Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Although neither of the first two Potter Blu-rays looked especially great, Prisoner made up for that with an exceptional transfer.
Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie consistently looked detailed and accurate. I noticed virtually no signs of softness during this distinct and well-defined movie. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and edge enhancement seemed absent. A little grain crept in at times, but not as much as during the first two flicks. The movie otherwise looked free from flaws, as I noticed no specks, marks, or other issues.
Prisoner didn’t exactly feature a sizzling palette. However, it varied hues well enough, and the disc displayed these nicely. The different colors came across as vivid and bold when necessary. The hues never showed any problems like noise or bleeding, as they stayed tight and clearly reproduced. Black levels looked particularly solid, as they portrayed deep tones, while shadow detail appeared quite smooth and appropriately visible. Low-light situations seemed very neatly defined and suffered from no excessive opacity. The image of Prisoner came across well and offered the strongest transfer of the three movies.
Although not as memorable as the image, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Prisoner was fine. Much of the track maintained a focus on the front, but within that spectrum, the audio seemed smooth and lively. Music presented good stereo imaging, while effects popped up in their appropriate locations and blended together cleanly. Elements moved from one channel to another in a natural manner.
At times, I thought the surround usage seemed little too reserved, but when the rear speakers really kicked into action, I better appreciated the mix. A few sequences used the surrounds to good advantage. These lacked the impressiveness of the action pieces from the first two movies, but they still involved the listener well.
Audio quality appeared solid. Speech seemed natural and warm, and I detected no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music probably could have been a little more prominent in the mix, as it occasionally appeared a little buried. Nonetheless, John Williams’ score was clean and bright. Effects presented excellent dynamics and clarity. Distortion created no problems even during the loudest parts, and highs appeared crisp and vibrant. Low-end response was nicely deep and tight, as bass elements really added to some of the more aggressive sequences. The audio worked well enough for a “B+”.
How did the picture and audio of this “Ultimate Edition” compare to those of the 2007 Blu-ray? Though the UE replaced the old Blu-ray’s PCM 5.1 mix with a DTS-HD track, I thought they sounded virtually identical. As for the visuals, improvements in Blu-ray encoding might’ve made the UE a smidgen smoother, but the old disc looked terrific as well, so I wouldn’t say that the new one bettered it.
No extras appear on Disc One. Disc Two replicates the supplements platter from the 2004 DVD – literally. It’s a standard DVD that’s the same one from the earlier release.
We start in an area called “Divination Class” and its three components. Trelawney’s Crystal Ball presents five deleted scenes. They last between 30 seconds and 115 seconds for a total of four minutes, 47 seconds of footage. The most substantial pieces connect to the “Sir Cadogan” painting and his role as guard. Otherwise, we only see very minor bits, so don’t expect much from these clips.
Inside Creating the Vision, we get an 11-minute and 40-second piece. It mixes behind the scenes shots, movie clips, and comments from producers Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe and David Heyman, screenwriter Steve Kloves, director Alfonso Cuarón, author JK Rowling, and production designer Stuart Craig. They talk about the adaptation of the books, Cuarón’s ideas for the flick, its various design components, staying true to the Potter universe, and the inspirations for some of the flick’s creatures. Mostly the program follows a “bringing the books to life” tone with a very praise-oriented focus. We hear lots of talk about how wonderful everything is and don’t really learn very much about the movies.
For the final component of “Divination Class”, Head to Shrunken Head offers a collection of cast and crew interviews. It starts with a 40-second introduction from British TV personality Johnny Vaughn and “Shrunken Head”. We then find comments from “The Heroes” (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint), “The Gryffindors” (James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Devon Murray and Matthew Lewis), “The Slytherins” (Tom Felton, Jamie Waylett, and Josh Herdman), “Professor Lupin and Sirius Black” (David Thewlis and Gary Oldman), “Professor Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid” (Michael Gambon and Robbie Coltrane), “The Dursleys” (Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, Fiona Shaw and Pam Ferris) and “The Filmmakers” (Cuarón, Craig, and director of photography Michael Seresin). All together, these fill 42 minutes and 51 seconds.
The “Heroes” talk about their preparation for the third movie, their experiences with fame, their biggest fears, and what Potter powers they’d like in real life. The “Gryffindors” chat about their casting, what other characters they’d like to play, film-related experiences, their fears, and the powers they wish they had. The “Slytherins” cover reactions in daily life, perks on the set, and silly questions asked by fans. When we meet “Lupin/Black”, they discuss what they knew about Potter before this film, reactions from Oldman’s kids, their characters and why they wanted to appear in the movie, working with the established cast and crew, Thewlis’s wolf transformation, and what animals they’d be.
