The release of the new “Harry Potter” Ultimate Edition Blu-rays may seem a little premature considering the last two movies won’t even hit theaters until 2010 and 2011, respectively, but I actually like Warner Brothers’ aggressiveness with getting the first batch out so soon. Not only does that give them ample time to put out the other four movies before the release of “Deathly Hallows: Part One,” but it’s also a great way to ring in the new decade. After all, “Harry Potter” had a massive impact on pop culture over these last ten years, and what better way to celebrate that than with a really cool collector’s set?
Having said that, however, the Ultimate Editions are really only for those diehard fans that want to know anything and everything about the making of the films, because with the exception of a new series of featurettes called “Creating the World of Harry Potter” (with a new installment appearing on each release), these are nearly identical to the original Blu-ray and DVD releases. The addition of extended versions of both “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” is a nice touch (as are the Chocolate Frog-inspired character cards that come packaged in the box set), but the only reason anyone should be buying these are for the aforementioned featurettes and their corresponding books.
The books are made up of movie stills, concept art, and photos of the incredibly detailed production design, costumes and props, but the real highlight is still the featurettes themselves. Offering an extensive look at the franchise’s eight-film journey through a series of specific topics, the first installment, subtitled “The Magic Begins,” focuses on the creation of the film series with interviews from the cast and crew, screen tests of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, and behind-the-scenes footage. Director Chris Columbus is particularly forthcoming about the difficulties of working with child actors and his original consideration of Tom Felton (AKA Draco Malfoy) for the title role, while producer David Heyman tells stories about casting Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Richard Harris. Part Two, meanwhile, deals exclusively with characters, with most of the actors getting a chance to talk in detail about their experience working on the films. Gary Oldman’s portion is undoubtedly the best part, if only because we get an intimate glimpse at the fatherly bond he formed with Radcliffe on set.
It’s still unknown just what exactly Warner Bros. has up its sleeve for the inevitable DVD/Blu-ray octalogy, but I can’t imagine it’s going to be any better than this. Sure, you might get a few extra knickknacks like a wand or a plush owl, but when it comes to actual special features, it’s going to be mighty difficult upstaging “Creating the World of Harry Potter” – especially when there are hours of previously produced supplemental material that have already been rendered worthless with its arrival.