As a die hard Harry Potter fan whose first Blu-ray purchase was the gift pack containing the first six Harry movies, you can imagine how ecstatic I was at the prospect of reviewing the Blu-ray for the seventh film - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. I loved this movie when I saw it in theaters and - surprise - loved it just as much watching it again in gorgeous high definition on my 82-inch screen. But the question at hand here isn't so much "Is the movie good?" because we know the answer to that. Yes. It's great. (If for some reason you don't like it, read the books, then watch it again. If you're one of those people who refuses to read the books, I'm not sure we can be friends.) The real question is, "Should I buy the Blu-ray?" So here is a breakdown of what the three disc combo pack has to offer and if it's worth the $34.00 list price.
Disc 1 Special Features:
Maximum Movie Mode
In lieu of a standard commentary, this Blu-ray has the option of "Maximum Movie Mode", apparently a feature that can be seen all over the place these days, but not by me, as this one was my first experience. Jason Isaacs hosts a journey through the entire film, extending it to almost three hours. Every so often, a snippet of a behind the scenes "Focus Point" pops up (along with the option to pause "Maximum Movie Mode" and watch the entire 2-4 minute piece, see below) and even more frequently, various actors & crew members pause the action to really go in depth in regards to what we're watching, whether it's an actor on his motivation, makeup effects designer, Nick Dudman, on creating Harry's swollen face or the details of Voldemort, someone from the FX department teaching us about the seamless effects we didn't know existed, or the (genius) production designer, Stuart Craig, specifying his inspirations, from Citizen Kane to Nazi propaganda. We are also treated to history lessons of sorts, seeing a recap of Harry's love life, where we've seen items like the deluminator and the Gryffindor Sword before, and at last being told who the creators of the Maurader's Map were, all providing context we may have forgotten or for those who haven't read the book, never knew in the first place, and my favorite bit, passages from the book read aloud (quite well, I might add) by Tom Felton, that provide a bit more insight into the current scene.
Keep an eye out for the commentary pause during the Ministry of Magic sequence - the escape at the end was the last shot ever filmed of the entire series and the footage of the wrap is really wonderful. Perhaps my favorite shot of the entire disc is contained here, when a tear-filled Emma Watson and Rupert Grint share a hug. During "Maximum Movie Mode", we're also informed of the original ending of the film. I think you'll agree with me when you see it that extending the film through to where it *did* end was ESSENTIAL.
Needless to say, I absolutely adored watching the movie in this fashion. I was most taken with the parts about the special effects and makeup that literally never occurred to me as existing (Three Words. Mad-Eye. Moody's. Eye.) The attention to detail on this film was astounding and it got me especially hoping that Part Two will get to take home a ton of Oscars next year to reward the entire crew for 10 years worth of hard work.
But "Maximum Movie Mode" wasn't perfect. There was a little too much focus on the experiences of actors who played extremely small roles, and while I loved hearing their stories, I found myself yearning for something similar from Rupert Grint, Emma Watson (complete with post-Harry pixie cut), or Helena Bonham Carter. This is the type of film I would watch with commentary of all kinds, so not having after the fact reflection from the main characters was kind of disappointing. My only explanation for this is that they are holding off on the big guns for the release of the final film, or for the inevitable complete series package.
But regardless of what's missing, "Maximum Movie Mode" is still a must watch for any fan, especially right before seeing Deathly Hallows: Part Two. The whole thrust of this mode of watching is preparing the viewer for the final movie, so if you don't get around to rewatching every film or rereading every book before July, the "Maximum Movie Mode" of Deathly Hallows: Part One makes a totally suitable substitute.
Each of the Focus Points in "Maximum Movie Mode" can be viewed separately on disc one. They include,
-The Last Days of Privet Drive (2:36)
Some nice on set footage of the Dursley family out of character on their last day, which is especially humorous in the case of Richard Griffiths, so prim and proper and delightful when he's being himself.
-Hagrid's Motorbike (4:01)
A dissection of all the different elements that went into the motorbike scene. It's quite astounding to see it broken down the way it his here and simultaneously watch how perfectly it all flows together in the finished product.
-Magical Tents (2:18)
Goes in to the design of and inspiration for the various magical tents, including the one used for Bill & Fleur's wedding, and the one Harry, Hermione and Ron stay in while in the forest.
-Death Eaters Attack Cafe (2:51)
Revolves around the scene in scene in London where Ron, Harry and Hermione engage in a wand fight with two death eaters, shedding light on elements like wand mechanics and stunt fighting.
-Creating Dobby and Kreacher (3:48)
Shows the progression of the elves over the many films. What started as an actor talking to a stick with a tennis ball for a head has transformed into actual little people, in costume, saying the lines and communicating with the actors, to bring more of a sense of realism and connection to the screen. Here we also hear from Toby Jones, the voice of Dobby.
