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(Wide Screen Edition)

When the Harry Potter books became a phenomenon, I had no idea what all the fuss was about. Heck, I had no intention of ever reading the children’s books, that is, until a very good friend of mine, who is a school teacher, said that I would love them. On her recommendation, I picked up the set of Harry Potter books in a discount warehouse club, but they wound up sitting on my bookshelf for many months. However, when the publicity storm attached to the first Harry Potter movie began assaulting from all sides, I decided the time had come to read book number one. Instantly, I was enchanted with the story of young wizard Harry Potter, and I wound up devouring all four of the available books in a very short timeframe.

As you might expect, I anticipated the theatrical release of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE ($27) like any other voracious fan and ran out to see it almost immediately. The movie version of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is a very accurate rendering of J.K. Rowling’s novel. Very little of the book is either left out or condensed, which accounts for the lengthy running time of over two and a half hours. The pacing drags in spots, but otherwise the film is a genuine delight, and doubt that the kids will notice the slow moments. As far as fantasy films go, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is certainly one of the best genre offerings to come this way in a long time. I love the whimsical qualities of the story, as well as the darker aspects, which the film does not shy away from. For this reason, it is understandable as to why the movie of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE has been compared to the film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Both films have a larger than life magical quality that appeals to both children and adults, without the sugar coating that quickly sickens more mature audience members.

For those unfamiliar with HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, in either book or cinematic form, the plot concerns an orphaned boy named Harry Potter, who lives with his mean spirited aunt and uncle, as well as their hopelessly spoiled son. Eleven-year-old Harry’s rather beaten down existence is forever changed when he discovers he is from a magical lineage, and has been accepted to Hogwarts’ School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. Upon entering the magical world, Harry quickly learns that he is something of a celebrity, due to the incident that left him orphaned and marked with a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead. During the course of his first year at Hogwarts, Harry not only learns the ways of wizardry, he also makes both friends and enemies alike, as well as and unlocking some of the dire secrets that robbed him of his parents. The first year at Hogwarts also give Harry the opportunity to play the wizarding sport of Quidditch, and face up to the powers of darkness in an adventure worthy of any full-grown wizard.

As a film, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE benefits from having a wonderful cast that brings the characters of the J.K. Rowling book to life. The three young stars of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE have an enormous weight upon their shoulders, yet they seem to carry it effortlessly. Daniel Radcliffe makes a truly fine Harry Potter, bringing the right level of innocence and wide-eyed wonder to the role of a young boy discovering the world of magic for the first time. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are even more enchanting as Harry’s new best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, both of whom supply the film with freshness and humor. Even the major supporting roles are perfectly cast; Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman all seem born to play their particular roles. The cast of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE also includes John Hurt, John Cleese, Richard Griffiths, ZoŽ Wanamaker, Harry Melling, Ian Hart, Warwick Davis, Verne Troyer, Julie Walters and Tom Felton.

Warner Home Video has made HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Warner has also released a separate full screen version of the film, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see the movie in anything other than its theatrical aspect ratio. The wide screen transfer of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is quite nice looking, but it does not make for a demonstration quality DVD. However, neither the DVD nor the transfer can be faulted for the shortcomings in the picture quality. I remember seeing HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE in the theater and being decidedly unimpressed by how the film looked while being projected.

Thanks to a really fine transfer many of the problems that I saw in the theater have been significantly cleaned up. However, no transfer can overcome all of the inconsistencies contained in the film’s original photography and special effects work. For this reason, some shots appear a little soft, while others display other minor hiccups. I should also note that there is some noticeable grain in places, but it never becomes distracting. However, by and large, the image on the DVD is quite crisp and produces a very good level of detail. Colors can range from a bit subdued to vividly saturated, although the flesh tones remain reasonably natural looking throughout. There are no problems with chroma noise, but on occasion, some of the more intense colors do threaten to bleed beyond their boundaries. Blacks are accurately rendered and the level of shadow detail is quite good in many of the film’s dark sequences. Contrast is a bit variable, but is generally pretty smooth. Dimensionality is somewhat problematic, with many sequences appearing a little flat- however, this is something I would have to attribute to the excessive number of visual effects required to bring the world of Harry Potter to life. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well concealed throughout the film’s lengthy running time.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. This is an excellent sound mix that makes good use of all the discrete channels. Sound effects effortlessly wiz around the entire sound field when given the opportunity. Split surround usage is well deployed in the film’s climatic scenes, but the rear channels can be a bit subdued at other times throughout the course of the film. Still, there are plenty of ambient sounds and musical fill falling to towards the surround channels during the film’s less boisterous moments. Dialogue is well recorded and reproduced with excellent intelligibility. The bass channel is deep and supplies all the power required by the sound effects and music. Speaking of the music, John Williams’ enchanting score is well integrated into the mix and is reproduced with excellent fidelity. A Spanish 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s nicely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Other than a cast & crew listing and two theatrical trailers, the supplemental materials for HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE have been relegated to disc two of this two-disc DVD set. First of all, let me say that the supplements on disc two are pretty much geared towards the kiddies, which leaves the adults waiting for a Harry Potter Revisited DVD. As it stands, the existing supplemental features are interactively laid out in a puzzle fashion guaranteeing young viewers many hours of fun trying to figure out how to access the treats that the DVD contains. Adult viewers might become frustrated by the experience of having to work at finding the supplements and give up quickly.

Include amongst the supplements are the following items. Go to Diagon Alley where the viewer gets to visit Gringott’s Bank, Eelop’s Owl Emporium and have a wand choose them at Ollivander’s Wands. One will find a 360 Degree Self-Guided Tour Of Hogwarts, including The Gryffindor Common Room, The Great Hall, Harry’s Room, Hagrid’s Hut all of which are navigated via the DVD player’s remote control. There are interviews with director Chris Columbus and producer David Heyman to be found along the way. Additionally, one can Learn How To Play Quidditch via a Quidditch montage featuring Oliver Wood And Harry, as well as the opportunity to Catch A Golden Snitch via the DVD player’s remote control. One can also Meet The Ghosts Of Hogwarts, create potions correctly or wind up in The Infirmary, sneak past Fluffy and take on other challenges to reveal the secret in The Mirror Of Erised. There is also the opportunity to cast a spell over a scene in eight languages with Harry Potter Throughout The World, as well as the ability to transfigure objects, open a screaming book, enjoy video highlights of students and professors.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is also DVD-ROM enabled, which offers better implementation of all the previously mentioned features, as well as the following additions. Have the chance to be Sorted By The Sorting Hat and find out which Hogwarts’ house they belong. Check out Wizard Trading Cards, receive owl e-mail messages, download flying owls, add Quidditch Screensavers and have their own Remembrall. On the DVD-ROM side, there is also a voice recognition system, which makes the disc more fun to navigate for the kids, as well as some game demos.

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is a great book and delightful movie. I enjoyed viewing the film at home more than in the theater because the DVD presentation looked a lot better than when the movie was being projected theatrically. Without a doubt, the wide screen DVD offers a very fine looking and sounding presentation that is certain to please fans. Personally, I wish the supplements were more geared towards adults, but I am sure that the kids will find hours of fun mucking around with the supplemental DVD.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Widescreen Edition) (2001)


Harry Potter (US - Double Sided)
Harry Potter (US - Double Sided)
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DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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