Watching the first Harry Potter film again, I find myself coming to the conclusion that Chris Columbus was the perfect director for this material. Yeah, maybe he got weighed down in the second film, and it doesn’t hold up as well as the rest of the run (it is the worst of the series to date) that was also the case with the book. What Columbus brought was the nuts and bolts and got the child actors to deliver enough to suggest that they could handle the rest of the franchise. On that he delivered. My review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Ultimate Edition after the jump
What Columbus did that was so important was that he broke in the cast. Though the kids range from being okay to pretty good, for the most part they are engaging, and though at this late date it’s hard to separate them from their characters, they were well cast. Daniel Radcliffe is the spitting image of the book’s covers, and he does a fine job with the role. Rupert Grint is probably the weakest link, but he manages his own, while it’s weird how Emma Watson has both grown into the role and her looks. To be fair, they uglied her up a bit in the first film.
The premise is that Harry Potter has lived among normal people all his life (muggles) and once he hits 11, he’s invited to a private boarding school for wizards called Hogwarts. So much fiction that’s followed has drawn much from this blueprint. Harry is – unbeknownst to him – the most famous wizard in the land because he defeated Voldemort, he who must not be named, who’s the witch version of Hitler. But this is all news to Harry. In school he makes friends with Hermione Granger (Watson) and Ron Weasley (Grint), and finds an enemy in Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton). Oh, and there’s the staff, with Richard Harris as Professor Albus Dumbledore, and Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, and Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. There’s the new Professor of dark arts, here played by Ian Hart, and there’s a mystery involving the Sorcerer’s stone, but that’s a small part of the film.
Instead, Columbus concerns himself with world building and getting the framework for the story down, so we get the school, the nearby forest, playing Quidditch, and all the things that would become familiar in the series (Gringotts, the paintings, the number of hidden rooms in Hogwarts, etc. etc.) It’s a fairly lazy film in that it just lets you hang out in the world and settle in, and it’s leisurely at that as it runs around two and a half hours. But, as the opening, the introduction to this world, it’s a fine piece of relaxed filmmaking with competent enough children’s performances. It was a ground setter, and the ground is now fairly solid.
The Ultimate edition Blu-ray belies the problem with collecting. This threatens to be the last word. Is it? Who knows? The Blu-ray set comes with four discs, including a digital copy. The first disc offers the film in the theatrical version, and the extended edition cut, which adds seven minutes of cut scenes (running 158 min.). Nothing all that exceptional was put into it, though. The theatrical cut comes with the In Movie Experience, which offers comments from director Chris Columbus, storyboards and still galleries. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS-HD, and the transfer is immaculate.
Disc two offers an intro by Daniel Radcliffe (2 min.) from the set of the seventh film, and then the main addendum to the Blu-ray experience: “Creating the world of Harry Potter Part 1: The Magic Begins” (63 min.). This behind the scene piece offers a retrospective look at how the franchise took shape with interviews with much of the cast and crew – some from period, many new to this set. Then there’s a 2001 TV special (9 min.), seven deleted scenes (10 min.), three trailers, and fifteen TV spots (8 min.). Disc three replicates the disc two from the original DVD Release, where you can visit three of the featured stores in the film, get a guided tour of Hogwarts, interviews with producer David Heyman, director Chris Columbus, writer Steve Kloves, and production designer Stuart Craig (16 min.), and other odds and ends. This set also comes with a collectable booklet, and two cards featuring two of the stars of the universe (in this case Potter and McGonagall). Likely there will be sixteen cards when all is said and done. Will there be a cheaper box set? Is this a naked cash crab? IF you haven’t updated the first two to Blu, this doesn’t seem a bad way to go.