-The Return of Griphook (3:45)
Veteran actor Warwick Davis talks about getting to don a copious amount of makeup to double up and play Griphook as well as Professor Flitwick and what it meant to him that he got to play both roles.
Disc 2 Special Features
Disc two offers a whole new slew of behind the scenes bits, as well as eight deleted scenes and an opening scene from Deathly Hallows: Part 2, omitted from the Blu-ray review copies. The whole disc only took about an hour, which on the one hand was great, cause you know, I'm a busy gal, but on the other hand was disappointing in that I wanted MOAR. (I just keep having to remind myself "Big guns for the second movie. Big guns for the second movie.") Here's what's included,
-The Seven Harrys (5 min)
A look into what went into the Polyjuice Potion scene. Absolutely fascinating. Dan Radcliffe studied every actor doing the movement he was meant to imitate, and then did it himself, each time in front of a green screen with a camera on a special rig that made sure it moved in the exact same way every single time.
-On The Green with Rupert, Tom, Oliver and James (13 min)
The actors who play Ron, the Weasley Twins, and Draco, head to a resort to play a game of golf and reminisce about their ten years shooting Harry Potter films. A really nice peek into the relationship between these four boys who have literally grown up together, along with clips of them from the past movies, when they were actual tiny children.
-Dan, Rupert and Emma's Running Competition (3 min)
A glimpse into the relationship between the three leads and how one upping each other in a chase scene almost eclipsed the point of the scene itself. At one point someone has to remind Emma that it isn't a race and maybe she shouldn't be zooming past the boys in every single shot. It's pretty adorable.
-Godric's Hollow/The Harry and Nagini Battle (6 min)
A look at the Godric's Hollow set, which to my surprise, was a set, not an actual place. Seriously. WHAT. Gorgeous. This is followed by a couple minutes on how the Nagini fight was prepped and shot.
-The Frozen Lake (4 min)
Here we get to see how the crew used a giant water tank to film the frozen lake scene. Nice to see director David Yates' concern for Radcliffe, reassuring him that they would only do one or two takes, and then almost an entire minute of Radcliffe listening intently to his stunt double give him tips, advice and instruction on how to nail it. Can I just say Daniel Radcliffe comes across in all of these as simply the greatest of human beings? Always up for talking to the behind the scenes crew, always happy on set, always ready to work, full of self-depricating humor, really seems like a stand up guy.
-HP&DH1: Behind The Soundtrack (4 min)
An informative look into the creation of the score, featuring footage of Alexandre Desplat conducting the orchestra, and interviews with both Desplate and producer David Heyman on the importance of the score and what Desplat brought to the table.
-The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Promo Trailer (6 min)
Promo about both the creation of the theme park and the astonishing opening celebration. Features great footage of the cast seeing the theme park for the first time, and later, riding the rides with small schoolchildren who won a contest to be the first members of the public allowed in on opening day. I want to go to there.
Here we are treated to eleven minutes of deleted scenes, all of which are a joy for Potter fans to see and provide a little bit more insight and information for the non die hard fans. We see Arthur showing Ron the radio that he later uses in the tent in the woods to make sure his family is safe, a nice moment between Mrs Dursley and Harry where they briefly share sadness over the loss of Lily Potter, a recap scene of sorts regarding the horcruxes, what they are, where they found them, and who they belonged to, a death-eater discovering the empty Granger house, Harry and Ron trying to blow off steam in the woods, and a sweet scene between Ron and Hermione, where he teaches her how to skip stones.
But my favorite of the group was Dudley's redemption scene, one of my favorite parts of the book, that I endlessly complained about being cut from the movie. In "Maximum Movie Mode", the producer explained that leaving the scene in took away from the ominous urgency of the opening, which I suppose I can understand, but thank goodness the scene was filmed anyway, because it was a thrill to see come to life.
So is it worth the buy?
Here's the thing. While I absolutely enjoyed every special feature and recommend watching them, this particular Blu-ray is only worth buying in the very specific cases "I just need to watch it over and over right now." If you only have the DVDs, or only have a Blu-ray here or there (let's say, given as gifts), then just wait for the giant Blu-ray combo pack or AT LEAST wait for parts 1 and 2 to be bundled together. The special features can only get better with the release of the final movie. But don't worry, if you are a Potter completionist and plan on owning this in any event, you will not be disappointed. I'm so jazzed for part two. Three months to go!
Movie: A- (I love this movie. I love Harry Potter.)
Picture/Sound: A (Blu-ray, I love you too. Yes it's dark, but I have zero problem with that)
Special Features: B (Great effort, what's there is more or less stellar, just wanted A LOT more)
Release Date: April 15, 2011