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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition
2004 (2010) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 19th, 2010
Also available on DVD

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Ultimate Edition
2005 (2010) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 19th, 2010
Also available on DVD

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Disc)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

DTS-HD MA

Film Ratings (Azkaban/Goblet of Fire): A/A-
Video (Both - 1-20): 18.5
Audio (Both - 1-20): 18.5
Extras (Both): A+


With the holidays fast approaching and with Part I of the final entry in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, just about to arrive in theatres, it's only natural that Warner Home Video would roll out another pair of their Harry Potter Ultimate Edition box sets on Blu-ray and DVD. This year, it's The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire - two of the series' best so far, in my opinion. Prisoner of Azkaban, in particular, I think really benefits from the unique sensibilities and visual style of director Alfonso Cuarón, who also helmed the excellent Children of Men. In preparation for Deathly Hallows, I recently re-watched all six of the previous films, and of them I think Azkaban comes the closest to the books' darkly whimsical tone.

In terms of these new Ultimate Edition sets, yes... it's true that these are yet another double-dip of the titles on both formats. But I'm going to leave that issue aside, because I assume that if you're reading this you A) are a big enough fan of the films that a double-dip isn't much of a bother to you and B) you probably already have last year's Harry Potter: Ultimate Edition Blu-ray or DVD sets of The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets anyway. (The BDs are reviewed at the links provided.) So I'm going to assume you're familiar with those and review these new Blu-ray releases with that in mind.

Both of these Blu-ray boxes are 3-disc sets, Disc One of which includes the films themselves in 1080p high-definition. Both are the theatrical cuts only. As I've reported here on The Bits previously, both Cuarón and Goblet director Mike Newell were given the opportunity by Warner to create new extended edition cuts of the films for this Blu-ray release if they wished, but both felt that the films were "finished" in their original theatrical versions, and so declined. On Blu-ray, both films look terrific - every bit as good as the previous Blu-ray editions - with vibrant color, deep blacks and good overall detail. Audio is present in 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless surround sound mixes, the quality of which matches the video well, featuring big wide soundstages, natural imaging, excellent clarity and lively surrounds. In terms of extras on the movie discs, it's worth noting that The Goblet of Fire contains the same In-Movie Experience that was present on the previous HD-DVD edition, featuring the Weasley Twins. Both movie BDs also include BD-Live access to online content.

As was the case with last year's Ultimate Editions, each set also includes a Blu-ray special features disc, containing much (but not quite all) of the previously released DVD and Blu-ray bonus content. It's worth noting again that the trailers and deleted scenes for both films are now upgraded to high-definition. Each BD features disc also adds new content as well. For example, Azkaban now includes a Spanish interview with Cuarón, a tour of the creature shop and 3 vintage TV specials (in SD) that helped to promote the film's theatrical release. You also get the all-new Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures documentary installment in full HD. Meanwhile, Goblet of Fire adds a whopping 5 vintage TV specials (also SD) and the all-new Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 4: Sound & Music documentary installment in full HD.

Once again, as with last year's Ultimate Editions, those previously-released DVD and BD extras that are missing from the Blu-ray bonus discs I just mentioned are included on the third discs of these sets, which are in DVD format. Essentially, they're the same special features discs from the original 2-disc DVD releases. As you'll recall, those discs were a bit frustrating for older viewers, in that you had to go hunting for things like deleted scenes as Easter eggs. But now that those scenes are available on the BD special features discs, you only have to go hunting if you want to. Meanwhile, all of the games, 360 set tours and other interactive features from the DVDs have been preserved for those fans who enjoyed them. Near as I can tell, every single set-top feature that's been created for these films on DVD and Blu-ray previously is available in these sets.

On top of all that, each set includes an access offer to Digital Copy versions of the films (not on discs like the first Ultimate Edition sets but via Internet links with special download access codes), as well as 2 more character cards (Sirius Black and Hermione Granger in the Azkaban box and Ronald Weasley and "Mad-Eye" Moody in Goblet). Once again, the icing on the cake for each set is a new 48-page hardback book for each film, each of which features TONS of cool photos, production artwork and more. The books are subject-matched to the new Creating the World of Harry Potter documentary installments included in each set. Finally, the packaging for each is designed as a sturdy slipcase with a wraparound cover. When they're all closed up and sitting on your video shelf, they look like hardback books - a nice and appropriate touch. One difference this year: The outer cardboard slipcover for each package now includes a lenticular hologram of the cover art.

Given Warner's current rate of 2 Harry Potter: Ultimate Editions per year, it's likely that The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Price will street around this time next year, with The Deathly Hallows: Part I and Part II arriving in late 2012 to complete the Ultimate Edition series. Obviously, I'd expect basic theatrical releases of The Deathly Hallows: Part I and Part II on DVD and Blu-ray next year as well). In any case, while I have little doubt that these Ultimate Edition box sets aren't for everyone, if you're a serious fan of the Harry Potter films, they're really pretty terrific - certainly a must have. As was my advice last year, just look for a really good sale price for each and enjoy!

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com
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