Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone Studio: Warner Brothers Year: 2001 Rated: PG Film Length: 152 minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Let the magic begin One of last year's biggest film successes came in the form of the big screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's bestseller, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone. Dedicated Potter fans everywhere were delighted with the film's devotion to the book, making the film a $320 million box-office hit. The film begins with a Wizard Dumbledore (Richard Harris), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) and Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane)leaving a small baby at the doorstep of a Human home. This is no ordinary baby, as he bears a very special mark on his forehead. The baby's name is Harry Potter. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) will spend the next 11 years of his life with a family that doesn't love him, abuses him, and makes him sleep in a cupboard below the stairs. As Harry reaches nearer to his 11th birthday, he realizes that he is not ordinary. He has magical powers that abruptly appear whenever he feels angered or scared. Though he may not understand who or what he is, the day comes when magic visits him. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, an invitation is brought to Harry's home. Though his Aunt and Uncle do all they can to make sure Harry never reads that invitation, the powers of magic prevail. Harry Potter takes an incredible journey to Hogwarts, School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. It is there that he meets Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), who become Harry's closest friends. Both Hermoine and Ron possess their own special powers. It is these three special first-year Wizards that embark on the adventure of their lives at Hogwarts. Harry Comes to DVD On May 28th, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone comes to DVD in a very special 2-disc Special Edition. The DVDs arrive in a cardboard slipcase with its contents pulling out into a 4-pane gatefold that contains chapter stops, a description of the extra contents you can access (complete with photos), and most of all, two DVDs sitting in plastic hub housing. I must say that I was pretty impressed with the overall packaging How is the transfer? To break the news gently, I was slightly unhappy with the transfer of this film. Though I remember the film was somewhat grainy in theaters, this transfer is plagued with a hint of video noise which is most evident at the very beginning of the film where we meet Harry's family. Though the video is razor sharp, you can see the noise on the walls and furniture. As the camera pans outside Harry's muggle neighborhood, you can see the roofs of the houses giving off bits of shimmer. I was surprised that the transfer actually looks better during most of the film's latter darker scenes, as the day lit scenes expose more of the video noise. The film doesn't look horrific by any means, but like a pebble that rolls around in your shoe, once you know the noise is there, you immediately notice it everywhere. The sharpness of the transfer makes the colors look very vibrant, but a little too sharp. Flesh tones tend to look more red than natural. As the film moves from the world of muggles to the world of Hogwarts, the transfer does become much better. Certainly I think there is slight room for improvement in this transfer from a studio that has been putting out some of the best DVD transfers to date. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is very full-bodied. The entire sound field remains very active, with terrific use of the rears in not only accenting John William's score, but amplifying the wonderful effects of the film. Whether it be the sounds of owls swooping from front to back delivering letters, or the sounds of people shopping in Diagon Alley, or even the echoing sounds from within a train station, the rears make good use of the supplemental action. Of course, the best sonic experiences come during some of the movie's best magical moments. These moments include Hagrid visiting the Potter family on an isolated island, with sheets of rain surrounding the viewing area. The LFE channel bursts into action as heavy thunderous bass accents Hagrid's pounding knocks on the front door. The Quiddich match sports demo-quality audio as broomsticks fly in and out of rear channels as they chase the small "snitch" ball. There is a distinctive sense of direction to this soundtrack that I usually only sense with DTS tracks. I am happy that the Dolby Digital audio did not dull this great sonic experience. Another one of my favorite audio moments comes when Harry must use his broom to catch a flying key amongst thousands of other keys that hover above his head. The audio gives a terrific sense of the keys seemingly flying across the viewing sound field. I think that viewers will be very impressed by the robust and active soundtrack on this DVD, not necessarily minding the absence of a DTS track. Special Features The disc begins with a wonderful animated sequence that begins with the Warner Brothers logo erupting into a sky full of owls. We cruise along the clouds as scene segments appear one after another. The animation ceases with a picture of Hogwarts and the menu selections listed to the left. Disc One holds the full-length film with a limited set of additional features that include a list of Cast and Crew (with no extended filmographies), the film's Teaser Trailer as well as the Original Theatrical Trailer. Disc Two begins with animation that takes you across the water, into the isle where Hogwarts sits. As heavy