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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition
2007 (2011) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 14th, 2011
Also available on DVD

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition
2009 (2011) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 14th, 2011
Also available on DVD

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Disc)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!


Film Ratings (Phoenix/Half-Blood): B+/A-
Video (Both - 1-20): 18.5
Audio (Both - 1-20): 18.5
Extras (Both): A

With the last installment in the Harry Potter film series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II) just a month away from its theatrical opening, it's time once more for Warner Home Video to roll out another pair of their Harry Potter Ultimate Edition box sets on Blu-ray and DVD. This time, it's The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince. Both films were capably directed by David Yates and are highly entertaining, with Half-Blood Prince delivering a tragic, Empire Strikes Back-style ending to cue up the series two-part finale in dramatic fashion.

It's worth noting once more that, yes... these Ultimate Edition sets are yet another double-dip of the titles on both formats. But I'm going to again assume that if you're reading this you A) are a big enough fan of the films that a double-dip isn't much of a bother to you and B) you probably already own the previous Harry Potter: Ultimate Edition Blu-ray or DVD sets anyway. (You can find our reviews of the previous UCE Blu-rays here: Years 1, 2, 3 & 4.) So I'm going to assume you're familiar with those and review these new Blu-ray releases with that in mind.

Unlike the previous Blu-ray UCEs, each of these new boxes is only a 2-disc set. Disc One includes the films themselves in 1080p high-definition. Like the other directors in this series, Yates was given the opportunity by Warner to create new extended edition cuts of the films for this Blu-ray release if he wished, but believes the films are "finished" in their original theatrical versions. On Blu-ray, both films look terrific - as good as the previous Blu-ray editions - with vibrant color, deep blacks and fine overall detail. Audio is present in 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless surround sound mixes, the quality of which matches the video nicely, featuring big wide soundstages, natural imaging, excellent clarity and lively surrounds. In terms of extras on the movie discs, it's worth noting that Order of the Phoenix contains the same Focus Points that were present on the previous Blu-ray edition, while Half-Blood Prince includes the previous Blu-ray edition's Maximum Movie Mode hosted by Daniel Radcliffe. Both movie BDs also include BD-Live access to online content.

As was the case with last year's Ultimate Editions, each set also includes a second Blu-ray disc, containing nearly all of the previously released DVD and Blu-ray bonus content, plus a couple new things. For example, Phoenix now includes 2 TV specials (The Rebellion Begins and Fulfilling a Prophecy - in SD) seen previously in the Years 1-5 UCE box set. You also get the all-new Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 5: Magical Effects documentary installment in full HD. However, Phoenix is missing the 43-minute HD TV special The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter that was found on the original Phoenix Blu-ray release, so if you want it you need to keep that disc. All the other previous content carries over. Meanwhile, Half-Blood Prince has all the previous Blu-ray and DVD content and adds another Behind the Magic TV special, trailers and interstitials, and the all-new Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 6: Evolution documentary installment in full HD. It's worth noting again that the trailers and deleted scenes for both films are now upgraded to high-definition. Unlike last year's Ultimate Editions, there is no third DVD disc of additional extras in these sets, mostly because (other than the missing TV special from Phoenix) there's really nothing else that a third disc would need to contain. And the good news is that these UCEs are a little cheaper accordingly.

Each set includes an access offer to Digital Copy versions of the films (not on discs like the first Ultimate Edition sets but via Internet links with special download access codes), as well as 2 more character cards (Dolores Umbridge and Luna Lovegood in the Phoenix box and Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince). Once again, the icing on the cake for each set is a new 48-page hardback book for each film, featuring TONS of cool photos, production artwork and more. The books are subject-matched to the new Creating the World of Harry Potter documentary installments included in each set. Finally, the packaging for each is once again designed as a sturdy slipcase with a wraparound cover. When they're all closed up and sitting on your video shelf, they look like hardback books. As with the last two Potter UCE sets, the outer cardboard slipcover for each package includes a lenticular hologram of the cover art.

It's a given that Warner's basic Blu-ray and DVD editions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II will arrive in stores in time for the holidays. So the only question is, will the Ultimate Edition Blu-ray and DVD box sets of Deathly Hallows: Part I and Part II arrive then too... or will the studio wait to release them in mid-2012? Either way, once you buy the Year 5 and 6 UCEs on your format of choice, there's just two more to go. If you're a serious fan of the Harry Potter films, these sets are pretty terrific. As was my advice last year (and the year before too), just look for a really good sale price for each and enjoy!

Bill Hunt
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