“Dumbledore/Hagrid” address approaches to the material, making Hagrid look large, reactions from children, and working with the kids. “The Dursleys” discuss reactions from fans and relatives, their characters, and what powers they’d like to have. Finally, “The Filmmakers” go over how Cuarón tried to make this flick his own, shooting in Scotland, designing various elements and challenges, costumes, and the tone on the set. The interviews mix in some good data, and it’s interesting to hear how the actors deal with fans in real life. The filmmakers also offer nice notes about their plans and decisions. However, an awful lot of fluff shows up here with many inane questions. The participation of “Shrunken Head” in the proceedings makes matters even goofier. These are sporadically useful interviews but they lack consistency.
Called “The Great Hall”, the next section offers three more pieces, mostly in the game domain. Catch Scabbers! uses the Dragon’s Lair model for an annoying contest without much fun involved. Choir Practice is just a “sing-along” feature. It shows movie clips along with a version of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” as heard in the flick. Yawn! Lastly, The Quest for Sir Cadogan is another unenjoyable game that requires blind luck for the most part. Some DVDs include cool contests, but Prisoner isn’t one of them.
When we head to Tour Honeyduke’s, that’s exactly what we do. It gives an interactive feature that lets us explore the sweet shop. Maybe fans will enjoy this piece, but it does little for me.
“Defense Against the Dark Arts” includes two elements. Magic You May Have Missed shows movie clips and quizzes you on their details. It’s not much fun, but at least it rewards attentiveness, and it’s certainly superior to the prior games. Tour Lupin’s Classroom echoes the “Honeyduke’s” feature in a different setting. It’s also less than scintillating, though I expect fans will dig it more than I.
Finally, we head to “Hogwarts Grounds” and its elements. “Hagrid’s Hut” breaks into a few other components. Care of Magical Creatures offers a four-minute and 40-second featurette about the movie’s animals. We hear from Columbus, animal supervisor Gary Gero, head trainers Julie Tottman and Dave Sousa, animal trainer Jim Warren, They chat about the flick’s critters as they tell us about their work and training. It’s too short to offer much substance, but I like it; the bit that shows how they mess up the normally well-groomed Crookshanks is especially fun.
Conjuring a Scene offers another featurette; this one runs 15 minutes and 30 seconds. It presents remarks from Oldman, Thewlis, Heyman, Cuarón, Craig, Seresin, Mark Radcliffe, Columbus, chief makeup designer Amanda Knight, chief hairdresser Eithne Fennell, creature and makeup effects designer Nick Dudman, visual effects supervisors Roger Guyett and Tim Burke, lead animator Steve Rawlins, digital effects supervisor Euan MacDonald, CG supervisor David Lomax, animation supervisor Mike Eames, special effects supervisors Stephen Hamilton and John Richardson, and actor Timothy Spall.
They discuss the physical look for Black, Lupin’s werewolf transformation, Pettigrew’s change from rat to human, creating the dementors and the hippogriff, shooting actor interaction with the CG creatures, animatronics, building the Shrieking Shack and the Knight Bus, and shooting in Scotland. “Conjuring” rips through its various topics quickly but it looks at them with reasonable depth. We learn a little about a lot in this brisk and informative piece.
The Game Preview presents exactly what its title implies. We get a 60-second trailer for the Prisoner videogame. It’s pretty worthless.
For those with DVD-ROM drives, a few more features appear. There’s a videogame preview as well as a “Hogwarts Timeline”. It traces the history of that establishment. You can also go online to play for “Trading Cards”. I didn’t try that one, but I wanted to mention it. A mix of other Potter-related links appear. The DVD-ROM features don’t add a lot to the package.
With that we go to Disc Three and its Ultimate Edition semi-exclusives. We open with a documentary called Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures. As implied by the title, this is the third chapter in a series that began with the Sorcerer’s Stone UE. It runs one hour, three minutes, 22 seconds and offers notes from directors Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, David Yates, and Mike Newell, production designer Stuart Craig, Framestore CFC animation supervisor Pablo Grillo, special effects makeup designer Nick Dudman, producers David Heyman and David Barron, visual effects producer Emma Norton, concept artist Rob Bliss, visual effects supervisors Jim Mitchell and Tim Burke, visual effects producer Theresa R. Corrao, concept artist Adam Brockbank, sculptor Chris Fitzgerald, author JK Rowling, screenwriters Michael Goldenberg and Steve Kloves, and actors Daniel Radcliffe, Warwick Davis, Matthew Lewis, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Isaacs, Evanna Lynch, Toby Jones, Jason Piper, David Thewlis, Dave Legeno, Ralph Fiennes, and Timothy Spall.
