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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition DVD Review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie poster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Theatrical Release: June 4, 2004 / Running Time: 142 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Alfonso Cuarσn / Writers: J.K. Rowling (novel), Steve Kloves (screenplay)

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Julie Christie (Madame Rosmerta), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia Dursley), Maggie Smith (Professor Minerva McGonagall), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew), David Thewlis (Professor Remus Lupin), Emma Thompson (Professor Sybil Trelawney), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Pam Ferris (Aunt Marge Dursley), Dawn French (Fat Lady in Painting), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Julie Walters (Mrs. Molly Weasley), Mark Williams (Mr. Arthur Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Devon Murray (Seamus Finnegan), Jamie Waylett (Vincent Crabbe), Josh Herdman (Gregory Goyle), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Warwick Davis (Wizard), Lee Ingleby (Stan Shunpike), Lenny Henry (Shrunken Head), Jim Tavare (Tom the Innkeeper), Jimmy Gardner (Ernie the Bus Driver), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Adrian Rawlins (James Potter), Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter), Paul Whitehouse (Sir Cadogan), Danielle Tabor (Angelina Johnson), Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas), Peter Best (The Executioner)

Buy Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from Amazon.com: Ultimate Edition DVD • Ultimate Edition Blu-ray
1-Disc Widescreen DVD • 1-Disc Full Screen DVD • Individual Blu-ray • Original 2-Disc DVD (out of print)

Original director and Azkaban producer Chris Columbus reveals what species he treated like the Gremlins of his breakout screenplay in "Creating the World of Harry Potter, Part 3: Creatures." As part of his creature shop tour, special makeup effects designer Nick Dudman and his colleague demonstrate the remote-controlled mandrakes.

Disc 3's longest and most significant bonus feature is the all-new "Creating the World of Harry Potter, Part 3: Creatures" (1:03:16), this set's contribution to the Ultimate Editions' epic ongoing documentary series. Like its predecessors, this considers and covers all the Potter films so far, with new and archived interviews from over the years with dozens of cast and crew members, most extensively the directors and screenwriters. This installment touches upon nearly all the fantastical beings that have featured, striking a satisfactory balance between interpreting meaning and dissecting making. As someone with no particular interest in the subject matter,
I was skeptical that an hour-long piece could hold my attention, but it definitely did. The astounding breadth and variety of this piece does justice to the films themselves and no creature wears out its welcome as addressed with production footage, clips, comments, and behind-the-scenes. Some of the entities given the most notice here are Dobby the house-elf, Buckbeak the hippogriff, and Lord Voldemort himself. From watching this, I'm convinced that this is a winning approach to providing a making-of series worthy of accompanying the films themselves.

Next, special makeup effects designer Nick Dudman takes us "Inside the Creature Shop" (8:25) for a tour of Leavesden Studios' collections for the series. Seen here are functioning mechanical models, maquettes, stand-in dummies, molds, masks, and so on. It's a fascinating little tour that will have to do for those of us who aren't planning an in-person visit.

The two newbies to the series, Michael Gambon and director Alfonso Cuaron, consult one another on a PoA scene in A&E's hour-long documentary "The Magic Touch of Harry Potter." Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson host "The Making of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'", a short promotional TV special that seems to have been aired on HBO.

Moving on, we come to three "vintage" television specials.

A&E's "The Magic Touch of Harry Potter" (42:26) provides a good overview of the franchise through 2004, beginning with the books and the series' casting and proceeding to devote even amounts of time to the production and plots of the first three movies. It benefits from loads of behind-the-scenes footage, film clips and interview remarks (mostly from Chris Columbus and cast). That adds value that the clunky narration (by Jeremy Piven, of all people) and standard cable TV presentation otherwise would have lacked.

Two shorter Year 3-specific programs follow. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Something Wicked This Way Comes" (13:00) is a typical HBO First Look piece holding comments, clips, and B-roll. It's not as exciting now as when it first aired, but it's still a cool thing with some unique remarks on the film.

The more promotional "The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (10:00) weaves clips between comments from the three gathered young leads, in addition to dipping into the common cast/crew interview pool.

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarσn speaks in his native tongue apparently for the people of his homeland in this Spanish language interview. No, a trailer for Ray Bradbury's 1983 live-action Disney movie hasn't been misplaced, but its Shakespearean title serves as Prisoner of Azkaban's tagline. Harry Potter's growth is charted in a promo for the companion book "Harry Potter: Film Wizardry."

You'll never guess what "An Interview in Spanish with Alfonso Cuarσn" (8:14) is. Okay, so maybe you will. This heavily-edited piece lets the director talk about his approach to Azkaban and coming into an established universe. Strangely, while his answers are translated by subtitle, the on-screen questions are not,
but his answers and/or an elementary school grasp of the language are enough to clarify them.

