Third time’s a charm, as they say… and in the case of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN ($30) this third film in the series is definitely what its two predecessors ought to have been. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie versions of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, as well as HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, but I always felt these fantasy movies very missing a little something. As it turns out the thing the first two Harry Potter movie adaptations were missing was a distinct sense of visual style, something that new series director Alfonso Cuarón brings to HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. I also have to complement the young stars of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, who are definitely getting better with each subsequent film.
Another strength of this third movie adaptation is the snappier pacing (and shorter running time), that keeps the story flowing, instead of having the tendency to drag, like the preceding movies (especially the first, which had a tendency to stall out in places). Sure, this movie takes liberties with the book, but it is certainly the most cinematic and satisfying (movie-wise of the three). I’ll be very interested to see what will be done with HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, as the book is of enormous length and detail, so I wonder if director Mike Newell can strike a good balance between faithfulness to the story and keeping the movie from screeching to a halt.
The plot of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN finds young Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) starting his third year at Hogwarts’ School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry, along with best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint). Unfortunately for Harry, the school year starts off under a dark cloud, with the wizarding academy under a lockdown due to the escape of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) from Azkaban prison. As it turns out, Sirius Black is the first prisoner to ever escape from the wizard’s penal institution, and to make matters worse, Black is believed to be responsible for the death of Harry’s parents, at the hands of the Dark Lord Voldemort. With Harry being Black’s next likely target, the outer perimeter of Hogwarts is being patrolled by the Dementors- the joyless, soul-sucking guards of Azkaban prison. The cast of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN also features Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Matthew Lewis, Oliver Phelps, James Phelps, Bonnie Wright, Chris Rankin, Warwick Davis and David Bradley.
Warner Home Video has made HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Overall this is a very fine presentation of a somewhat dark looking movie. The cinematography for HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is a bit more stylized than the earlier films, producing a darker, more menacing atmosphere than one found in either HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE or HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS. Sharpness and detail prove to be terrific, leaving one wanting for very little in that department. Colors usually are rendered at a very natural level of saturation, although the darker sequences can be more subdued, and occasionally, providing a flavor decidedly verging on monochromatic. Blacks appear quite inky, while the whites are crisp and the image boasts good contrast and fine shadow detail. The film elements used for the transfer appear very clean. Since HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is a somewhat dark movie, there is some noticeable film grain here and there. Digital compression artifacts are generally very well contained.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN comes with a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. This is a really great track that features a very cohesive sound, which serves to create convincing sonic environments for the film. Channel separation is great, with all of the outlying channels being deployed exceedingly well. There is some aggressive sound effects work for the film’s larger moments and some very nice smaller moments that are effectively implemented with a great deal of subtlety. Fidelity is excellent, with the film’s music having a very rich sense of presence and the sound effects coming across in a realistic manner. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the film’s dialogue is always completely understandable. The bass channel is full and deep, with out sounding artificially boomy. French and Spanish 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features includes a cast and crew listing, as well as trailers for all three Harry Potter movies. Moving on to disc two, one will fine the bulk of the supplemental programming. As with the previous Harry Potter DVDs, the supplements seem geared towards they younger viewers, instead of older movie fans.
The supplements have been broken up into sections entitled: Divination Class, Defense Against The Dark Arts, Great Hall, Hogwarts Grounds and Tour Honeydukes. Divination Class offers five deleted scenes with incomplete special effects work, a short behind the scenes piece and some interviews. Defense Against The Dark Arts includes an interactive test of one’s magical knowledge of the film and a tour of Professor Lupin’s classroom. Great Hall features a couple of interactive games and a performance of the school choir. Hogwarts Grounds looks at some of the magical creatures on display in the film as well as interviews and look at the makeup and special effects process deployed for some of the characters. A game preview and web links are also featured in this section. Finally, Tour Honeydukes offers a virtual tour of the famed candy store, which is near to the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is the most cinematically satisfying adaptations of any of the J.K. Rowling novels thus far. This DVD also is the best looking and sounding of the three and is certain to please fans. Highly recommended.
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