4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
"HARRY POTTER: AND THE SORCERER'S STONE"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Cop; 2001; PG for some scary moments and mild profanity
Best extra: "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 1: The Magic Begins"
"HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 2002; PG for scary moments, some creature violence and mild profanity
Best extra: "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 2: Characters"
"HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 2004; PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild profanity
Best extra: "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures"
"HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 2005; PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images
Best extra: "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 4: Sound & Music"
THE LATEST RELEASE of the "Harry Potter" movies on 4K Ultra HD proves one thing – true 4K mastering makes a huge difference.
The two 4K discs we received from Warner Brothers were "Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Goblet of Fire" No. 3 and No. 4 in the franchise. Both were huge crowd pleasers and highly praised topping 85 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. "Azkaban" was directed by Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity," "Y Tu Mamá También" and "A Little Princess") and "Goblet" by Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral").
When they hit the multiplex in the mid-2000s, Hollywood was in transition from editing movies with old-school 35mm film splicers to digital scanning and editing on computers. It offered huge time and money savings for the producers, especially in CGI costs and their extensive post-production rendering time.
Studios welcomed the financial boost deciding 2K digital mastering was a viable way to do business. At the same time, movie theaters were starting to convert from film projectors to 2K digital projectors.
So why wasn't 4K considered? Well, 4K projectors were still years off and 4K mastering was in its infancy.
"Azkaban" and "Goblet" were both filmed on Super 35 as were the rest of the eight "Harry Potter" movies; film stock was scanned and edited in 2K. For this 4K presentation, Warner upconverted the edited 2K files to 4K adding HDR coding for expanded contrast levels and a wider color spectrum.
I jumped into the first 45-minutes of "Azkaban," finding the weaving storyline enthralling. Would Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) be killed by Azkaban escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman)? I hadn't read the books and this marks the first time I've seen any of the films in the $7.7 billion fantasy franchise.
Now 13, Harry returns to Hogwarts Academy and is reunited with pals Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), after another summer with his overbearing Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw). Vernon's sister Marge (Pam Ferris) is visiting and she ridicules Harry's dead parents. Harry can't control his emotions and in return, transforms her into a floating balloon and she disappears into the twilight sky. Magic-use is forbidden to underage wizards outside of Hogwarts, but Harry escapes his uncle's wrath, snagging a ride on the Knight Bus, an emergency transport to the Leaky Cauldron, a London way station for witches and wizards. The next morning, he's off to Hogwarts again, with his owl Hedwig, for another year of school.
CHAMBER OF SECRETS
The excellent support cast is a who's who of British actors showcasing Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Maggie Smith as Minerva McGonagall. Michael Gambon takes over as headmaster wizard Albus Dumbledore after Richard Harris' death in 2002. Emma Thompson provides comic relief as goofy Professor Sybil Trelawney.
During the 4K viewing, I began to notice some technical shortcomings. First, natural film grain was somewhat lacking; it should have been more noticeable on the Super 35 source. I popped the Blu-ray into a second player and the grain was more apparent. Going back and forth between the 4K and Blu-ray for over an hour, it seems the finest of detail may have been digitally scrubbed during the HDR pass. What a disappointment.
Both "Potter" films are casualties of downconverted 35mm film to 2K resolution, which removes six million pixels in each frame.
The same situation shows in "Goblet of Fire." Sharpness is very close between the 4K and Blu-ray. During "Goblet," 14-year-old Harry is a mysterious fourth contestant – technically too young – in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament. Ralph Fiennes makes his first appearance as the evil Lord Voldemort, with Timothy Spall as Wormtail. Brendan Gleeson portrays Alastor "MadEye" Moody, the latest to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.
On the positive side, "Azkaban" and "Goblet" both show a bolder HDR contrast and richer color spectrum. Imagery is more cinematic with deeper blacks and striking highlights from Harry's magic wand and the extreme blue glow from the Triwizard cup. But, is it enough to justify the 4K upgrade?
On the audio side, all of the "Potter" 4K discs received a major upgrade with the expansive DTS:X soundtrack pumping the effects like dragon roars, whizzing brooms, sizzling wands and musical scores from John Williams and Patrick Doyle through Atmos speakers around the room.
THE TRUE "Harry Potter" 4K test came with the purchase of the first two films, "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets." There was a glimmer of hope these two had been mastered in 4K since a digital intermediate wasn't created. Plus, IMDb website doesn't label them mastered in 2K.
PRISONER OF AZKABAN
"Sorcerer's Stone" got the first spin. At age 11, Harry meets gentle eight-foot giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) who escorts him to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after the anti-magic Dursleys reject the initial invitation. Director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire") helms both "Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets," giving J.K. Rowling's supernatural adventure classic Hollywood flair. Warm tones are enriched with candle and firelight
It's instantly apparent this is a new 4K master made from the original film source. Clarity and detail are unmatched; it's a night to day difference compared to earlier releases and cable. Film grain dances across the screen as it should and we see the finest of detail in wide shots, not just close-ups. Composite special effects shots are slightly softer, with an increased film grain size, but this is the way to watch movies.
Contrast levels are first-rate, from shadow detail to super bright highlights and everything in-between. Colors are more lush, in-line and refreshing.
"Chamber of Secrets," which is more of an action film, was also mastered in 4K. It reveals a level of sharpness missing on "Azkaban" and "Goblet." Film grain is slightly less than "Sorcerer's Stone," but, overall, the clarity is superb. Kenneth Branagh plays Gilderoy Lockhart, author of "Magical Me," who becomes the latest teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry stands a little taller, has a deeper voice, and hopes to find the monster who's freezing students.
All of the extras are housed on a bonus Blu-ray disc.
What a shame the complete franchise wasn't given a complete 4K facelift. Yes, it would've cost millions – but doesn't Warner Brothers' biggest franchise deserve the best?
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer