Every November/December there comes a hankering for Harry Potter movies. Viewing them during this time of year has become a tradition for my family, ranking up there with White Christmas, Christmas Story and A Charlie Brown Christmas. And, without fail, ABC Family (or whatever the heck they’re called now) deliver constant re-runs of the Potter films, which have always provided us with solid entertainment and fulfillment for that ‘hankering’. Why put in a disc when you have a channel that delivers those films? There is a good reason nowadays.
Since the technological new addition to the family this past two weeks, an Xbox One X, the search has been on for some of the best 4K out there. I discovered the last four Harry Potter films in 4K, which were rated highly by our movie reviewer Brandon Parker, and which resulted in being added to the family library. Once added, we were informed by Warner Home Video, in good timing with the holidays and the desire to have a 4K completed set, that we were to receive Harry Potter 1-4 in 4K HDR this past Wednesday. Darn good timing.
This drama built up for your reading pleasure, while the latter part of the Harry Potter series did a great job with 4K upgrades, the first needed some reviewing and reviewer convincing that they belonged with the rest of the set.
So, without further delay of my jibber-jabber, let’s see how they did.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Chris Columbus’ baby and stepping off point for the Harry Potter series is still one of the cutest, especially having seen the kids grow up 10 years later. It’s still one of the fan favorites and geared towards a younger audience, though there are a sprinkle of serious tones in the storyline (none sadder than watching Harry sit in front of the mirror and seeing his mum/dad). For the most part, the adventure of the friendly trio getting to know each other, getting to know their respective roles as wizards and getting introduced into the HP world help to drive this masterpiece. It’s an adventurous movie of discovery that is fun to sit through over and over again. For me, it rates up there with the Goonies, where I could stop on a Saturday (any) and enjoy it. That is a sign of a good film. The film ends with more to come, after a vicious fight and taste of Voldemort, which also gives way to things aren’t going to get cuter, rather they are going to get darker as the story of Harry Potter continues, and they do.
This was arguably the most difficult of the bunch to get the 4K treatment, as the film is nearly 16+ years of age. How people shot film back in 2000-2001 and what they shot it on has dramatically changed since. You can see some age with the special effects as well, which is brought out with the 4K transfer. You can see in the upgrade that there is still some visible graininess to the shots in 4K HDR, and, since the emphasis of Columbus’ films are yellow with a tint of red, you don’t get the blacks standing out as much as they should. The contrast between bright/dark is there, but not as prevalent as it is with later Harry Potter films. The range is brought out at the right moments, though, especially towards the end when you’ve got a heavy amount of white/black in the shot. The end fight does a good job with springing the vivid colors a bit and cleaning up the shots, as the yellow/red sparkle of the fire at the end really is pulled out, while still displaying some deep black/white contrast. It’s impressive, but flawed overall.
Still, while it is a solid transfer, the score given is hurt due to the graininess and the aging special effects that are brought out with the 4K upgrade. It’s not visually inept or anything of the sorts, but in comparison with the other three in this collection it is certainly the weaker of the bunch. That’s not bad, especially considering its age, but it does fall short compared to the others.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Columbus does a great job with the second film in the Harry Potter series. Continuing Potter’s journey to discover why he is ‘special’, Columbus introduces a more vicious Malfoy, Malfoy’s father Lucius and more depth and development to future characters and their backstories. The second film goes from kid’s movie to teen’s movie quick, as does the book series, with a deadly beast wandering the halls of Hogwarts that is petrifying students left and right, which could lead to the school’s closing. Seeing fun friendships go away and introducing the dark lord himself in a different form certainly puts some shadow on the kid-friendly fun the first film contained. Not quite the third movie, but it shows shape of what’s to come.
The second of the Chris Columbus entries into the series does a better job in 4K than the first, though there is still some visible graininess to the transfer. While Columbus pulls away from the yellow tint of the film a bit and introduces a darker world that plays off of darker shades of color (blue/red/black), the film is still on track in terms of quality with the first. The adjustment to how the film was lit and how that affects how it is presented works well with the HDR results. You’ll see this especially so when Harry and Ron enter the forest to go meet up with some spiders, as the introduction scene to the head spider and the eventual escape scene from the forest look absolutely stunning. There’s a lot better visuals in the transfer in comparison to the first, but there is still some flaws following the first’s transfer. It’s better, though.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Welcome to when things get real. Alfonso Cuarón takes the reins from Chris Columbus to deliver a darker, scarier and more bleak outlook on what’s to come in Harry Potter’s life. Once beyond Harry’s life with the Dursley’s, which begins most Harry Potter films to this point, Potter’s world is turned upside down when he is accosted by Dementors, horrible creatures that steal the happiness out of you, on the Hogwarts Express. Things don’t get easier in the story from there, as Potter’s recovery brings about news of an escaped convict named Sirius Black, a wizard accused of helping Voldemort and helping in the death of Harry’s parents, which is the reason why the Dementors are out of sorts. The film sprinkles around clues that eventually leads Harry to confront Black, but Harry finds that everything isn’t what it seems. The movie ends on a high note, but also a note that ensures there are even darker days ahead of the up and coming Potter.
This is where good HDR kicks into the 4K collection transfers. The movie consists of a lot of bland tones, mostly siding with the gray/white/black variety. When it does show color, especially during some of the brighter scenes within Hogwarts, the depth of the color and the objects within the scenes stand out immensely. There is almost no graininess to the shots and the transfer looks absolutely gorgeous. I know for a fact that most people like this Harry Potter the best, so the well-done 4K HDR transfer will just add more fuel to the popular fire that burns within it. It definitely separates itself from the pack in this collection with its depth between bright/dark.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
How do you take 700-pages of a book and condense them into one film? You don’t! You leave out the house elf slavery storyline and concentrate fully on Harry Potter and the competition he somehow ends up in. That’s not a complaint either, as endearing as the house elf storyline was in the book, it’s the right choice for the film not to waste its time on such a secondary set of characters that we really won’t care about again until the final set of films.
As the Goblet of Fire goes, it’s a fast a furious film about Harry Potter really being shown the ‘stakes’ of what’s to come. He is thrown into a dangerous competition that could get him killed, through various vicious trials of endurance, that lead up to a final introduction and showdown to Lord Voldemort himself. Along the way, he finds out the vicious backstory to some wizards involvement with the first go-around with Voldemort, including Barty Crouch and his warped son. We also get introduced, though briefly get to know, Cedric Diggory, a meaningful McGuffin that plays the role of a tone shifter for the entire story. He is the very embodiment of innocence for Harry and one that is quickly dealt with by the dark lord.
While most people don’t find this film the best of the bunch of the first four, I always liked it for the constant flow and action of the film, and the eventually and definite shift to a darker tone for the story. It’s certainly unlike any of the HP films and it never apologies for its pacing or tragedies, as it shouldn’t because oh-my-God the payoff is worth the trip.
As is stands with the prior three, this is probably one of the more colorful Harry Potter films in the entire series. It shows off some bright blues, purples, blacks and whites. All of them do well in HDR and all of them come without any graininess. While I certainly wouldn’t say it brings the depth that the third brings visually, it is a lot prettier to look at and shows off the clean-up job that Warner Home Video pulled off. It also does a great job with the blacks/whites, which are very evident during the school’s ball/prom in the film, as is their visual depth. Anyway, as it stands it is a prime example of how pretty 4K HDR can look in a transfer and it does a good job of showing the most color range of all the first four films.