Starting life way back in 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published, for the world’s most famous boy wizard it has been a long ride from page to screen. Now after 13 years of Harry Potter being the crux of pop culture, we are finally going to see it come to an end. The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowshas been split into an epic two parter, the first of which has now been released on Blu-Ray with the concluding chapter readying for July.
My relationship with the Harry Potter franchise is very mixed. I am a huge fan of the books. They are fantastic works of family fiction which significantly mature with each instalment matching the maturity of their first audience, which is my generation. The films I think do short change the majority of the books, I can’t stand the Chris Columbus movies and the Mike Newell film was too ornately composed and didn’t capture the true spirit of the book.
Alfonso Cuaron and David Yates were good things to happen to the franchise, they took the films into a more visually interesting territory and they got significantly better performances out of the younger actors than the other two directors. I had very high expectations of this film, due to the last film: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which I thought was the best so far. This first part of the epic finale has been getting very mixed critical reactions so far and I don’t understand why as this is far and away the best film of the franchise, and easily one of the year’s finest blockbusters.
It is a very interesting change in tone for the Potter films, they have finally managed to make the whole world very threatening. The sense of impending doom and tragedy is very well established, you can feel the desparation oozing from both the performances and the atmosphere established by Yates. There is plenty of moody, expressionist lighting and between scenes we hear over a magical radio that wizards and Hogwarts pupils are being found dead. There are also a select group of Voldemort’s Death Eaters hunting for stray underage wizards, in an effort to find Harry. Everything is significantly more tense.
The film is also more scary and intense than before. The horror will terrify most young kids and I like that, it holds no prisoners. Yates is allowed to go where he wants with it, even allowing him to refer to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in a Ministry of Magic chase set piece. And the opening meeting between Voldemort and his minions which sees a body limp and hanging over the long table eerily recalls The Exorcist.
Read the rest of our theatrical review here.
For a studio movie, a release like this has no reason to have a less than satisfactory transfer or dull sound. Thankfully Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 gets a wonderful looking transfer that matches the beautifully dark cinematography. For a film that looks like this, heavy blacks and a lot of shadow, the tones need to be right and they just about are. The film is dark but it isn’t hard to watch, it’s not a dull image just a heavily black image. Blu-Ray has always been good for coping with blacks, much better than DVD, and here there isn’t a flaw in sight. Same goes for the complex sound design, Desplat’s robust score sounds magnificent and as a score will hold up better than Williams’ and was far more deserving of an Oscar nomination than his work on The King’s Speech was. The rest of the intricate sound design is very well balanced and is flawless.
As for extras we get these materials:
- Maximum Movie Mode: Join host Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) and several walk-on cast & crew guests to unravel the mysteries of the Dark Lord’s past and discover the keys to his defeat before it is too late!
- Focus Points:
- The Last Days of Privet Drive
- Hagrid’s Motorbike
- Amazing (or) Magical Tents!
- Deatheaters attack Cafe
- Creating Dobby and Kreacher
- Godric’s Hollow
- The Harry And Nagini Battle
- The Frozen Lake
- The Return of Griphook
- On the Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James
- The Seven Harry’s
- Dan, Rupert, and Emma’s Running Competition
- Additional Scenes
- WaterTower Music HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1: Behind The Soundtrack
I’m beginning to warm up to the Warner Bros Blu-Ray tradition of Maximum Movie Mode, it essentially works as a picture in picture commentary where members of the cast and crew help explain how the film was made. It’s a neat trick and uses Blu-Ray in order to pause the film and go into some details. It also allows you to branch off into the Focus Points listed above when the appropriate point comes in the film. These focus points also can be viewed separately and together they work as part making of, part commentary. Some films don’t use it to its full potential (I’m looking at you Inception).
The second disc of features is a little more light hearted fare but none the less pretty entertaining stuff. The additional scenes are interesting for fans of the book who get to see some of the scenes that got cut, including Harry’s goodbye to the Dursleys. The Seven Potters featurette takes a look at how the visual effects folks went about creating the scene where a bunch of characters drink Polyjuice Potion and all become an imitation of Harry. It’s a good mix but there is nothing here that would usually support a whole second disc. The Blu-Ray release also includes a digital copy.
All in all if you’re a Potter fan this is clearly going to be a release you’re going to buy. If you’re a non Potter fan and seen none of the films then there is no point getting this, you’ll be lost. On its own terms the film is far and away the best of all the Potter films, it is the first film that perfectly captures the tone of the novels and I never sat there wishing they hadn’t cut certain things out. Of course it is an incomplete film and without the 2nd part you cannot judge it fully. As it stands, this is terrific and if Part 2 is anything like this, together Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be one of the finest family fantasy films in years.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is fantastic family entertainment that looks and sounds great on Blu-Ray. We get great central performances from the 3 leads and this is the best film of the Potter franchise so far.