Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban DVD Review

Whether or not you read the books, there's hardly any denying that the "Harry Potter" movies work really well. Now on their third iteration, the films continue on the same path, even with a change of directors. "Prisoner of Azkaban" offers up and incredible amount of entertainment for just about any age group while adding to the lead characters story better than any other film in the series.

Another year at Hogwarts, another year of trouble for quickly growing wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and friends. Seems that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has become the first prisoner to ever escape from Azkaban and he's headed for Hogwarts... to find Harry. Now Potter must not only worry about his life, but find out why Sirius is so determined to kill the young wizard.

The series was handed over to a new director here, Alfonso Cuaron, and he has taken the film to an entirely new direction. This is a relentlessly dark movie with plenty of scare factor, a wild change of pace from the previous two films. It's also the best in the series.

Most of the first two entries spend plenty of time showing the world these characters inhabit, introducing new locations, and plenty of wild creatures. All of that is done and over. It's time to focuses on the characters and that choice has been made wisely. You'll learn plenty of Potter's backstory as the adventure progresses and the mystery is slowly unraveled. Most of the supporting cast just serves to move the plot along, as this is film squarely focused on the lead.

That's certainly not a bad thing. Coming in at over two hours, it's surprising that every single scene serves a purpose. There are plenty of unforgettable moments to be had and the use of foreshadowing is just fantastic. There's even a little bit of time travel to be had.

It's rare when you can keep a kid firmly seated for such a lengthy movie, but there's a reason both the book and movie versions of "Harry Potter" are so successful. This is one that may require some "parental guidance" to get them through (the werewolf transformation should be terrifying to a young child), but they should be enthralled throughout. So should you. (**** out of *****)

Being such a dark film, it's very important for the black levels to be consistent. No worries here. Along with the muted color tones, the darkness perfectly suits the film and Warner has provided a fine 2.35:1 transfer to keep it that way. You'll find some light grain in a few scenes and maybe a compression artifact strewn about, but overall, this is a very solid transfer. (****)

For the first time in the series, this disc only gets a 5.1 treatment. It's not a major step down, but the 5.1 EX tracks of the first two discs really helped in the rear speakers. Anyway, once again it's the Quidditch game that is unbelievable as far as audio goes. It's a short scene, but the combination of thunder (which has some great range) and zooming players make it a treat. Though there are only few scenes in the film that really have a chance to work all five speakers, when called upon, you'll hear great separation and some nice subtle ambience. (*****)

Complaint time. Warner has packed this 2-disc set in a standard snapper case, abandoning the folding cardboard cases of the first two films. How about some consistency? The three sets now look awkward sitting on a shelf.

Regardless, there really isn't a lot here unless you're under 10 years old. Disc one only holds three trailers (one for each film in the series, duh). The rest of the extras are fleshed out on disc 2.

There is a somewhat clunky menu system at work here, so finding what you want may be an issue. It's not as bad as the first "Harry Potter" set, but it's still irritating. Why can't all the games be put in one place and the documentaries in other? Sigh.

"Creating the Vision" is comprised mostly of an interview with the director and J.K. Rowling. There is some behind the scenes footage and various other brief interviews, but the majority of this 12-minute piece goes to the main participants. Five deleted scenes are included, though there is no commentary as to why there were cut. "Head to Shrunken Head" is a collection of seven interviews with various cast members. Along the way through these surprisingly insightful Q & A sessions, Shrunken Head gets in a few words of his own to keep the kids entertained.

"Care of Magical Creatures" is a look at how rough it was to get the animals trained and ready for filming. There is plenty of behind the scenes footage here. "Conjuring the Scene" is a look at some of the various makeup work required for the film. It runs for a little over 15 minutes and has the team discussing how they pulled it off. A short video game trailer is available on this disc too.

The rest of the disc is filled with various little (awful) games and other assorted items for the kids. There are two that can be found somewhat interesting, "A Tour of Lupin's Classroom" and "A Tour of Honey Dukes." These are sort of like the full-motion video game of old, but they let you sort of take part in a scene from the movie. The technology is mildly impressive, but again, it's nothing that will keep you interested for very long unless you are a child. (***)

Here's to a long series, though one can only hope these DVD releases are more carefully planned out. It's fine to have stuff on them for the target audience, but if the movies are fun for adults, then the discs should be too. These are fascinating movies and ones that should have plenty of extras, not just cheaply produced DVD games.

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