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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 Cuarón / 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 DVDUltimate Edition Blu-ray
1-Disc Widescreen DVD1-Disc Full Screen DVDIndividual Blu-rayOriginal 2-Disc DVD (out of print)

The world of film has never before seen anything like the Harry Potter franchise and it will be a very long time until it sees anything similar. Eight fantasy films adapted from seven bestselling novels and released over the course of ten years. Each of the first six movies has been a massive hit the world over, with global grosses ranging from $795.6 million to $974.7 million and all-time ranks currently stretching from 8th to 28th. Children make up a substantial part of both the print and theatrical audiences, but those who were the wizard protagonist's 11 years of age in 1997 (when the first book was published in England) or 2001 (when the first film was released) are now in their twenties.
Those who have grown out of their appreciation have had their passion acquired by kids too young to remember the hoopla surrounding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, which came close to becoming only the second $1 billion-grossing film ever and narrowly remains the series' apex financially.

The massive undertaking of author J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Pictures may have initially seemed like a more modern, magical, and kid-friendly alternative to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. But those acclaimed and epically profitable fantasies told their story in just three years and three films. While many, including the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, seem to hold more esteem for the J.R.R. Tolkien filmings, there is no doubt that the Potter movies are a major achievement in artistry, appeal, consistency, and longevity. Any such creation is bound to be revisited from time to time and that is what Warner Home Video began doing last December coinciding with the video debut of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Warner recognized the special nature of this film series from the start, issuing the first three installments exclusively in two-disc DVDs. Still, the sets were never all that loaded (with reports that the seemingly omnipotent Rowling had specific stances on what should and shouldn't be revealed in bonus features). By the time that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came to video in March 2006 and the studio began giving customers the choice of a basically barebones single disc or a more uniform 2-disc set (now at a premium price), many opted for the former. The 2-disc DVD versions of Sorcerer's Stone and its first three sequels have all since been discontinued, with DVD customers now having to choose between low-priced vanilla movie-only discs and the pricy new expansive Ultimate Editions, unless venturing into the bustling secondhand market.

With the much-anticipated finale starter Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 opening in theaters next week, Warner has now granted the third and fourth movies Ultimate Edition treatment. Unlike the 2009 wave of Ultimate Editions, which contained 5 discs on DVD (and 4 on Blu-ray), the ones for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (analyzed here) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which we'll look at soon) provide three discs each. That is in part because neither is offered in an extended version as the first two movies were. In addition, the provided digital copies of the films are no longer included on their own discs, instead being offered as online downloads. The list prices, however, remain the same; just under $50 for the Blu-ray and just under $40 for the DVD, with each selling for well under $10 less than SRP. The tags may sound a bit hefty, but holding the thick set in your hand, you get a sense of the weight of this edition (over a pound, actually), which again supplies tangible goodies in addition to its hours of on-disc extras.

Under the bed covers, now 13-year-old student wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) experiments with wand control. On the train to Hogwarts with friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) gets a soothing piece of chocolate from new Dark Arts professor Lupin (David Thewlis) after a close encounter of the dementor kind.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban brought change to the series. It was the first film not directed by Chris Columbus and the first to run under 150 minutes. Columbus, who had come to this universe from a background of suburban family comedies (among them, Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire), had offered faithful and inclusive translations of Rowling's first two Potter books. On Azkaban, the helm was taken by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, previously known for Y tu mamá también and later Children of Men. Cuarón took a less than literal approach to the material and his brisker, more filmic chapter is a favorite of many fans. Azkaban has the highest user rating on IMDb, which usually indicates nothing, but in this case, the time passed and volume of voting (around 100,000 votes for each movie) suggests some degree of consensus, even with a mere 0.6 points separating the series' best from its worst.

Grounding the fantasy that is to come, Azkaban opens in the Muggle world with back-to-back set pieces. As the poorly-treated ward of the Dursleys, important orphan and wizard in training Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) takes offense at some of the wretched things Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) says about his parents. Harry inflates her and she goes floating away. Not off the hook for performing magic outside of school, Harry takes off, getting a wild ride from the opportune Knight Bus.

Emma Thompson joins the fray as thickly-bespectacled divination professor Sybil Trelawney. News of the unprecedented escape from Azkaban made by convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has the wizarding world abuzz.

Harry reunites with his best friends and classmates Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), all starting their third year at Hogwarts. The gang is introduced to some new teachers, among them: eccentric divination professor Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson) and newly-promoted half-giant groundskeeper Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). Figuring more prominently is Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), who teaches about boggarts, Animagi and werewolves, which his name aptly suggests a connection to.

