HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE Ultimate Edition Blu-ray Reviews

     June 25, 2011

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Warner Brothers has attempted to create ultimate editions for the films in the Harry Potter franchise to tie into the final title in the series – which opens this summer. The problem is that this made more sense for the early films, as those DVDs and those supplements were nearly a decade old – new transfers and new insight could be had. With the Ultimate editions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince both were done after the inception of Blu-ray, and already had fairly elaborate special editions. These ultimate editions are for fans and completists. Daniel Radcliffe, Michale Gambon, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, and Emma Watson all return in the series fifth and sixth installments. My review of the Ultimate edition Blu-rays of Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince follow after the jump.

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-imageOrder of the Phoenix was the first film in the franchise entrusted to David Yates. And though the division of the final book into two halves may have robbed the series of a trilogy feel, Order of the Phoenix does feel like the moment franchise becomes locked in to the conclusion – everything after is forward motion. Indeed, looking at the franchise again the first three films are mostly set-up with Goblet of Fire the moment – at the end – where the everything starts coming into focus. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is a real threat, and the games are over.

Like J.R.R. Tolkien, author J.K. Rowlings was influenced (especially as a Brit) with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. With Order of the Phoenix, censorship and sedition begin to show their hands. Censorship is shown in the rise to power of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who takes over Hogwarts from Dumbeldore through thousands of tiny little cuts. Sedition is shown in how the students deal with this, by breaking the rules, and by joining Dumbledore’s army – which is taught by Harry Potter (Radcliffe).

The series slows down a lot in this to let the characters go through the melodrama of teen years. Harry’s romance with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) after the death of her boyfriend (some say at the hands of Potter) is strong in it’s mixed emotions for both, and the film hints strongly at Ron (Grint) and Hermoine (Watson) eventually falling in love.

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-movie-image-2Director David Yates was not a well-known talent beforehand, but his command here of the scale and the characters is top notch, and the weight of what the characters are going through – a world on the precipice of war – is deeply felt. To that end, I really wish they hadn’t broken Deathly Hollows into two movies (though I may regret saying that when I see the final chapter), because five six and seven really do fit together, and trilogy has a better ring to it. But this is an impressive work. Giving the film a rewatch, I was struck by how involved I was – perhaps because I was all too aware the series is coming to an end. But how things add up here is now all the more evident.

The New Blu-ray has the same focus points as last time, and it seems to be the exact same transfer. Saves time. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround – previously the soundtrack was just 5.1 PCM, so if you’ve got a top of the line receiver you might notice a slight difference (though probably not). There are 28 focus points, which can be played with the movie (63 min.), and can be watched out of the movie, though Daniel Radcliffe hosts the “in movie experience.”

Disc two also has the same nine deleted scenes (11 min.), making of’s “Behind the Magic” (SD, 47 min.). “Building the Magic: Behind the Sets of Harry Potter” (20 min.) “The Rebellion Begins” (23 min.), “Fulfilling a Prophecy” (13 min.), “Trailing Tonks” (19 min.), “The Magic of Editing” and the same two trailers.

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-prince-image-1All then that’s new here on the second disc is “Evolution” (57 min.), which offers more perspective than the original supplements, but this is also a 2007 film. Since most everyone is done making the films, there is some new insights to be had. The package also comes with a digital download of the film, a behind the scenes booklet, and two trading cards.

In the sixth film, Harry Potter (Radcliffe) has grown up and is almost nearly on his own. He’s dealing with the aftermath of the last film’s mess, he doesn’t really live at home any more, and is joined by Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in recruiting the latest potions professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). Potter is able to entice Horace, and all return to Hogwarts for what could be Harry’s final year as the war approaches. Things are heating up, and Dumbledore is gone more and more, while the relationship between Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) grows between both of them, as they partly deny interest but both see themselves dating other people. Harry is not left out of the dating rituals as the film suggests that Harry Potter and Gunny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) get their hump on.

One of the great things about such an elongated series is also one of its negatives. You have people like Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith and Timothy Spall showing up for the briefest of bits. That said, more isn’t necessary, and at this point the tapestry of characters is rich and relationships are defined. And after Order of the Phoenix, David Yates upped his game. This feels like the most lived in and confident of the sequels in the sense that he keeps hitting mature notes that play well with the characters. Yes, both David Newell and Alfonso Cuaraon elevated the game, but here it no longer feels like the playtime and adventure of the earlier entries, and the film ends on a funeral for an important character, while trusts are betrayedin ways that will lead to even more violence. The cast knows what they’re doing, and it’s been fun to see the ensemble return, grow and get older, partly because they have the bedrocks of talent like Alan Richman’s delicious Snape, who has always been leading to what should be the killer scene in the final film of the series.

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-prince-movie-image-2Again, there’s not much difference here. The film is widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround (it used to be True-HD, it seems WB switched brands). A digital copy, booklet, and trading cards are also included here. On the first disc there’s the maximum movie mode which offers PIP commentary and photo and storyboard galleries, with fourteen branching points (38 min.) covering important sequences like two of the kissing scenes. New soundtrack, otherwise, same disc.

Disc two repeats a “J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life” (50 min.), a TV doc that appears to be thrown on the set, “Close Up with the Cast of Harry Potter” (29 min.) which talks to the main stars, like the three leads, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and Neville Longbottom (Mathew Lewis). One Minute Drills (7 min.) has James and Oliver Phelps (the Weasley twins), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), and Emma Watson (Miss Granger) telling what their characters have been throw at this point. “What’s on Your Mind?” (7 min.) is trivia for the cast hosted by Tom Felton. “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” (12 min.) is a sneak peak at the Universal Orlando resort ride, and a first look at the new Harry Potter (2 min.).  Rounding out the old supplements are eight additional scenes (7 min.).

New here are the five Interstitials (must have been done for TV showings of earlier films), four trailers, and two new featurettes. There’s a behind the scenes TV documentary (47 min.), and the new “looking back” featurette “Creating the Magic” (64 min.), which focuses on the integration of magic into the world of Harry Potter. It’s nice that this one has a little more. But again, for these last two films, the need to upgrade to this box will likely be more for the super-fan. But as fan service goes, this is good.

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