ray and HD DVD day-and-date with the DVD version. The packaging for all versions is identical, and it's quite the production. Warner has really impressed in the past with its high-def collectible box sets for such other releases as 'Forbidden Planet: Ultimate Collector's Set' (currently HD DVD only) and the dual-format 'Blade Runner: Ultimate Collector's Edition,' but 'Harry Potter Years 1-5' may just be the best yet.

What's most impressive about the casing is how sturdy it all is. Housed in a suitcase-like package, it has a rich brown faux-leather texture, and even real metal hinges to make sure it doesn't come apart easily. Inside, you'll find plastic slipcase packages for each of the five individual movie discs, plus the two bonus discs of added content. Additional trinkets include a letter pouch with three packs of collectible Harry Potter trading cards (sixteen cards total). There is another smaller box as well, containing five very cool bookmarks, each shaped like a different Hogwarts-related emblem.


A peek inside the suitcase.

Note that the total disc count is identical on both high-def formats. The Blu-ray and HD DVD editions each come with the five films on their own discs, plus two bonus discs with additional content. The only letdown is that the extra discs are standard-def DVDs only -- apparently Warner didn't feel the need to upgrade the video quality of the additional supplemental content to full HD.


The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The video presentations for each of the films in the 'Harry Potter Years 1-5' giftset don't deviate at all from the concurrently-released stand-alone Blu-ray releases. In fact, these are the exact same encodes, simply repackaged for the giftset. Each film is presented in 1080p/VC-1 video, and framed at the correct the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. And as has become standard with all Warner dual-format releases, the video encodes used for these Blu-ray editions are identical those used in the HD DVD versions.

(Note that I've included a separate video score for each individual film's transfer below. This set's overall video score was determined by averaging the individual scores for all five discs.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I've always found 'Sorcerer's Stone' to be the weakest entry of the series in terms of visual design. I suppose that shouldn't come as that much of a surprise given the more lighthearted approach the filmmakers took with the material, but the end result lacks the rich contrast and deep colors of later installments in the series. Warner's standard DVD release of 'Sorcerer's Stone' certainly didn't help matters, with a soft and grainy transfer that was far from the type of reference-quality material fans were hoping for.

With that as background, this Blu-ray edition is a clear step up over what has come before, but those expecting this transfer to be some sort of revelation may still find themselves disappointed. As the film was originally shot in Super35, grain can be prominent -- most noticeably in darker scenes or those with intense color. Contrast is also the least striking of any of the 'Harry Potter' films, with a hint of flatness to the high end of the grayscale. Blacks remain strong, giving the image some nice pop. Depth and detail are clearly superior in high-def, particularly during the many wide establishing shots, which reveal textures to structures and costumes that were just a soft mush on DVD.

Color reproduction is more troubling. 'Sorcerer's Stone' has a very warm tint to it, which can leave hues somewhat muddled at times (particularly fleshtones). It doesn't help that the film is also very "misty," with lots of use of fog and filters, which casts a further bland pall over the proceedings. The image is still pretty sharp, and thankfully Warner has not overcompensated with intrusive edge enhancement (though I did notice slight halos at times). Likewise, the quality of the encode is excellent, with no obvious compression artifacts. 'Sorcerer's Stone' certainly doesn't deliver the kind of fantastic three-dimensional look of later installments, but it's still a nice step up over the standard-def DVD and a solid transfer in its own right.

Video score for this disc: 4 out of 5 stars.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The visual sheen of 'Chamber of Secrets' is a clear step up from 'Sorcerer's Stone,' with new director of photography John Seale infusing the film with a rich palette that takes centerstage in this high-def transfer.

Like 'Sorcerer's Stone,' there is some grain present as well as a bit of softness, but otherwise the source is in excellent shape. Gone is the misty-filtered look of the first film, replaced with an image that boasts noticeably better depth and clarity -- particularly in wider shots. Close-ups are also more textured, and although the film has a warmer look than later Harry Potter installments, it's much less bland than 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Fleshtones are also slightly improved, with faces no longer suffering from the muddy and undefined sheen of the original film.

Color reproduction is the most striking upgrade. Deeper tones have much more pop, particularly crimsons, blues, and the film's frequent use of a green motif. Thankfully, there is no downside to the heightened hues, with no chroma noise or bleeding evident at all. The encode itself is also in tip-top shape, with no apparent compression artifacts, nor any intrusive edge enhancement.

