"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" packs up a lot of troubles into its old kit bag of magic spells and evil ambitions — and the result is smiles, smiles, smiles. The supposedly last installment in Warner Bros.' big-screen "Harry Potter" franchise remained so loyal to J.K. Rowling's book that it had to be split into two parts.
Part one ran well over two hours, and this week's big video debut of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, DVD $28.98; Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.99) clocks in at 130 minutes.
As you may know, "Harry" the eighth finds grand old Hogwarts Academy firmly in the clutches of Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) and the Death Eaters, while the Ministry of Magic has all but bent to the will of the evil Noseless One, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is living on the beach in a "safe house" with pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), still working on collecting all the lost Horcruxes and destroying them before Voldemort gets his hands on an all-powerful magic wand to cast his final spell on what remains of all the good wizards in the United Kingdom.
The only nit to be picked here it is that there isn't really much difference between this plot and any modern video game. Harry has to use his given powers to get through a maze of challenges and turn the tables on Voldemort. All of Harry's adolescent soul-searching is behind him, and there is only one last bit of enlightenment to glean before he can happily seek his place in Britain's great anonymous middle class.
If you haven't read the books and aren't fluent in Rowlingspeak, you might want to switch on the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles. The British accents are often thick and the quirky terminology sometimes thicker.
Thankfully, the visuals are magical enough to keep you apprised of the dangers, and once again the Warner technicians have impressively scooped up all of director David Yates' theatrical flash and crackle for home consumption.
The wide-screen DVD has a few deleted scenes, but you'll need to get hold of the Blu-ray Combo Pack for substantial extras. It contains an interactive tour hosted by Matthew Lewis and other cast members called "maximum movie mode"; a conversation with author J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe; a look at the process of making movie goblins; a backstage look at the London locations; deleted scenes; and a look back at "The Women of 'Harry Potter.'" Plus it all comes with the standard DVD version and access to an "Ultraviolet" digital copy.
Friday, Nov. 11 is the official release date of both editions, plus there's a Lego game version coming for PS3 users and an ultimate eight-film "complete" collection at $98.92 on DVD and $139.99 on Blu-ray Disc. Before they are through, you may need a special tube of Hogwart remover to get on with your life.
Ever wonder what a vintage Disney comedy would be like if it were remade by porn merchant Larry Flynt? Well, at last we have a prototype of the hybrid, and it isn't pretty.
In "The Change-Up" (Universal Studios Home Video, both R-rated and unrated versions, DVD $29.98; Blu-ray Disc $34.98), Ryan Reynolds plays a thirtysomething gadfly and ladies' man who is a big disappointment to both friends and father, while his polar opposite childhood pal, Jason Bateman, is an unhappy, overachieving lawyer in a top law firm with a wife and family to die for.
So what happens? The screenwriters (of "The Hangover") decree that by some magical quirk of fate that used to happen only via the province of the gods these two wake up one morning in one another's body.
That's right — "Freaky Friday" gets a crash course in rude, crude and lewd as the two men mess up each other's lives big-time before learning "important lessons" about how to be better people (which most of us were before watching this trash).
Along the way there is much dumbed-down dialogue about shaving one's private parts, getting tattoos, dealing with various bodily functions, and the etiquette of behavior while on the set of an X-rated movie. Oh, and let's not overlook the chuckles arising from appalling lapses of taste in child rearing and general good breeding.
If sledging through this for the few pleasures delivered by an admittedly likable cast sounds like a good trade-off, that's what free choice is all about. The video versions come outfitted with lots of extras, including five minutes of material deemed to have crossed a line somewhere by someone with a modicum of modesty left.
Also notable on DVD
"Alleged" (Image Entertainment, not rated but inoffensive, DVD $27.97; Blu-ray Disc $29.97). This mistitled bit of period Americana plays like an old Hallmark cable movie, which is too bad because it is a long-overdue corrective to the record about the so-called Scopes "monkey trial" of the mid-1920s. When New York ACLU attorneys whip up a show trial centered on the Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools, the small town of Dayton becomes the hallowed graveyard for 20th-century journalistic integrity as big-city reporters like H.L. Mencken turn out to paint the Bible as the last bastion of the intellectually unfit. Former presidential candidate Fred Thompson plays lawyer William Jennings Bryan, who comes to the defense of Judeo-Christian philosophy against the secular elites led by Clarence Darrow (Brian Dennehy). The Blu-ray includes a discussion guide for home and church study groups.
"Baaria" (Image Entertainment, not rated, DVD $27.97; Blu-ray Disc $29.97). Best Picture-winner at the 2009 Venice International Film Festival, Giuseppe Tornatore's most recent exercise in 20th-century nostalgia is a cinema epic in search of a story. Like his "Cinema Paradiso," it is very handsome, but this time it also comes weighted with cliches of Italian peasant life and unexplained folk beliefs. A young Sicilian (handsome Francesco Scianna) grows up, marries and puts his faith in communism, even traveling to Moscow to get training by Soviet strategists. His dreams of agrarian reform are disappointed as first the fascists and then the Soviet block falls, and time itself becomes the only force in transforming his village, which he finally realizes was perfect the way it was. High-definition is the best way to appreciate this Italian-language release, which boasts another great Ennio Morricone score. The Blu-ray comes with director commentary and interviews, plus deleted footage and other behind-the-scenes features.
"Father of Invention" (Anchor Bay Entertainment, rated PG-13, DVD $26.98; Blu-ray Disc $29.99). The theatrical gods of rueful mirth rule the day in this independent feature, which stars Kevin Spacey as a maverick capitalist whose products could use a bit more vetting before reaching the market. When one product goes very much awry and leaves some customers crippled, Spacey does a stint in prison and then faces his biggest challenge in reinventing himself for an estranged daughter and a hostile world. You may dislike Stacey for his irresponsible schemes but you'll admire his gumption.
"The River Why" (Image Entertainment, rated PG-13, DVD $27.97; Blu-ray Disc $29.97). The landscape fares far better than the people in this self-conscious memoir of a young man who runs away from home to be a full-time fly-fisher in the gorgeous wilds of Oregon. If you have a high tolerance for "literary" voice-overs and unexplored human relationships, you might even enjoy watching Zach Gilford as he plies his fishing skills and angles toward a real romance with a free-spirited river gal (Amber Heard).