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Monday, April 3, 2017
Visiting Potterville in 4K - now with Fantastic Beasts
is a marvelous place to visit. It's full of wonderful lives and interesting,
nice people, with enough evil around them to make for good drama. And now it's
an even better place to visit on home video, thanks to brand new 4K releases
from Warner Brothers.
in this case isn't the renamed Bedford Falls of George Bailey's wonderful life "gift"
from angel Clarence. No, this Potterville is a British place that kind of
floats - via flying car or dragon, or broomstick - between Little Whinging and
Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I speak of Harry Potter, of course,
the boy who lived through enough books and cinematic stories to choke a centaur.
"the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone" to the second Deathly Hallows,
millions of fans got to watch Harry, Ron and Hermione (and their assorted
siblings, school mates, etc.) grow from cute little urchins to near adulthood,
balancing the issues of growing up and entering puberty with the bigger picture
issue of the timeless battle between good (Harry and his side of the equation)
and evil (Voldemort and his).
universe was expanded recently thanks to J. K. Rowling's dipping her word
processor back into the Potterville well with Fantastic Beasts and Where to
Find them, which is also debuting on home.
Home Video released the Potter series on Blu-ray ages ago, in various
incarnations including a cool "trunked set" and
editions" and they were good releases, too. But technology is marching
on, so it's time for Warners to jump onto the 4K UHD (HDR) bandwagon, which
they've now done by releasing four of the "Harryiest" titles from the
series. Sold separately, the 4K discs are of the last four Potter movies, when
the series had moved beyond the cuteness and sense of wonder of the first
couple of films toward more darkness as the ultimate final battle approached
between the Potterites and the Voldemortuaries.
we have HP and the Order of the Phoenix, HP and the Half-blood Prince, and the
two HP and the Deathly Hallows finale films now available in nice new packages
that not only ups the HD ante to 4K UHD (with HDR) but which also include in
the box a regular Blu-ray (with extras) and a code for a digital download.
you haven't yet bought the Blu-rays for the series, this is a very good place
to start, though it might have made more sense for Warners to start at the
beginning rather than half way through the series. Who do they think they are
anyway, George Lucas?
other four movies will be released in 4K later this year.
Home Video sent all four of the 4K discs (does that make them 16K?), as well as
a conventional Blu-ray of the brand new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them. The latter film is available on 4K as well, but I guess the review copies
weren't in yet. Fortunately, I could watch the Blu-ray in its native 1080p as
well as up converted to 4K via Oppo's slick UHD-203 universal
regular readers of my rantings recall, 4K is the next generation of high
definition TV and offers twice the vertical and horizontal pixel count
(3840x2160 vs. 1920x1080) of conventional HDTV. The differences can be subtle,
and nearly meaningless on smaller screens (just like 1080p doesn't really
matter vs. 720p on smaller screens), but once the screen size goes up - and
especially when HDR (High Dynamic Range) is added to the mix - the results can
be really spectacular.
4K is also undoubtedly the format of your next TV. The industry is changing
over already, as you can see in your friendly neighbourhood A/V store or
Costco, so it's worth taking seriously. And it can be a mostly painless
transition that you can start right now because, at least with the 4K discs
I've seen so far, studios also include a regular Blu-ray in the 4K disc package
and that lets you "pay your video fix forward" even if you don't yet
have the 4K TV and 4K disc player you'll need (watch the BD now and save the 4K
disc for when you need it). It's a remarkable, and rather surprising,
anti-planned obsolescence move from Hollywood.
one other up conversion offered with 4K discs, too, and in these Warner
Brothers instances it's the inclusion of DTS:X audio. It's the competitor to
Dolby Atmos, and at this point I can't really comment on it because I (like the
lion's share of people) haven't upgraded my home theatres to exploit all the
extra channels. Fortunately, the new formats are backward compatible so you
don't really miss out on the basic audio quality you know and love from your
5.1 (or 6.1 or 7.1) system playing lossless audio files.
downside of this, to the electronics makers at least, is that the backward
compatibility means there's less incentive to upgrade your audio system -
especially since Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio can already sound so
Brothers, in their press release, describes DTS:X as being able to "best
fit the individual viewing space by seamlessly transporting sound to and
through specific locations within the viewing environment - in front of,
behind, above, and beside the audience."
5.1, on my reference system, the sound on the movies was as I remembered it from
the earlier releases: a wide and deep and broad sound field even without the
DTS:X, with great dynamic range and fidelity, whether it be from chirping birds
or thunderclaps that'll shake your home theatre just as it should.
have a theory that Warners chose the last four Potter films over the first ones
because part way through the series - perhaps, to be cynical, when the studio
realized they had a money tree on their hands - the production values,
including the picture quality, went up, from being merely "great" to
really comes through on these four Potter programs. The image you get with all
four films is definitely spectacular, so much so that I could notice a layer of
grain on the films that hadn't been as pronounced on the conventional BD
releases. The grain helps give a very film-like look, the 4K HDR treatment
revealing fine details I'd never noticed with the earlier discs. Check out
fabrics, and wall textures, and - well, just about everything in medium to
close shots - it positively leaps off the screen. The longer and/or wider shots
don't pop off the screen quite as much, but they still look wonderful!
line for the picture is that these are definitely the best versions to own if
you're a videophile and, as mentioned, even if you aren't a video snob like me
they're still the logical versions to buy if you haven't purchased the conventional
Blu-rays already and want them in your collection.
says the extras for each movie are the same as they were for the previous
Blu-ray release but, as mentioned, thanks to the storage requirements of the 4K
version you'll have to pull the Blu-ray out of the package to sample them. It's
a pretty neat selection of extras, too, including a "making of"
behind the scenes thing that's organized across the set by year and theme.
example, "Order of the Phoenix" includes Part 5 of "Creating the
world of Harry Potter: Evolution," in which the series' four directors, accompanied
by cast and crew members, "explore how the films maintained the increasing
intensity of J. K. Rowling's literary series, from the expanding landscape of
the wizarding world to the darkening palette of each successive film…"
disc has a feature like this, as well as others, though this series of documentaries
would be enough as far as I'm concerned. It's fascinating stuff at times.
quite as Fantastic Beasts…
K. Rowling's latest trip back to Potterville quite isn't up to the standards of
the rest, but that doesn't mean it isn't well worth watching.
Beasts and Where to Find them is U.S.-set, and in the past - and it isn't
really a Potter adventure as such. I guess you could say it's kind of analogous
to how "Rogue One" fits into the Star Wars universe.
wrote the script for this, unlike the other series for which she wrote the
novels but none of the screenplays, and it's a prequel to the Potter stories
(hey, maybe Warners really is channelling
George Lucas!). It's a story of the wizard who wrote one of the textbooks the
Hogwarts students will use in their studies later. And Rowling appears to have
put the band back together, with director David Yates (who also drove all four
of the abovementioned Potter 4K outings) and several of the other movers and/or
shakers from that series back on board as well. And it shows; for the most
part, the film feels very much like a Potter movie, except for the lack of the
book just happens to have the same title as this movie, and over the course of
the two hours and a bit of this flick we get to see plenty of fantastic beasts and
the attempts to not only find them, but to get them back under control before
New York City is destroyed in a manner reminiscent of a Marvel or DC Comics
havoc isn't just caused by rampaging creatures, though; there's a villain on
hand, too, the evil wizard Grindewald, who is working with anti-wizard forces
aligned against the magical folk, and thanks to that we get to see an
incredible special effects battle and finale that's nearly as much of a CGI feast
as in the final Harry Potter film or just about any other comic book adaptation
enjoyed "Beasts" and it was nice revisiting this universe, and Warner
Brothers has given the movie its due with this Blu-ray release. I wish they'd
have sent the 4K disc version, which undoubtedly wasn't ready at the time, because
the 1080p one is, er, a fantastic beast and so the 4K one is undoubtedly even
1080p picture quality is really top notch. I watched sections in native 1080p
and then up converted to 4K via the Oppo player
and, while I have to admit that I preferred the up converted version, the
"garden variety" picture is still outstanding. Exteriors of NYC
feature colours that are more muted than in the magical environs we get to see
- but that makes those magical places even more beautiful to behold. The colours are rich, detail is the stuff of the best Blu-rays and the
blacks are very deep and detailed. The best results, as with
4K discs, come during close ups, during which you can practically count the individual
hairs on heads - and whatever the fantastic creatures have on their outsides.
There's plenty of makeup effects as well, and under the high def lens they come
off looking very realistic indeed.
In all, it's a fine example of video quality the
Blu-ray beast is capable of showing.
Audio is offered Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master
Audio 5.1, which are both lossless in nature. Obviously, I exploited the DTS
version and wasn't disappointed. It surrounds you beautifully - you might be
tempted to duck (another fantastic beast!) during the parts where the city is falling as the
audio crashes all around you. Subtle sounds and the noises made by the various fantastic
beast noises sound great as well. Dialogue is clear and crisp and James Newton
Howard's score comes through both loudly (when it's loud) and clearly (all the
also piles on the extras, from deleted scenes to a 15 or so minute "Before
Harry Potter: A new era of magic begins," in which the four main stars,
writer Rowling, director Yates and others talk about how the new story gestated.
is nearly a half hour long and includes five segments in which the gang and the
costume designers opine. "Creatures" is nearly as long, and obviously
focuses on the more fantastic stuff of the title. The longest feature, "Designs,"
showcases the great overall look of the film (in six segments). It's interesting
Beasts and Where to Find Them is a worthy entry into the Harry Potter canon and
Warners' Blu-ray release is an excellent example of the species. The package
also includes a DVD and digital copy, for extra viewing flexibility.
probably choose the 4K version, since it also comes with a Blu-ray (and
download code, though no DVD) and will therefore let you enjoy the film as much
as possible until you make the inevitable move to 4K when you replace your