Video score for this disc: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

The third film in the series see more incremental improvements over the first two installments, and utterly thrashes its standard definition counterpart. In a side-by-side comparison, the DVD looks like a tattered relic of a forgotten era.

The high-def transfer renders Alfonso Cuaron's icy hues with the same richness and stability as his vibrant primaries. 'Prisoner of Azkaban' may be deprived of color more often than the first two 'Potter' flicks, but nicely saturated fleshtones and a comfortable contrast join forces to give the cinematography a natural appearance. I was most impressed by the film's day lit exteriors -- even when the kids step out in the dim light of overcast skies, the video quality is simply stunning, boasting sharp edges and plenty of jaw-dropping, three-dimensional imagery. Night shots and gloomy interiors are more filmic in nature (some might say a bit softer), but the picture still showcases plenty of crisp textures and intricate details that should keep the nitpickers at bay.

Better still, Warner has produced a clean transfer that doesn't suffer from any source noise, artifacting, or bothersome edge enhancement -- that's no small feat considering that the film is packed with rolling fog, gray skies, and copious amounts of CG. I did catch three instances of faint banding in the distance during particularly murky weather, but it didn't distract from the film's overall impact. All in all, 'Prisoner of Azkaban' boasts a great looking transfer that will appeal to fans and first-time viewers alike.

Video score for this disc: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

The hits just keep coming. Easily matching the quality of its predecessor, 'Goblet of Fire' offers up yet another incrementally better transfer.

Black levels are solid, colors are vibrant, texture detail is astounding, and the naturalistic CG creations are gorgeous. One look at a scene like Dumbledore's opening speech will leave you marveling at the tiny candles, the intricate weaving of the costumes, and the elemental detailing of rain, stars, and rocks.

The source is pristine -- there's no artifacting, noise, or problematic crush visible. Some of the film's more colorful CG effects look a bit more artificial in high-def than they do in standard definition, but I was surprised to find that other CG effects actually looked more believable. The horntail, the underwater squid creatures, and the exterior shots of the school have a big impact and inject a welcome earthiness into the illusion. Shots of Hogwarts look phenomenal (especially the long tracking shot leading to the Owlery tower) -- if you so desired, you could count every brick on every building.

Video score for this disc: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

'Order of the Phoenix' gets my vote as the best of an already-impressive bunch. Even with the startling number of reference-quality high-def titles I've reviewed in over the last month or so, 'Order of the Phoenix' easily stands tall, boasting a truly immaculate video presentation.

I've often used the term "picture window effect" in my reviews, but right from the film's opening sequence, 'Order of the Phoenix' takes the cake, boasting some of the most three-dimensional images I've yet seen on a next-gen title. This continues throughout the film, with the level of detail and depth to this Blu-ray disc truly fantastic. Sharp, resplendent in fine texture and perfectly balanced in terms of balance and contrast, 'Order of the Phoenix' is absolutely top tier.

Of course, any 'Harry Potter' film is one of fantasy, and as such it's clear throughout that we are in a surreal and vibrant world. Colors are pushed to the max of saturation, but they always stay one millimeter away from oversaturation. Hues remain rock solid and free of noise or other defects, so despite obvious skews in terms of color (blues and yellows are particularly accentuated), the presentation feels surprisingly natural. Warner has also done a terrific job with compression, and I had no problems with any artifacts -- no edge enhancement, macroblocking or banding (even in heavily CGI'd sequences). 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' is simply a stunner.

Video score for this disc: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Like the video, the audio configurations of the 'Harry Potter Years 1-5' box set also mirror the stand-alone Blu-ray versions. Each film receives an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (all 48kHz/16-bit), and the results are comparable to the Dolby TrueHD mixes found on the HD DVD versions. Although the sound design of five Harry Potter adventures are occasionally inconsistent in terms of impact, dynamics and use of surround, overall these are excellent presentations (particularly the later installments, which are absolutely first-rate).

(Once again I've included a separate score for each film below. The overall audio score for this box set was determined by averaging each of the individual scores.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I have to admit upfront to having some reservations with the sound design of 'Sorcerer's Stone.' As the least action-heavy film in the entire franchise, the film has always felt a bit too muted for my taste, and it certainly lacks the aggressiveness of the later installments.

Still, that's not to say that this isn't a lively mix when it wants to be. The many magical shenanigans often make very strong use of the rear channels -- brooms flutter, wands alight and all manner of discrete effects bounce around the soundfield. Imaging is excellent, with seamless pans and a heft to the surrounds that matches the fronts in terms of heft and depth. The wonderful score by John Williams is also very prominent and nicely bled throughout. It's the quieter passages that are too bland for me, with a muted quality to the rears that I felt could be improved.

All other aspects of the recording are up to snuff. Low bass is impressive, with many powerful moments for the subwoofer, and a sense of clarity and realness to the dynamic range that's first-rate. Dialogue is also nicely balanced with no volume matching problems. Williams' score is inviting, with even the most aggressive orchestral flourishes exhibiting a very warm and smooth sound. Aside from my issues with surround use, this PCM track is sure to please.

Audio score for this disc: 4 out of 5 stars


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This second chapter in the series nudges past 'Sorcerer's Stone' in the audio department, delivering another impressive mix that clearly benefits from the film's strong surround presence and sustained aggressiveness.

What's so much fun about the Harry Potter films from a sound design perspective is that the film's magical milieu is perfectly suited to audio gimmicks. With 'Chamber of Secrets,' the surrounds come alive with little attention paid to "realism," which is just how it should be. Discrete effects whiz by just for the fun of it, while more aggressive scenes often feature a true "wall of sound" effect (the Quidditch match and Harry's climactic descent into the Chamber of Secrets are just a couple of great examples). Sustained atmosphere is playful even in the film's quieter scenes, while John Williams' score is once again displayed to wonderful effect, with specific instruments effectively directed to individual channels in the mix.

Dynamics also hold up quite well -- perhaps even better than in 'Sorcerer's Stone.' Having watched both films back-to-back, I don't know if I just got used to all the British accents, but dialogue had a crisper and more pronounced feel, while the use of deep bass seemed even stronger during the Quidditch tournament. Balance is again superb, with all of the various elements in the mix (dialogue, effects and music) never fighting each other for dominance. Simply put, 'Chamber of Secrets' is a sonic thrill ride.

Audio score for this disc: 4 out of 5 stars


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

This Blu-ray version of 'Prisoner of Azkaban' features an aggressive mix that significantly enhances the effect of the story's dark tone. Although the film opens with a quiet reminder of Harry's home life, it quickly accelerates into an LFE-laden experience that instills every on-screen element with convincing weight. An impressive array of bass tones will give your subwoofer quite the workout -- I regularly marveled at the thunderous rumbles of moving stone, the heavy thooms of dark magic, and the powerful flap of winged creatures. At the other extreme, high-end screeches and squeals aren't hindered by peaking issues, while the tonal realism of the effects sent chills down my spine and allowed me to further immerse myself in the film's tense scenes.

Dialogue is crisp and well prioritized, leaving nothing to the imagination. The soundfield in this Blu-ray edition opens wider than it does on the standard DVD -- subtle effects are more apparent, ambiance is more defined, and channel movement is smoother. The environmental scenes benefit the most and I found myself constantly aware of extra effects that I could barely hear on the DVD. Countless multitudes of rustling leaves fill the forests, while land mines of snapping branches explode beneath stomping feet. Likewise, John Williams' beautiful score is released into the entire soundfield, with the strings swelling across the front channels and the brass trumpeting their arrival from every direction.

As it stands, the only thing that keeps 'Prisoner of Azkaban' from being a five-star audio release is that it falls just short of packing the same gut-punch of later installments. Still, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a personal nitpick I had with this track, which is that directionality can be slightly skewed at times. There are a dozen or so scenes where dialogue and other effects seem to lean into the left or right channels as the music reaches a crescendo. For example, listen closely to the scene where Ron is dragged beneath the Whomping Willow -- sounds that should come directly from the central channel are unevenly distributed to either side. It's a strange (if perhaps intentional) alteration that's likely to catch the ears of stringent audiophiles. Regardless, all things considered, this is a winning track all around.

Audio score for this disc: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

Once again things get incrementally better with 'Goblet of Fire,' with Harry's trials sounding more treacherous than ever.