doors open, you enter the great hall. A narrative voice welcomes you, suggesting you take a look around and warning you to stay away from the 3rd floor corridor. Seven selections await your remote control selection. Welcome to Diagon Alley...well, not just yet. In order to enter, you must remember the proper sequence of moving the bricks that guard its entrance. No big deal if you forget, as the narrator has a nasty habit of slipping answers out. Once inside, you have the option of clicking on the various merchant signs that allow you to withdraw money, buy a wand and perhaps an owl. In order to do all this, the viewer must properly complete these chores in accurate sequence. This involves having to find the key to withdraw money from Gringott's bank in order to make the needed purchases. There's some fun selecting your wand from the wand shop -- a wrong selection causes great havoc. Select Sorting Hat and learn a little about the different houses that make up Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. This is a fairly simple little ditty where you click on individual house banners to hear the narrator give a 10-second description of each. Interviews brings us to the documnentary, Capturing The Stone: A Conversation with the Filmmakers. Meet Producer David Heyman, Screenwriter Steve Kloves and Director Christopher Columbus who talk about how the original concept of the 'Potter' film was to combine all three books into one film. While it would have been an easy task to put the best action scenes from all three books into one film, Producer Heyman had Columbus promise him that he would be faithful to the one book, which is exactly how he and Steve Kloves began the project. The biggest challenge was recreating the images that author J.K. Rowling so vividly brings out to her readers. Production Designer Stuart Craig talks about the building of the 1,000 year-old Hogwarts both inside and out. We ever so quickly get brief glimpses of not only the movie sets, but production models as well. A quick peek at the set where the film's big chess game takes place with life-sized pieces, is pretty amazing to see, though very brief. How do you make an owl deliver mail? You'll see it! The filmmakers talk about selecting the three kids (Daniel, Rupert, Emma) and how well they screen tested together, yet we never see the screen test. While there some footage of off-screen play with the cast, the whole problem with this 16-minute documentary is that it just glosses over everything way too fast. We never really see how the Quiddich match was filmed or any insight into the effects work. We never see enough of the set designs or even the sets themselves. There's only brief glimpses of behind-the-camera action. It's interesting that kids probably will be bored by this documentary, while the adults who are willing to watch it will feel shortchanged. In order to access Classes, you need first to go to Diagon Alley and buy the correct wand. This can be a real nuisance if you are not looking through the supplements in one sitting as there is no way to save the items you gathered in previous visits. Once inside, you can click on the many sections that give you more insight into Hogwarts Faculty: Professor McGonagall, Severus Snape and Filius Flitwick. If you correctly collect all the clues, you gain access to the 3rd Corridor. You should have no problem finding your way to the secret corridor (feel around the menu), but once inside I became frustrated after several attempts of trying to select the correct flying Key. I just gave up as the disc locks up with every wrong answer, making you go back and recollect all the needed items again. I do know that once you gain access to the 3rd Corridor, there are brand new never-before-scenes to see. To be honest, I just don't feel like working this hard to have to watch Special Edition content that is not readily available. Click on Tour and get an in-depth iPIX tour of Hogwarts including the Great Hall and The Gryffindor Common. Your remote buttons move you forward and back as you seemingly walk through the rooms themselves. Click on Hogwarts Grounds and catch the snitch to learn more about it. Click on the Quiddich balls in the case to have a scene from the movie played that describes the game itself. Barely interesting for anyone but kids. The Library is full of books, and by clicking on a selected few they reveal such goodies as cast clips, clues to solving the 3rd corridor mystery, as well as a still gallery filled with concept photos. Nothing overly interesting here for adults. There is extensive DVD-ROM material that includes Voice technology that enables users to navigate through the disc using ONLY their voice; a personalized iPIX tour of Hogwarts, navigating through it in real time; Downloadable screensavers and remembralls; Two game demos; Trade electronic wizard cards with other members over the internet. Final Thoughts This DVD was made completely for kids and with hardly anything of interest for adults. Any real in-depth material on the making of the film and its effects are glossed over so quickly that if dare blink, you miss it all. Kids, on the other hand, will probably have a good time playing with the remote for an hour or so exploring all the little goodies that are hidden in the Special Feature areas. Certainly they will have more patience than this adult in trying to collect clues and wares in order to see the bonus never-before-scenes. It's hard for me to rave about this DVD. The transfer quality is uneven -- especially in the first 15 minutes of the film. The Special Features are a total waste of time for anyone but kids. The one reason you should be buying this DVD is because it is, after all, Harry Potter.