Meanwhile, Hogwarts is abuzz with news that convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from high-security wizarding prison Azkaban. The unprecedented breakout has led the facility's guards, the feared soul-sucking Dementors, out and about, producing more than one frightening encounter and ensuing blackout for Harry. The vengeful Sirius Black is said to be hunting for Harry, his godson, for his part in Voldemort's fall.

Also in the mix via Hagrid's class is a large feral hippogriff named Buckbeak, whom Harry gets to ride but who also may be looking at a shortened life after reacting to the provocations of antagonistic Slytherin student Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton).

Using a time-turner, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione (Emma Watson) go back to the not-so-distant past to assist their recent selves and others.

Like the other installments, Prisoner of Azkaban is a thrill ride that amuses, excites, and enchants. There are no lulls or drawn-out bits to Cuarón's episode. For being so full of ideas and characters, the film is taut and lean, supplying a welcome variety in pace and tone but also a clear narrative with no padding or inessential detours. Devices, always an integral part of this series, here include the inspired Marauder's Map tracker, an invisibility cloak, and the fierce Monster Book of Monsters.
All are realized with fun, but ultimately trumped by a time-turner responsible for a brilliant finale that lifts the film from the "good" below which the series has never fallen to "great", a marked improvement over the climaxes of the first two films.

Channeling what makes Back to the Future Part II so appealing, Azkaban gives us a dramatic and adventurous scenario, then twists it by changing our perception of it but not any of the facts. It is executed masterfully on a cinematic level, delighting in a way that no other medium can (and without anyone doubling for Crispin Glover). The finale concludes the film on an exhilarating high note that I don't believe the franchise has ever topped.

If you don't like Azkaban (on its own merits, ignoring all the story material condensed and simplified), you probably won't care for any of the Harry Potter movies. And if you don't care for any of the Harry Potter movies, I'm going to need some convincing that you actually enjoy cinema. This franchise embraces every aspect of the art form: production design, visual effects, music, characters, emotion, cinematography, editing, set pieces, acting, directing, adaptation. I can understand not being into the series enough to brave opening weekend crowds or visit fan sites covering the series from every conceivable angle. As someone who started reading the first book years ago and never got any further, I definitely don't feel the same strong investment and anticipation as those who have read, re-read, and given endless thought to Rowling's world. Seeing the films without getting the stories beforehand dramatically adds suspense and unpredictability. But those values come at a price, because the films alone never give us the whole picture, inevitably having to hint at things and shed layers to clock in at reasonable feature runtimes.

So, I don't expect you to have the level of dedication of the superfans. And I can sympathize (but not empathize) with those who have just been overwhelmed by the volume and frequency of the movies. But anyone giving these fantasies a chance must summon some degree of appreciation for them. There is no end to the craft and care devoted to this series, in amazing contrast to nearly any film franchise before it and certainly any that's numbered as high.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ultimate Edition DVD box art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Set Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Film Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English and French;
Disc 3 Extras Subtitled in English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.98
Thick Embossed Cardboard Box with Lenticular Cover, Digipak, Hardcover Book,
and Envelope of Two Character Cards
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($49.99 SRP)
Still available as Widescreen, Full Screen 1-Disc DVD ($14.97 SRP)
and 1-Disc Blu-ray ($24.98 SRP)
Previously released as 2-Disc DVD (out of print)


To my eyes, ears, and (most importantly) DVD-ROM drive, this DVD's presentation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is identical to its earlier one. That is more than okay, because the 2004 release is every bit as satisfying as today's newest releases (and quite a bit more so than Warner's new discs hindered by digital copies and/or ulterior motives). The picture is terrific; it's clean, consistent, sharp, and detailed. It holds up in snow scenes and action sequences. I have no complaints regarding this fine 2.40:1 widescreen transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack impresses even more. The Harry Potter films offer sound design above and beyond the majority of films and Azkaban is no different, using the whole soundfield to present the active, tasteful, and potent audio experience.

Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) gets bothered by a bird in this short, meaningless deleted scene found in "Trelawney's Crystal Ball." Director Alfonso Cuaron and author Jo "J.K." Rowling display mutual respect in their joint interview of "Creating the Vision."


With three discs at its disposal, the set sensibly devotes one almost exclusively to the film. Included on Disc 1 are progressively shorter theatrical trailers for the first three films (2:22, 2:12, 1:50). These are obviously found elsewhere as well, but make as much sense as any potential companion to the film.
There's also a Cast & Crew section that merely credits leading cast and crew members. The series' tradition of not including audio commentaries continues here.

Save for its label art, Disc 2 is absolutely identical to the original DVD's second disc, arranging its predominantly letterboxed and 4:3 bonus features not linearly but by lands.

First up is Divination Class, holding three listings.