It doesn't take a trained ear to notice the deep bass, crisp dialogue, and the other highly immersive qualities of this mix. The effects and music are nicely prioritized throughout each channel -- the rear speakers are brimming with activity, adding subtle ambiance to quiet scenes, and chaotic clutter to the more tense battle scenes. Even better, an aggressive LFE presence keeps the track dynamic with booming bass tones that hit me in the chest before my ears even registered the impact. Between the lush score, the constant barrage of magic blasts, and shouts from every character, the soundfield could easily be feel crowded, but the sound designers meld everything together as it should be and I never lost a line of dialogue -- even when characters were barely whispering. For a movie boasting such fantastical heights, the sound package helps to ground each effect so things are never reminiscent of an over-the-top video game.

In this case, the only thing that prevents me from granting 'Goblet of Fire' with a perfect score is a pesky leveling issue. In scenes like the horntail battle, everything rings at the same volume -- crashing rocks, flapping wings, and the roar of the dragon are blared from every channel. The effect is meant to stir the listener, but the increased response to the noise comes at the expense of authenticity. To be sure, this all-encompassing peak level isn't a technical fault -- I have no desire to hear things at their actual volume in comparison to dialogue -- but the end result in 'Goblet of Fire' feels a bit unimaginative. In other fantasy films like 'Lord of the Rings' and the 'Star Wars' prequels, the designers allow heavy moments to rest on the shoulders of the subwoofer so vibration provides as much impact as multi-channel volume. It's a minor nitpick to be sure, but it's still one that knocked this one down half a notch for me.

Audio score for this disc: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The crown jewel of this set, 'Order of the Phoenix' looks smashing, and it sounds just as good. This is the unequivocal perfect soundtrack of 'Harry Potter Years 1-5,' and the standard-bearer by which all the rest must be judged.

This track also happens to be the best sound design you're likely to hear on high-def this year -- it's bold, highly immersive and unflagging in its sustained aggressiveness. There are so many fantastic sequences that you can just pick a chapter for instant demo material (the film's final 45 minutes in particular are a true aural delight). The rear soundfield is alive throughout, with sounds bounding all around with a transparency that's as close to the movie theater as you're going to get. Minor ambiance is not ignored either, with quieter scenes boasting a palpable surround presence. Even a simple whoosh of Harry's wand is often accompanied by a delightful subtle wisp of sound in the rears.

All other aspects of the source are equally excellent. Integration of music, dialogue and effects is pitch-perfect. Even with so many younger actors (and their sometimes thick English accents), I made out every word without ever reaching for my remote's volume controls. The score (by Nicholas Hooper, subbing for John Williams) is also impressively dispersed, with the appropriate majestic quality. And although 'Order of the Phoenix' may not be the subwoofer juggernaut of a film like 'Transformers,' when bass is needed, believe me, you'll feel it. There is not one aspect of this mix that disappoints.

Audio score for this disc: 5 out of 5 stars.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

For 'Harry Potter Years 1-5,' Warner has repackaged the stand-alone Blu-ray versions of the five individual films in one beautiful box. Identical to the individual releases, each disc ports over most of the bonus features from the standard-def DVD versions (minus a few relatively inconsequential interactive games and other kid-friendly extras).

As an added bonus for those purchasing 'Years 1-5' (on all formats -- Blu-ray, HD DVD and standard DVD) Warner has also included two extra discs with additional features. The first disc compiles a wealth of material produced largely for television to promote the five films at the time of their original theatrical releases, while the second disc is one big interactive game. (Note that both bonus discs are standard DVDs, not Blu-ray.)

Before we get to the contents of the bonus discs, here's an overview of all the material you'll find on the movie platters themselves:

(Note that since this package includes value-added content beyond the five stand-alone releases, I've included our supplements scores for each of the five movie discs below, and have factored in the added content to arrive at our overall supplements score.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

  • Featurette: "Capturing the Stone" (SD, 16 minutes) - Shot on the set of 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,' this 2001 interview with director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Klove gives a pleasant overview of what went into adapting the novel and casting its characters, but there's nothing here that most Harry Potter fans haven't known for years now.
  • Additional Scenes (SD, 9 minutes) - There are seven scenes in all. As was the case with the previous DVD, there's no context provided, although fans of the book will of course recognize each scene's significance immediately. I didn't think any of these scenes stood out as particularly essential, especially since the film already runs a healthy 152 minutes.
  • Yearbook Character Clips (SD) - Perhaps the most useless feature on the old DVD, each clip is just a short montage of excerpts highlighting one of ten different characters, including Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Oliver Wood, Seamus Finnigan, Neville Longbottom, Percy Weasley, Madam Hooch and Filch Stone.
  • Around the World: Multi-Language Clip (SD) - A fun if frivolous feature, this presents a single scene from the film in eight different languages. Sure, it's cute to watch the Potter kids speaking in badly-dubbed voices, but is it really a good idea to teach young viewers that foreign dialects are inherently funny?
  • Lessons in Quidditch (SD, 3 minutes) - This was originally produced as a prize for playing an interactive game on the original DVD, and it comes off as a little odd in this context. In any case, it's just another montage of film clips intercut with tips on the fictional sport.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD) - Wrapping up this package are both the teaser and the full theatrical trailer for 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.' Unfortunately, both are presented in standard-def only.

Supplement score for this disc: 2 out of five stars.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • Featurette: "A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves"(SD, 16 minutes) - Making a welcome first appearance on a Potter disc, Rowling discusses some of the main plot points of 'Chamber of Secrets,' and gives Kloves some good-natured ribbing.
  • Featurette: "Building a Scene: Filmmaking Magic" (SD, 17 minutes) - Originally called "Dumbledore's Office" on the old DVD, this is a very nice look at the production design of 'Chamber of Secrets.' Although the title is a bit of a misnomer (we don't actual see any one single scene being built), this one's a kid-friendly introduction to the basics that go into the creating the sets, lighting and costumes for a film.
  • "Interviews with Students, Professors & More" (SD, 20 minutes) - Essentially a video Q&A, here you can click through a series of about a dozen questions posed to various cast members, and watch a short (usually around a minute) video answer to the query. Most are innocuous queries, so don't expect a great deal of depth. Participants include: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Tom Felton, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh and Jason Isaacs.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 18 minutes) - Much more substantial than the excised footage on 'Sorcerer's Stone,' these 18 scenes contain quite a wealth of character detail and even some cool cut effects scenes (including more Quidditch). It's impressive that Warner went to the trouble of having all of these scenes fully completed, matching the production values of the film itself.
  • "Year One at Hogwarts" (SD, 2 minutes) - This is simply a 2-minute recap of the first film -- as if anyone watching 'Chamber of Secrets' hasn't already seen 'Sorcerer's Stoe' ten times?
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD) - The film's original trailer, again in standard-def only.

Supplement score for this disc: 2.5 out of five stars.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

  • Shrunken Head Interviews (SD, 44 minutes) -- The meatiest of the supplements on this disc is also the best. Divided into seven segments (with an introduction and a play-all option), this segment features interviews with dozens of cast and crew members. Each group gives a fair amount of behind-the-scenes information that helps to create an impression of Cuarón's style, and his efforts to infuse the film with a darker tone. While the questions tend to focus on surface-level subjects, everyone is personable and keeps their answers casually directed at a more adult audience. The lone annoyances are the moderator and the lack of input from a couple of key players. (J.K. Rowling? Nope. Cuarón? No such luck.)
  • Creating the Vision (SD, 12 minutes) -- This pre-production featurette includes interviews with author J.K. Rowling, director Alfonso Cuarón, and various producers. The participants discuss the challenges in adapting a novel of this scope, the details of how the project originally came together, and allowing for a tonal shift without losing the visual and thematic connections to earlier 'Potter' films. Unfortunately, this one comes off as a brief promotional obligation, and certainly doesn't provide the level of in-depth information a commentary would have covered.
  • Conjuring a Scene (SD, 16 minutes) -- This is a decent series of quick-hit interviews exploring how the film's make-up and special effects teams that brought each character to life. My favorite bits were those that follow Gary Oldman as he discusses his transformation into Sirius Black.
  • Deleted Scenes (5 minutes) -- I've never read the "Harry Potter" books, so I'm probably overlooking some legitimate fan-service in this collection of standard cuts. I thought the scenes were interesting, but none offered anything of significance to the characters or the story.
  • Care of Magical Creatures (SD, 5 minutes) -- This is a quick jaunt into the world of the on-set animal trainer and his "crew." There isn't a lot of substance here, with the featurette aimed squarely at a younger audience.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD, 6 minutes) -- Standard definition trailers for 'Sorcerer's Stone,' 'Chamber of Secrets,' and 'Prisoner of Azkaban.'
  • Choir Practice (SD, 2 minutes) -- A brief choir-performance short that, believe it or not, offers a more superficial experience than watching the trailers.

