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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Ultimate Edition

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted December 06 2009 - 04:21 PM

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Ultimate Edition

Release Date: December 8, 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2002
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2:41:00 (theatrical) / 2:54:00 (extended)
MSRP: $49.99

1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 Partially 1080i or 1080p high definition;
partially 480i or 480p standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 6.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1 EX, Spanish 5.1 EX, Portuguese 5.1 EX (theatrical);
DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Spanish 5.1, Portuguese 5.1 (extended)
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese (select bonus material)

Note: This review includes content from my review of the "Harry Potter Limited Edition Collection: Years 1-5" on Blu-ray.

The Feature: 3.5/5

Coming directly off the heels of "Sorcerer's Stone," "Chamber of Secrets" ups the ante across all areas - the production design is richer and more intricate, the cinematography more deeply dramatic, and the script more focused (despite the film being the longest so far). The three principal actors also seem to be growing more comfortable with their characters and with the work in general. Though not the best film of the series, like the novel on which it's based, it is surprisingly good when it probably could have gotten away with just doing more of the same.

The Ultimate Edition includes the theatrical and an extended version of the film. The latter adds 13 minutes to the run time, reinstating the scenes that were first made available on the DVD release (and which are available for viewing in two locations in this edition's extras). The additional footage doesn't add much to the film as a whole (and in some cases seems redundant), but those wanting more of the Harry Potter universe actualized on screen will probably be pleased.

Video Quality: 4.5/5

The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. Black levels and contrast are more consistent compared to the previous film and the improved cinematography is shown off to great effect, especially in the moody torch-lit hallways and classrooms. Some shots still seem to suffer from flattened contrast and a few daytime scenes look a touch hot, though colors are generally deeper and richer, resulting in a greater "wow" factor. Fine object detail also shows an improvement, highlighting the exceptional work done on the sets and props filling scenes like the Weasely home, not to mention the usual benefactors - particulate matter like dirt, sand and snow flakes.

Audio Quality: 4.5/5

The Ultimate Edition switches to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio from the uncompressed PCM of the previous release. As before, the film utilizes more atmospheric effects, giving the viewing experience added texture and immersive qualities, the Quidditch match showing exactly how much. Though the set piece is shorter compared to the one in the previous film, the match is more exciting, much of it due to the aggressive activity across the speaker array. LFE also seems to be used more, though some of it has to do with the type of action taking place - giant snakes demanding that sort of thing more than flying keys or disembodied wizards.

Special Features: 4.5/5

The most notable additions to the special features package are the hour-long "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentary, part two of eight to be released with each Ultimate Edition, and the In-Movie Experience picture-in-picture commentary. Overall the special features package includes items with a little more substance compared to the "Sorcerer's Stone" release, though some are still obviously geared to children. Though the activities are put in their own section rather than integrated into the menu interface, accessing some extras still requires completing tasks first. As with the previous Ultimate Edition, this release reinstates items like the concept art that were first available on the DVD but then left off the 2005 BD.

Disc-Based Extras

Disc One

In-Movie Experience: The picture-in-picture video commentary feature incorporates still image galleries, storyboard comparisons, behind-the-scenes footage, and director Chris Columbus explaining technical and logistical challenges of numerous scenes. Though there is not a separate way to access the storyboards and image galleries, it does allow the viewer to skip to the next commentary segment without having to sit through the entirety of the film. It's an improvement to the accessibility issues but still not a perfect solution.

BD-Live: Includes a streaming trailer and information about two BD-Live events on December 7th and December 12th. December 7th is a preview of the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and December 12th is a live community screening of "Half Blood Prince" with Daniel Radcliffe and David Yates. Go to www.harrypotter.com/blu-ray for more information.

Disc Two

Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 2: Characters (1:20:03, HD): The second installment begins and ends with the experience and development of the three main actors, from their total lack of experience when the franchise began to where they are now as seasoned professionals. In between these topical bookends, the documentary addresses practically every character from the first six films, usually with recollections and analysis from the actors who played them. Though the piece uses a fair amount of previously produced material, a nice organic flow to the narrative and enough recent interview footage keeps it from feeling like just a re-purposed set of clips. Though there aren't necessarily any fresh insights, it makes a pretty familiar topic feel surprisingly unexplored.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Revealed (13:02, SD): The HBO "First Look" promotional special from 2002 hits the requisite topics of story and characters.

