Sorry America, we got your Potters!
Forgive me this moment of plagiarism, but I still think it’s one of the funniest thread titles I’ve seen relating to this subject. As I laid out in an earlier post, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, still lacking an official date for its US released, came out on HD DVD in the UK on November 20th, and word quickly spread that, barring the inclusion on the cover of BBFC logos and the usual UK additionata (to borrow a phrase from Garth Marenghi), such as a quote from the Daily Mirror, this was actually just the as yet unannounced US release rebadged. Well, curiosity got the better of me and, despite only having a lukewarm reaction to the first two Potter films, I ended up ordering a copy from Play.com.
It arrived today, and the rumours are true: when you pop the disc in, you’re greeted with an FBI warning screen, followed by the Warner logo and the same annoying and bombastic Warner HD DVD trailer that they’ve included on every single one of their releases so far, then an MPAA PG-13 logo, followed by the film itself. If the studios continue to follow this model of simply repackaging (and re-labelling) the US discs, this strikes me as being a good thing, for two reasons. First: it cuts down on costs, meaning that a single master can be prepared for both North America and the UK (and any other English-speaking territories, as well as other locations like France and Spain, provided the extras are comprehensively subtitles, given that these discs tend to include French and Spanish dubs). Second: it should help bury the horrible legacy of PAL speed-up in films and dodgy NTSC to PAL standards converted extras. At the moment, Potter is a rare beast indeed: a 24 fps film with 30 fps NTSC extras that you can pick up off a UK store shelf. Hopefully this trend will continue.
Anyway, enough of that - how’s the disc? Superb, is the answer. In fact, it comes very close to toppling Serenity from its “best HD DVD transfer” throne. It’s amazing that Warner can put out an edge enhanced, slightly filtered and noise reduced release like V for Vendetta one week, and then release something that, to my eyes, looks almost completely untampered the next. This is an amazing looking transfer, with excellent detail and a rich, smooth, film-like look, and the fact that there are no real problems with compression is a phenomenal achievement given the number of difficult moments in this film - crowd scenes, underwater chases, firework displays, not to mention dodgy CGI fire-breathing dragons. This is very much a 10 out of 10 affair, with my only concern being some prominent edge enhancement in a couple of background shots in an early scene, which is so much heavier than anything else in the film (or indeed the shots in question) that I’m pretty sure it was a result of some effects work rather than the encoding.
As for the film, I enjoyed it more than the first two Potters, although it is to my mind still heavily flawed, not to mention far too long. As has been something of a trend recently, it’s also fairly clear that, rather than being a stand-alone film, it’s merely a single part in a much larger story. This wouldn’t have been a massive problem were it not for the fact that the film ends on a “to be continued” note in all but name: in the final half-hour, a hideous villain and arch-enemy of Harry’s escapes from his prison and comes after him, but nothing is done about this and, as is usually the case, the film ends with the school year ending and the characters heading their separate ways. Harry might have said, “Gee willickers! There’s a terrible villain who wants to kill me on the loose, but we’ll deal with him next term.” I did, however, appreciate the somewhat darker tone when compared to the first two films (I still need to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film), and the child actors seem to be improving as they grow older.
Oh yeah, and I also finally received my long-awaited copy of Amber Benson’s new film, Lovers, Liars and Lunatics, which she wrote, produced, edited, directed and starred in. The disc was posted to me by Ms Benson herself, judging by the fact that the signature on the customs declaration matches the signature on the front cover (she signed the first 500 copies). Full thoughts and impressions will follow as soon as I’ve had a chance to watch it, but, having taken a glance at a couple of minutes, I should probably warn you that the transfer is interlaced and non-anamorphic (although, unlike Amber’s previous film, Chance, it’s shot on 35mm film rather than video).
Update, December 19, 2006 05:54 PM: Fixed dead link.