Supplement score for this disc: 2 out of five stars.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (reviewed by Kenneth Brown)

  • Conversations with the Cast (HD, 31 minutes) -- This lone documentary is actually a lengthy fireside conversation with Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint hosted by Richard Curtis, the writer of 'Notting Hill' and 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.' While the last ten minutes is limited to simple wish fulfillment as contest-winning fans join the interview and ask the leads a few questions, the first twenty minutes is a strong discussion with each of the young actors. Watson speaks the most, Radcliffe seems shy but the most professional of the trio, while Grint largely sits on the sideline and agrees. I was amused by how much the actors resembled their characters in this regard, but the questions are top notch and the responses are thoughtful. It's also the only material presented in full 1080p and anamorphic widescreen.
  • Meet the Champions (SD, 13 minutes) -- This solid actor and character featurette is both funny and candid. It follows a typical morning for a supporting actor from the moment they wake up until they hit the set in full costume. Off-the-cuff interviews and fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes footage make this one an amusing watch.
  • Reflections on the Fourth Film -- (SD, 13 minutes) This featurette lightens the mood with a look back through the series that features plenty of footage of the actors when they were soft-faced children working on 'Sorcerer's Stone.' This one packs quite a lot under the hood as it allows the teens to look back at where they've come from. A fitting companion piece to Curtis's interview, it pulls the camera back into a wider view of the series as a whole.
  • He Who Must Not Be Named (SD, 11 minutes) -- This segment tracks an average day for actor Ralph Fiennes. The camera follows him from the make-up chair to the set as he crafts his focused portrayal of Voldemort. His comments and the design work for the character's look are engaging and push this featurette into a higher league.
  • Harry vs. the Horntail (SD, 6 minutes) -- This featurette covers the design and implementation of the CG dragon as well as the scene in which Potter battles it for a golden egg. This standard creature featurette is an easy watch, but it's somewhat burdened by the familiarity of its information.
  • In Too Deep (SD, 9 minutes) -- Much more interesting than its predecessor, this short details CG environment creation as it pertained to the aquatic challenge. It examines the combination of practical water-tank shots and a CG underwater world without ever getting numbingly technical.
  • The Maze (SD, 7 minutes) -- This quick hit is largely focused on practical effects and their ability to bring out more convincing reactions in the cast members. I was impressed to see that the living hedges were built to scale and controlled by hand, but again this presentation suffers from a been-there-done-that familiarity.
  • Preparing for the Yule Ball (SD, 9 minutes) -- An annoying, throw-away addition showcasing the family atmosphere and fun of the shoot. It never feels as if it has too much of a point and only serves as a glimpse at how much the teenage cast enjoyed their time on the film.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 10 minutes) -- This collection of eight, low-def cuts is a minor disappointment full of repetitive plot clarification, disjointed romantic interludes, and a horrid number of eye-rolling songs. The worst of the bunch is also the longest -- a scene in which an aging and awkward rock band plays at the Hogwarts dance. Straight out of a different film, it's both painful and hilarious at the same time. If this scene had been left in the film it would've brought my experience to a screeching halt.
  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes)

Supplement score for this disc: 2.5 out of five stars.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Note that the supplements on this fifth disc differ from those included on its HD DVD counterpart. First off, the features below are formatted in full high-definition on the Blu-ray only (the HD DVD gets only standard-def video). Secondly, both the standard-def DVD and the Blu-ray include a 44-minute TV special that has been been excised from the HD DVD.