To the surprise of no one, “Creatures” concentrates on the design and execution of the fantastic critters we see throughout the Potter series. We learn a lot about early visualizations and check out how the filmmakers brought the beings to life on the screen.
When all is said and done, “Creating” will add up to one nine-hour or so documentary, which is astonishing. Sure, that covers eight movies, but it remains a project of amazing scope. “Creatures” keeps the series going well. It could probably ground the franchise better, as it’s not always clear what movie is being discussed. However, it assumes that anyone who’ll watch nine hours of Potter documentaries probably knows the series well, and that’s a sensible assumption. Any way you look at it, “Creatures” develops its subject matter in an informative and enjoyable manner.
(Interesting background note: I noticed that the fake name given to Chamber of Secrets was “Incident on 57th Street”. Springsteen fans will know that as a song from 1973.)
Five featurettes follow. Inside the Creature Shop goes for eight minutes, 27 seconds and features a tour conducted by special effects makeup designer Nick Dudman. As promised, he leads us through the creature shop and shows us the ins and outs of various effects. Some of the info’s a little redundant, but the “hands on” feel makes the show useful.
During the 42-minute, 28-second The Magic Touch of Harry Potter, we hear from Rowling, Grint, Radcliffe, Watson, Columbus, Cuaron, Coltrane, Heyman, Craig, Isaacs, Thewlis, Heyman, producer Mark Radcliffe, and actors Tom Felton, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Richard Harris, John Cleese, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Gambon. Created to promote Prisoner in 2004, “Touch” traces the roots of the books, their move to the big screen, casting, visual aspects of the films, working with the actors, bringing Cuaron onto Prisoner, and aspects of shooting that flick.
As I mentioned, “Touch” existed to tout the then-new Prisoner. Six years later, it’s not particularly useful. You’ll see a decent selection of shots from the various productions, but the tone remains resolutely promotional, so hard information is rare. It’s a watchable show, but it’s not a particularly useful way to spend 42 minutes.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Something Wicked This Way Comes fills 13 minutes, two seconds and offers remarks from Daniel Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Oldman, Thewlis, Gambon, Coltrane, Cuaron, Columbus, Heyman, Mark Radcliffe, and actor Emma Thompson. The show gives us a basic overview of the flick and looks into Cuaron’s take on the tale, costumes, cast and performances. This is another promotional piece, so don’t expect much from it.
Next we get the 10-minute, two-second The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It throws in notes from Cuaron, Columbus, Daniel Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Heyman, Oldman, Gambon, Smith, Thompson,and Coltrane. Guess what? “Making” tells us very little about the flick’s actual creation; instead, it delivers predictable advertising and fluff. Yawn.
Finally, An Interview in Spanish With Alfonso Cuaron lasts eight minutes, 15 seconds. The director discusses how he came onto Prisoner, aspects of working on the film, complications related to shooting the third part of an eight-part tale, bringing his own touch to the flick, and other elements. This turns into a reasonably informative chat.
”Trelawney’s Crystal Ball” Deleted Scenes provides the same five cut scenes found on the DVD. Why do they appear here as well? Simple: so we can have them in high-def on Blu-ray. That’s a nice touch.
Disc Three ends with Trailers. In addition to one teaser and two theatrical ads, we get promos for Harry Potter Spells (an iPhone/iPod app), Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book, and the Harry Potter: Film Wizardry book.
The package also provides a few materials not found on various discs. A 48-page Photo Book presents a variety of images. Called “Creating the Creatures of Harry Potter”, it mixes production photos, character/costume art, closeups of sets and props, and movie stills. These span many years and don’t just concentrate on Prisoner. This is a good little book with some interesting images.
Two Character Cards finish the package. Prisoner includes cards for Hermione and Sirius Black. On the positive side, these are better constructed than I expected; they’re thick and sturdy. On the negative side, they don’t really tell us anything. One side shows a black and white photo of the character, while the other sticks with extremely basic facts. For instance, Black is just described as “pure-blood wizard and godfather of Harry Potter”. Okay then! Maybe fans will dig these, but they seem superfluous to me.
With Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we get a film with a lot of similarities to its two predecessors. Nothing here will turn off established fans, but nothing will entice non-partisans to embrace the Potter franchise. It’s another moderately entertaining movie without much to make it truly special.
As for the Blu-ray, it provides exceptional visuals and very good audio, and the supplements add nice value to the set. This Ultimate Edition becomes unquestionably the best release of Prisoner, though it comes with a price; the UE runs exactly twice the MSRP of the standard Blu-ray. While I like this package, I suspect most fans will be happy enough with the lesser expensive disc.
To rate this film visit the original review of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN