"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" appears now on a DVD release that's sheer magic. Have we gone mad? Well, we've long criticised DVD titles aimed at children that come with boring extra features, slapped on with little or no imagination in their presentation. With the "Harry Potter" DVD, Warner Bros has created a title that itself is a unique entertainment experience for kids and adults alike.
Picture The spell of transferring the film to disc has worked a treat. Do beware, though, that there are two DVD versions available of the movie: one is fullscreen, the other is widescreen - so ensure you purchase your preferred choice.
Sound The Dolby 5.1 EX mix is a lot of fun to listen to. Subtle effects blend with the musical score, making full use of the available speakers to transport you into the world of Hogwarts.
Those of you familiar with this site will know how we usually break down the special features. We list the extras available - featurettes, commentaries, and documentaries are what you expect, along with the odd hidden 'Easter egg' feature.
The "Harry Potter" DVD upturns this DVD practise and bins convention. It's quite a shock to the system, but once you realise that the disc is designed to take you on an adventure, it becomes a highly refreshing experience. This review won't, therefore, offer the usual section-by-section breakdown because this DVD breaks the mould.
Disc two contains the extra features and is built as an adventure where you must discover the secret at the heart of the DVD. We will reveal the route and tips you'll need to get there and what it is, but this will be highlighted with a spoiler warning. So if you want to discover the secret for yourself, then stop reading when we tell you!
Self Guided Tours Before you embark on your adventure, you'll be offered a tour of Hogwarts. This smooth interactive 3D tour allows you to explore various rooms inbetween guided highlights.
Diagon Alley It's essential that you dip into this section, otherwise other features of the DVD won't be available to you. To get into the alley, you'll have to remember in what sequence the rocks in the wall are pushed in the movie to gain access. Once you've completed that correctly, you can pop into the various 'shops', which consist of Ollivanders Wands, Gringotts the wizard bank, and Eeylops Owl Emporium. You need to get hold of a wand, but before that, you'll have to figure out how to get money from Gringott's before you then attempt to select a wand. This you'll find in Ollivander's ramshackle shop, but select the wrong drawer and the place disintegrates. Once you've found the ideal wand, you can breeze through the owl types in Eeylops and you're on your way!
Library In the library you're presented with a selection of books. Some offer important clues to remember for future reference, while others show clip guides to the characters of Hogwarts.
Hogwarts Grounds Before you get to see the treats in here, you have to catch the Golden Snitch using your remote. Once you've done that, you can take another self-guided tour, this time around Hagrid's hut. You can also learn the rules of the Quidditch game.
Interviews Not what you'd expect from a Hollywood release, there's only 16 minutes of interviews in a featurette that's quite fun to watch, restrained in self congratulation, and doesn't smother you in the type of PR guff that you might expect. The transformation of the book - from screenplay to film - is discussed, and you can see some behind-the-scenes footage of the filming.
Sorting Hat This is a minor side feature that takes you through the four houses of Hogwarts.
Classrooms You can't come in here unless you've completed Diagon Alley. Once in, you'll have to sit a potions test to see how well you remember which ingredients go into making different potions. Fail, and you blow the place up! Also in this section are various clips from the film that explain such story elements like spells and charms, and transfiguration.
Major Spoiler Ahead!!!
Cheating eh? In the classroom menu you'll find the hidden Easter egg that will take you into the third floor corridor. You'll have been warned by now not to come in here on fear of a most painful death, but clearly you don't listen! To progress along here, you'll need to get through various levels that can be completed if you've been picking up the clues in the other DVD features. If not and you guess your way through, your mistakes may result in your demise, and you having to go back to Diagon Alley to get a new wand. Once you've got through the levels, you'll be rewarded with a gallery (complete with ethereal music) of seven excellent deleted scenes!
Also on disc two are a number of DVD-Rom features that will require you to have a suitable drive on your computer. A CD-Rom will not suffice. You'll also need access to the internet to make the most of the interactive features in this section. While it all sounds very exciting on the DVD cover, this is essentially access to the website, enhanced by your ability to customise features, play a game demo, sign up for emails, and load a screensaver. It's still fun, but it's an extra perk - the main entertainment of this DVD is to be found on the preceding features that will work on a conventional DVD player and TV setup.
That's enough of the reading! Go seek out this unusual DVD release, and remember to check if you're buying the fullscreen or widescreen version. Until then, do take a look through the images that accompany this review. Some are taken from never-before-seen deleted footage, while others show you what you can expect from the interactive elements of the disc.
Ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic) (1.33:1 fullscreen edition also available)
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Technical Features: Scene selection, 3D animated menus, multiple language subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.
This DVD was reviewed on a JVC XV-S57 DVD player.