  • TV Special: "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" (HD, 44 minutes) - This syndicated television special was produced to help prime the pump for 'Order of the Phoenix's theatrical release last summer. Unfortunately, it's pretty lousy -- at least half of the runtime is film clips, with the rest dominated by interviews with so-called Potter "scholars" who are mostly just writers of cash-in quickie books. Actual cast & crew of the Potter films only appear through brief EPK interview snippets. This is studio promotion at its most blatant. (Note: "The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter" is only included on the Blu-ray and standard DVD versions of 'Order of the Phoenix,' and not the HD DVD.)
  • Featurette: "Trailing Tonks" (HD, 19 minutes) - This one gets my vote for the best of the slim extras. Young actress Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks in the film) is our guide, providing an intimate tour of Leavesden Studios, the production home for all five of the Harry Potter films. It's often fascinating to see the inner-workings of the site of so many famous films, and as the diminutive Tena bounces around from set to set, we also get to visit fellow cast and crew, seen in a rare, relaxed light. Though Tena herself can be a bit annoying at times, this is a unique and rather excellent little extra.
  • Interactive Feature: "The Magic of Editing" (HD) - At first, this appears to be a standard featurette -- director David Yates and editor Mark Day offer a 5-minute introduction to the art of film editing, which is very basic and obviously geared towards the younger set. However, the feature then leads to an actual interactive editing session. Here, you can select different shots from a single scene, arrange them in your own order, and polish the sound. Again, it's basic, but rather fun, and I suspect teens especially will get a kick out of it.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 10 minutes) - This collection of odds and ends is edited together as one big lump. Sadly, most of the content is simply scene extensions or other run-on moments -- there are really no big cut scenes here for fans of the book. It's also worth nothing that very little of this material revolves around Harry or the other main characters; instead, it's dominated mostly by the older denizens of Hogwarts (including an impressive two-minute take of Emma Thompson going all-out in the name of slapstick comedy).

Supplement score for this disc: 1.5 out of five stars.


That's it for the standard extras on the stand-alone discs. Now, onto those bonus discs...

Harry Potter: Bonus DVD

A compilation of specials and other made-for-television material, I had a mixed reaction to this bonus disc. On the positive side, it's a nice addition for Harry Potter completists, who will of course want to own every last piece of Potter material. Having said that, the vast majority of these TV specials are entirely lame. I'm used to suffering through promotional EPKs that are just extended commercials, but some of these Harry Potter things are the worst offenders I've seen in a long time -- all plot recap, film clips, and bland on-set cast & crew interviews that reveal absolutely nothing we don't already know.

Again, as this bonus disc is a standard DVD and not a Blu-ray disc, all the material is presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only, and is formatted for 4:3 screens except where noted below. Language options include English Dolby 2.0 Stereo only, plus subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

  • "A Glimpse Into the World of Harry Potter" (SD, 12 Minutes) - This one sets the tone for all this fluff perfectly. Culled entirely from the same EPK interviews and footage already featured on the main 'Sorcerer's Stone' disc, there's precious little here that we haven't seen before.
  • "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets Revealed" (SD, 9 minutes) - Originally produced for HBO, this is one of the better specials on this set. The behind-the-scenes footage is better than most, and there are some cute interactions between the young cast members. But that's about it.
  • "Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban: Something Wicked This Way Comes" (SD, 12 minutes) - Another HBO First Look excerpt, this is just another basic introduction to the plot and characters of the film. The only highlight is a hideous-looking Emma Thompson, who seems to take her role quite seriously.
  • "The Making of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban" (SD, 13 minutes) - Produced for ABC, this is even worse than the HBO First Look on 'Azkaban.' It's entirely redundant plot recap. Yawn.
  • "Interview with Alfonso Cuaron" (SD, 8 minutes) - Finally, something besides film clips! This is still just a straightforward, one-on-one chat with Cuaron, but it's the closest we get to a commentary from the director in this box set. Note that this interview is entirely in Spanish, but subtitles are provided.
  • "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: Behind the Magic" (SD, 48 minutes) - Finally, something of substance! Leave it to the Brits to do Harry Potter right. Produced for ITV, this lengthy special goes beyond simple plot recap and earns the right to call itself a genuine documentary. A wealth of behind-the-scenes footage gives us a serious look at shooting the fourth film, including extensive material not already featured in the supplement package for 'Goblet of Fire.' Well worth a watch. (Formatted for 16:9 screens.)
  • "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: Some Animal Magic" (SD, 23 minutes) - This shorter ITV special is all about the various animals (both live and CGI) that the students of Hogwarts find themselves interacting with in 'Goblet of Fire.' It's very cute, but also informative. (Formatted for 16:9 screens.)
  • "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: Dark Matters, New Masters" (SD, 5 minutes) - We're back to the cheesy HBO fare. Nothing new here, and it can't hold a candle to the ITV material.
  • "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix: The Rebellion Begins" (SD, 5 minutes) - Again produced for ITV, this one is nowhere near the quality of the specials produced for 'Goblet of Fire,' and is far too reliant on the cast stating the obvious about their roles. Skippable.
  • "Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix: Fulfilling a Prophecy" (SD, 13 minutes) - The bonus disc ends with another HBO quickie, which is just another lame extended commercial.

