Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is about to start his third year at Hogwart’s, but there is a dark cloud around the school. This year, Harry has to contend with the usual worries, like his magic, his Quiddich games, and his friends, but he also faces grave danger. The madman Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the Azkaban prison. The prison was supposed to be impossible to escape from, thanks to bonds and obstacles of both physical and magical varieties, but Black managed to leave Azkaban behind. And the buzz is that Black will come to Hogawart’s and seek out Harry, but not with good intentions. Potter is told that Black will arrive to finish off his master’s work, which was to murder Harry and his family. At the school, new teachers arrive and so do wraith like guardians, all while Harry prepares for Black’s arrival. As all of the students adjust to the new precautions and the faculty changes, Harry tries to learn more about Black. This leads him to Black’s past and as he learns more, he finds out more about himself. But what is the real connection between Potter and Black, the stories he has been told, or some unknown connection?

The books in the Harry Potter series have been blockbusters, so of course, cinematic versions have followed. The films pulled respectable box office, but were panned by critics and even loyal book readers were often disappointed. The first two Potter films were overly long, meandering, and in some scenes, out and out dull. The productions were well funded, but sported low rent special effects and the much promised magic was, well…as flat as a pancake. This third installment marked some serious changes in the series however, as we were promised a darker, more polished effort, complete with a new director. I have to admit, The Prisoner of Azkaban is better than the first two movies, but this sequel still falls short of expectations. The darker tone is there, but only by a few shades, as this is still a film aimed at a younger audience. I suppose younger fans will see it as much more dark, but blue tinted visuals and mean expressions aren’t enough. If you’re a diehard Potter fan, then you’ll probably force yourself to like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but the fact remains, this is not a good movie. The same bargain basement special effects show up, while story is limited to short bursts that don’t always weave together. But rest assured, more films in the series will follow, as long as the books sell. Warner’s disc looks and sounds good, but is stuffed with short, useless bonus materials. So for Potter nuts, The Prisoner of Azkaban is worth a look, but a rental is the best option.

If the producers want to make all of the books in the Harry Potter series with this same cast, then the pace has to be quickened. This is only the third film and lead Daniel Radcliffe is too old for the part, which demands a year between volumes, not two or three. So by the time the seventh book is rolled into production, Harry Potter will be in his thirties, or at least close. But in truth, the reality of the entire run being produced is slim, as the cast is aging much faster than the material allows, which means bad news. The producers have to pick up the pace and rush the productions, or cast new stars in the later volumes. In the case of Radcliffe, that might be good news, as his performances in the series have been dismal. He might bear a slight resemblance to the artwork of Harry in the books, but he brings a flat, lifeless presence to the screen. A more potent, skilled actor could inject more life and yes, magic into the role. Rupert Grint is as unfunny as a comedic sidekick can be, but he returns for this third installment. The lone bright spot is Emma Watson, who has decent presence and stands out compared to her lame costars. The adult cast members are solid however, with Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Miranda Richardson, and Gary Oldman all involved.

Video: How does it look?

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” has perhaps the most unique visual presence to all of the “Harry Potter” movies to date. Director Alfonso Cuaron took a few liberties with the franchise and it paid off. The films encompass the entire palette, but this one seems to shift a bit towards the darker side (figuratively and literally) as evidenced by the presence of the Dementors. This 2.35:1 VC-1 HD transfer appears to be the exact same one used for the previous Blu-ray release. Colors are bold, detail is amazing (there’s always something going on in the background at Hogwarts) and flesh tones are right on the mark. Contrast is also nearly perfect. This Blu-ray is a step up from the standard DVD for sure, but if you own the existing Blu-ray (like me) then this is the exact same transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

Admittedly when watching this film I wasn’t expecting that much. Why? I don’t know. All of the “Harry Potter” films have very robust soundtracks and this DTS HD Master Audio mix is no different. Vocals are strong and well-centered and the surround effects occur early and often. Take, for example, the dementors – their approach activates the rear surrounds and you can almost feel the cold that their presence symbolizes. While the majority of the action takes place in the front stage, the LFE do come into play as well adding some surprising depth to the mix. Case in point, when Harry first yells “Expecto Patronum!” you’ll feel it. Literally.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Ok, this is the créme de la créme in regards to this movie and while we’ve already got “Ultimate Editions” for the first two movies, now it’s time for the next two to get the royal treatment (and rest assured Warner, the fans will keep gobbling up whatever you slap the words “Harry Potter” on). This three disc set features all of the same supplements that were present on the standard DVD. Those are on disc two with the feature film occupying the first disc. Recapping that second disc we have five divisions, each with an assortment of extras. Divination Classic houses a few minutes of deleted scenes, a bland behind the scene featurette, and a collection of interviews. These interviews are the most substantial piece of the supplements, but you still won’t find any real insight in the duration. Defense Against Dark Arts has a full interactive tour of Lupin’s classroom and a trivia game about the film’s magical elements. Tour Honeydukes is, you guessed it, a full tour of the candy store, much like the one for Lupin’s classroom. Great Hall is home to a brief choir performance, as well as two interactive games based on events from the picture. The final segment is Hogwart’s Grounds, which has a few brief, promotional featurettes.

The third disc contains the new feature (as well as some older ones) and the next part in the “Creating the World of ?Harry Potter'” series. This is ” Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures” in which we get an extensive look at Nick Dudman and his extensive creature shop. Now bear in mind that this is a new featurette, so they have and do reference creatures from forthcoming movies, so if you don’t want to be spoiled then you might want to hold off on this. I had no idea how encompassing this was. There are molds, they re-create Buckbeak (the Hippogriff from this film) litereally feather by feather. They add in eyebrows one hair at a time to achieve a more naturalistic effect. While there is a significant amount of CGI in the “Harry Potter” films, this focuses on the leg work and the actual modeling of some of these creatures. Dudman guides us through the shop, focusing on the amount of effort and energy that’s required for each and every film and it goes to show that there’s so much going on behind the scenes, it boggles the mind (well, mine anyway). This disc also contains an interview with author J.K. Rowling as well as some more on the Dementors and Buckbeak. There are a series of deleted scenes shown in HD as well that can be played one by one or all together. But wait, we’re not quite done yet. As part of this “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” you also get a 48 page book of photos from creatures of all the Potter films, two more collectable cards (Hermione Granger and Sirius Black this time around), a year 3 Lenticular Card and there’s also a digital copy of the film to boot. Make some room on your shelf, though, as these “Ultimate Editions” take up about four times the space as the previous Blu-rays did. All in all this is something that every Potter fan will want and this is about as encompassing as I’ve seen for any film.

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