Teaser Trailer (2:06, SD)

Theatrical Trailer (2:11, HD)

TV Spots (9:01, SD): Seventeen commercials made for television.

Screen Tests of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (11:53, HD): First screen tests of the actors, as featured in Part One of the "Creating the World..." documentary. Radcliffe's solo test runs 7:57 and the test with the trio runs 3:55.

Deleted Scenes (17:02, HD): Nineteen scenes, the same as those found on Disc Three.

Disc Three

Additional Scenes (16:25, SD): Nineteen scenes total.

Spellcaster Knowledge: Answer trivia about the various spells cast in the film.

Lockhart's Classroom (1:28, SD): A guided tour of various items in Lockhart's classroom, including his photos, awards and certificates, and his collected works.

A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves (16:09, SD): Rowling and Kloves talk about adapting the novels to film, differences between the two mediums and their feelings about how "Chamber of Secrets" turned out.

Dumbledore's Office: Take a walk-around tour of the office set or "build a scene," which leads to a documentary (17:20, SD) that gives an overview of film production, including production design, set decoration, props, visual effects, cinematography, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and post-production.

Interviews with Students (8:43, SD): The child actors answer various questions, including the evolution of their characters, how they've developed as actors and experiences on set.

Interviews with Professors and More (10:35, SD): The adult actors talk about their respective characters.

Gallery of Production Sketches: Eighteen sets of sketches showing various treatments of the characters and scenes.

Activities (SD): Includes the Chamber Challenge (answer trivia), the Forbidden Forest Challenge (test your reflexes), Colin's Darkroom (create a photo slideshow), and a walk-around tour of Diagon Alley.

Game Preview: Watch various clips from the "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" video game from Electronic Arts.

Disc Four

Digital Copy: Download a digital file of the theatrical version for playback on a computer or portable device. Compatible with Mac and Windows.

Packaging and Physical Items

"Creating the Characters of Harry Potter" Book: The second of eight books, which serve as companion items to the eight-part documentary, includes photos and concept drawings of the characters up to the "The Half-Blood Prince."

Collector Cards: Two heavy, oversized (4" X 6") trading cards feature Rubeus Hagrid and Severus Snape.

Packaging: The two Blu-ray discs and special features DVD come in a quad-fold digpack case; the digital copy disc and trading cards are kept in an envelope-like container made of cardstock. The digipack case, the cardstock container and the companion book all slide into a sturdy cardboard case with hinged cover and magnetic closure. The cardboard case is printed and embossed like a hardbound book and looks quite handsome on the shelf. There's a slipcover for the case, but it's flashier and more commercial in its style as it also serves as the retail packaging for the release. Those wanting a bit of dust and damage protection might want to keep it on despite its less distinguished appearance.

Recap and Recommendation

The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3/5

The In-Movie Experience is engaging, the second part of the documentary is entertaining, the book and trading cards are nice, and the construction and design of the packaging is first rate, but will the Ultimate Edition appeal to anyone except the most devoted Harry Potter fan wanting every extra ever created (up to now)? I'm doubtful, especially for casual fans who already own one of the previous BD releases. For them I'd say what they already have is sufficient, whether the single-BD release or the Limited Edition BD boxed set. For those yet to purchase the title (which I imagine aren't many) the Ultimate Edition makes for a nice package, but individuals will have to figure out for themselves how much more they are willing to pay for it. Currently, the Ultimate Edition is priced about $15 more than the standard single-disc BD. Probably worth it if the extras will be revisited, but if not, that $15 can buy a whole other BD title that is certain to be watched again (perhaps another Potter film?). Given the choice, I imagine many will opt for the standard BD edition, making this Ultimate Edition only for the most ultimate of Potter fans.

#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Southpaw


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Posted December 08 2009 - 01:12 AM

Quick question Cameron - 

To view the new documentary (part 1 on SS and part 2 here), do you need to have watched the rest of the films? I mean, are there any spoilers revealed that take place in the later films?

#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted December 08 2009 - 02:22 AM

The second docu would have lots of spoilers. I think the entire docu series assumes you have seen all the films or at least read all the books.