Harry Potter Interactive Game: Hogwarts Challenge

The seventh and final disc in the set is one big interactive game. It's definitely geared towards the younger set, but it's quite complex in its own right -- I played around with it for a couple of hours, and still have plenty left to do before I'd even get close to solving all of its riddles.

In fact, the game is extensive enough that it comes with its own instruction manual in the box. The basic scenario is that you must complete three years at Hogwarts Academy. Once that is done, you move on to series of bonus challenges, and eventually on to the final Quidditch World Cup. Along the way, there are other games and activities that tie in to various elements of the films. Note that the game provides both single-player and multi-player modes (up to four players), plus Easy, Medium and Hard skill levels (or select the "Magic Wand" to let the disc randomly pick a skill level for you).

As for whether this game is good or not, let's start with the bad news. "Hogwarts Challenge" is certainly not a videogame in the classic sense. You don't move a character around, fire at things, or interact with any sort of real-time graphics. The game is entirely limited to the capabilities of the standard DVD format, meaning you only use simple remote controls (up, left, right, down, and enter) to navigate static menu pages with basic graphic elements. There are some film clips interspersed, but even here, the now-dated branching capabilities of the DVD format are painfully apparent, and access times are quite slow.

The good news is that for a DVD-based game, "Hogwarts Challenge" is relatively strong. The various challenges are quite diverse, and demand different skills. For example, in "Charms Class," you must master the art of timing button pushes on the remote, while the "3-D Explore" level will test your powers of perception as you move through different "rooms." Yes, this is all basic stuff, but at least it avoids the numbing sameness of so many DVD-based games.

It's also worth mentioning that if you're going to attempt "Hogwarts Challenge," you better bone up on your Harry Potter. I found myself lost at certain points because I forgot plot points required to complete the game. Still, I suspect that is what will make "Hogwarts Challenge" worth playing for any serious Harry Potter fan.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Although the HD DVD edition of this box set includes several high-def exclusives for 'Goblet of Fire' and 'Order of the Phoenix' (click here for an overview) unfortunately only one of those features have found their way to this Blu-ray edition. On the bright side, at least it's a good one...

(Once again I've averaged the scores from all five discs to arrive at a final overall score. Discs not containing any HD Extras earn zero stars.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • Focus Points (HD, 63 minutes) - This is a collection of approximately 28 vignettes (1-3 minutes each) that each explore into a specific aspect of the film's production, covering much of the effects, but also key characters, locations and story themes. Taken as a whole, these go a long way toward offering a true documentary, at least compared to the lame set of standard extras for this title. Also spiffy is that all of the Focus Points are presented entirely in 1080p/VC-1 video, and can be viewed on the Blu-ray as either stand-alone supplements or via the "Focus Points Viewing Mode," which allows you to seamlessly branch off to related vignettes as you watch the film in its entirely. (The HD DVD version also allows this option via its IME track.)

HD Bonus Content score for this disc: 2 out of 5 stars.


Final Thoughts

'Harry Potter Years 1-5' is one corker of a box set. Handsomely packaged with a bunch of collectibles, this one brings together five Blu-ray discs filled with great video and audio, plus a couple of bonus DVDs with even more content. My only real gripe is that the supplements included here just aren't that great -- for such a monumental pop culture phenomenon, I remain perplexed as to why the studio has not created a single commentary or a true documentary for any entry in the series (the closest thing are the two "IME" tracks included on the HD DVD edition, but those don't appear here). Still, this set certainly delivers on the bottom line and then some. Muggles rejoice!

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs/DVD-9 Dual-Layer Discs
  • Seven-Disc Set

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1
  • 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English PCM 5.1 Surround (48 kHz/16-Bit /4.6Mbps)
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Swedish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Flemmish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • Catalan Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • German Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Italian Subtitles
  • Swedish Subtitles
  • Japanese Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Dutch Subtitles
  • Finnish Subtitles
  • Danish Subtitles
  • Catalan Subtitles
  • Norwegian Subtitles

Supplements

  • Featurettes
  • TV Specials
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Interactive Games

Exclusive HD Content

  • Featurettes

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