Finally, under "Trailers" we get a teaser (1:50) and two trailers for Prisoner of Azkaban (1:22, 1:58) plus promos for the iPhone app Harry Potter Spells (0:43) and the books Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book (1:48) and Harry Potter: Film Wizardry (2:30). Disappointingly, only one movie preview appears in 5.1 sound; the others are presented in plain stereo.

Is anything lost from the original DVD? Yes, Disc 1 no longer opens with the no longer timely trailers for The Polar Express and Elf. In addition, case inserts are not preserved. While I don't think many will lament the loss of a catalog/order form pamphlet for The Noble Collection's pricy Potter products, the Marauder's Map-themed booklet listing scenes and spelling out all the extras is definitely missed. I find it hard to believe there isn't enough consumer interest to justify the modest cost of printing a standard insert like this.

Shrunken Head adds jokey commentary as Disc 1's main menu treats us to a wild ride on the Knight Bus, complete with the occasional Ernie the Bus Driver reflection. The Marauder's Map makes for a logical menu design for Disc 2's somewhat arbitrarily-arranged contents.

MENUS and PACKAGING

Recycled from the original DVD, Disc 1's animated main menu opens with a prolonged cloud montage of clip before settling on the Knight Bus' frantic driving with the shrunken Caribbean head cracking wise while the bus swerves through oncoming traffic. Don't expect to admire it at length, though; like many Warner menus, it bounces you to the movie after one or two iterations. Disc 2 emulates the Marauder's Map, although beyond that we get interestingly animated sights with a narrator (English or French) explaining listings and insulting slowness. Disc 3 goes the standard static 2010 Warner route with basic publicity stills and only the main menu page scored.

DVD packaging has become so standardized and uninspired that 95% of the time today it goes without saying you're getting a black Eco-Box keepcase with no meaningful inserts inside and maybe a redundant cardboard slipcover. I've found this fall that Warner defies that trend on its premium sets. Azkaban's outer box can hold three standard DVD cases with room to spare. It's embossed on the spine and the front, which is dominated by a lenticular image not all that different from artwork used on a poster and the original DVD.

Warner's beauty shot of the contents of the Prisoner of Azkaban Ultimate Edition: Hermione and Sirius Black character cards, cover lenticular, hardcover creatures book, and three discs.

Inside it is a sturdier box resembling a hardcover book. It too is embossed, and stylishly textured. It folds open to reveal a number of striking color foil images from the film and holds all of the set's components. There is the DVD case, an 8-sided Digipak
with information on the special features here and on other Ultimate Editions plus plenty more artwork. If for some reason you choose to keep the DVDs separate from the other contents, this case would do just fine on your shelf.

Next there is an envelope holding two thick, large cardboard character cards, an Ultimate Edition staple. They are Hermione (#5) and Sirius Black (#6). They're not much more than a greyscale publicity headshot on front and single-sentence description on back, but they're nice.

Then comes the DVD case-sized horizontal hardcover book Creating the Creatures of Harry Potter. This 48-page picture book provides little on the creating, but more than enough of the creatures featured in the series. Aligning with Disc 3's central documentary, goblins, werewolves, owls, pixies, and several other species are shown off in film stills, concept art, graphics, and production models. It's not terribly much to see but it offers a nice visual overview of the many different beings depicted, always identifying the year encountered.

Finally, an insert supplies your unique digital copy redemption code (expiring October 2011) and another further advertises those two Potter books inspired by the films.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) enjoys the excitement of a spontaneous flight on Buckbeak the hippogriff.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Warner's Ultimate Edition of Prisoner of Azkaban offers a fantastic set for what is probably the best Harry Potter movie to date. And yet, I can't be completely enthusiastic in recommending it, because chances are you already own the movie in its fine 2-disc set. If so, you'll really only be getting the one fine new disc, the couple of tangible goodies, a digital copy download code, and the hefty cool packaging. It's definitely not nothing, but it's also not quite a no-brainer $30 purchase even for the devoted Potter fan.

If you've already picked up the first two Ultimate Editions, there is no reason to stop now. If you haven't, I don't know that there's reason to start, with the series coming to a close next year and providing Warner an attractive opportunity to in effect slap a "Pen" in front of "Ultimate Edition" and do one mega complete collection holding everything and the kitchen sink.

Obviously my comments apply mainly to DVD owners considering a DVD purchase. If you only own the DVD and are currently investing in Blu-ray, that version of this set may be worth it to you, depending on your need for the strong new disc, a digital copy, and tangible supplements.

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The official shop of all things Harry Potter PLUS Free Shipping on orders of $60 at - WBshop.com!

The Cast of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
Rupert Grint & Julie Walters: Driving Lessons | David Thewlis: James and the Giant Peach • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Alan Rickman: Galaxy Quest • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Timothy Spall: Enchanted | Richard Griffiths: Bedtime Stories • A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker's Dracula (Collector's Edition) • Planet 51 | Emma Thompson: Brideshead Revisited • An Education
Michael Gambon: Fantastic Mr. Fox • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou | Julie Christie: Doctor Zhivago

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Reviewed November 13, 2010.



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