"Trelawney's Crystal Ball" supplies five deleted scenes, most of which are mere snippets. There is a short Knight Bus bit with blue screen still in place (0:30), a bird flittering around Hagrid (0:41), Harry talking with Hermione and Ron following the class trip he couldn't attend (1:05), a moment with wall portrait knight Sir Cadogan (0:38), and a scene of Hogwarts students awakened in the night (1:55).

"Creating the Vision" (11:42) offers a general making-of piece that is anchored in a discussion between Alfonso Cuarón and J.K. Rowling. It touches on various topics briefly, among them the adaptation process.

The interview pairing of "Head to Shrunken Head" has the makings of a wacky TV sitcom. Johnny Vaughan is an ordinary English presenter. Shrunken Head is a wisecracking Caribbean. Together, they interview Harry Potter people! This self-guided 360-degree tour lets you experience being in Professor Lupin's Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

"Head to Shrunken Head" contains seven fun interviews conducted by Johnny Vaughan of the cast: The Heroes (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint), The Gryffindors (Weasley twins James and Oliver Phelps, Matthew Lewis, and Devon Murray), The Slytherins (Tom Felton, Jamie Waylett, Josh Herdman), Professor Lupin and Sirius Black (David Thewlis and Gary Oldman), Professor Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid (newcomer Michael Gambon and Robbie Coltrane), The Dursleys (Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, and Pam Ferris), and The Filmmakers (Alfonso Cuarón, production designer Stuart Craig, and cinematographer Michael Seresin). Adding spice and artificiality to the chats is the presence of the Knight Bus's Shrunken Head, who interjects jokes, some seemingly after the fact. The questions and answers are refreshingly down-to-earth and interesting. The section runs 43 minutes and 33 seconds overall, including an amusing Vaughan and Head intro.

Defense Against the Dark Arts contains two items. First is "Magic You May Have Missed", a quiz that shows a clip and then asks a question about it. After about 12 of them, you get one of three ratings. It is fairly easy and doesn't change on return visits, but still beats most DVD games.

Second is an impressively fluid interactive 360-degree tour of Professor Lupin's classroom and study with selectable areas leading to closer looks. It's a cool and different kind of bonus feature.

The center section onto itself, "Tour Honeydukes" gives the self-guided 360 tour treatment to the colorful, fantastic Hogsmeade candy shop, a fine location for this fun presentation, complete with selectable spots narrowing in on some of the sweet offerings.

Catch Scabbers! Or get frustrated trying. Harry's ear-smoking Bertie Bott's experience accompanies a fitting line of John Williams' Macbeth-inspired choral "Double Trouble" sing-along. This stage of "The Quest of Sir Cadogan" asks you to repeat an ordered sequence of potions.

More games are found in Great Hall. "Catch Scabbers!" has you chase Ron's 9-toed pet rat through an obstacle course using directional keys. There are three levels, all of which are challenging but not especially fun.

"Choir Practice" (1:36) provides onscreen lyrics over clips from the movie, enabling you to sing along with John Williams' fun Macbeth-inspired song "Double Trouble", also known as "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (its closing line).

"The Quest of Sir Cadogan" moves you quickly through the worlds of wall paintings, letting you randomly navigate and complete mini activities like getting through a room of snakes with a remembered sequence, hitting a Quidditch shot, and jumping over painty waters. While it involves as much guesswork as skill, it's a fun little adventure and has enough variety to sustain multiple plays. The section also houses an apparent Easter egg, which is a narrated tour of the school's various magical portraits.

Head trainer Dave Sousa talks about working with crows in "Care of Magical Creatures." Gary Oldman shows off some of the Azkaban prison tats on his chest in the makeup-minded featurette "Conjuring a Scene." Settle down, you don't get to play. It's just an ad for EA's Azkaban video game.

The main section of Hogwarts Grounds is Hagrid's Hut, which holds two items. "Care of Magical Creatures" (4:43) gathers comments from animal wranglers and other crew members who explain working with crows, owls, bats, cats, and dogs. The disc's longest featurette, "Conjuring a Scene" (15:34) covers depicting transformative human characters as well as fantastical creatures, the former with make-up and wigs, the latter with a variety of effects techniques.

The Hogwarts section closes with a 55-second preview for EA's Prisoner of Azkaban videogame and an alert to the presence of DVD-ROM features.

Those features are supposed to include a Hogwarts timeline, "Magical Trading Cards", and "Web Interactivity." After much trying with the dreadful Interactual player, all I could find was a film-themed skin and many a broken redirect link. Even digging around the disc's files, I could find nothing.

Continue to Page 2 >>

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Reviewed November 13, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2004 Warner Bros. Pictures, and 2004-2010 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.