Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone [DVD]  [DVD] (2009); John Hurt
To try and please all the fans of JK Rowling’s novel was a challenge that the makers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone met head on. The result of their efforts is one of the most lavish, beautiful and magical cinematic treats to hit our screens in years. Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steven Kloves (thankfully with the help of Rowling herself) prove that although you can’t translate everybody’s reading of this much-loved book onto the cinema screen–maybe Fluffy was a bit more Fluffy in your imagination or Hagrid (superbly played by Robbie Coltrane) a little more giant-like–it is nevertheless possible to transfer Harry’s adventures with fidelity as well as superb energy and excitement.
If there is a downside it’s that the performances of the child leads tends to verge on the Sylvia Young-tastic in places. Nonetheless, the three young stars are both likable and watchable, showing great potential to grow into the parts as the adventures continue. The main disappointment is the substantial cutting of the ghost scenes and what promised to be a fine comic turn by John Cleese as Headless Nick, though with more Potter films on the way the ghosts will surely assume their rightful prominence later. There are, of course, some areas of the story that may frighten smaller children–such as the entrance of the evil Voldemort–and undoubtedly for any true Potter fan that cinematic entrance cannot live up to the images created in their imagination. All in all, though, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is what it should be: an unmissable treat for the whole family.
On the DVD: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone really is a magical experience in this lavish two-disc set. Disc one offers the film in all its surround-sound glory along with trailers and links to the Harry Potter Web site, but, disappointingly, there’s no commentary.
Disc two is where the real wizardry can be found, with a vast and beautifully designed selection of special features. Entering the Great Hall a mysterious voice invites you to explore and find the secret hidden within (though it’s frustrating that in some cases you have to re-enter the Hall after viewing a feature). Various options let you tour around Harry’s world: from Diagon Alley to a virtual 360-degree tour of Hogwarts. The interactive component is excellent, with real thought having been put into ensuring that, instead of just the standard behind-the-scenes stuff, there is material aplenty to keep children and adults alike entertained for hours. Throughout the emphasis is on the disc’s educational value: yes there are insights to be had from the film crew, but it’s in the Classroom where you will find the real precious stones! —Nikki Disney
“Widescreen” vs. “Full Screen”
Widescreen preserves the original theatrical picture ratio of the film (Panavision 2.35:1), which will appear in “letterboxed” format on a normal TV screen.
Full Screen (or “pan and scan”) crops the theatrical picture to 4:3 ratio (i.e., 4 units wide by 3 units tall), which is the shape of a standard (non-widescreen) TV screen. There is no letterboxing, but up to a third of the original picture is lost.