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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Alfonso Cuarón
Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Griffiths, Pam Ferris, Fiona Shaw, Harry Melling, Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville, Gary Oldman
Writing Credits:
J.K. Rowling (novel), Steven Kloves

Tagline:
Something wicked this way comes.

Synopsis:
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and his friends Ron and Hermione return as teenagers to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for their third year of study, where they delve into the mystery surrounding an escaped prisoner who seems to pose a dangerous threat to Harry.

Box Office:
Budget
$130 million.
Opening Weekend
$93.687 million on 3855 screens.
Domestic Gross
$249.358 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 11/23/2004

Bonus:
Disc One
• Cast and Crew
• Theatrical Trailers
Disc Two
• Deleted Scenes
• “Creating the Vision” Featurette
• Cast and Crew Interviews
• “Catch Scabbers!” Game
• “Choir Practice” Sing-Along
• “The Quest of Sir Cadogan” Game
• “Explore Honeyduke’s” Interactive Feature
• “Magic You May Have Missed” Game
• “Tour Lupin’s Classroom” Interactive Feature
• “Care of Magical Creatures” Featurette
• “Conjuring a Scene” Featurette
• Game Preview
• DVD-ROM Features


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RELATED REVIEWS


Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 15, 2004)

When Thanksgiving 2003 rolled around, many folks wondered why a new Harry Potter flick failed to materialize. They knew one was in production - where was it? After two straight November releases with 2001’s Sorcerer’s Stone and 2002’s Chamber of Secrets, the powers behind Potter decided to rearrange release dates and put the young wizard up against summertime competition.

That meant the third flick, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, came out during the busy summer 2004 schedule. This may have been a mistake. Prisoner certainly earned good cash, as it took in $249 million. However, that meant it showed the second consecutive Potter decline. Stone nailed $317 million, but that dropped to $261 million for Chamber. Prisoner didn’t mark a big drop from the others, but it continues to slip, and since this movie got generally good reactions, it might have fared better with an end of the year release.

We’ll see what happens with the fourth flick, which comes out November 2005. Just like the first two films, Prisoner opens between school terms with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe)at home with his unpleasant relatives. When he uses magic to make his nasty Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) inflate and fly away, a row ensues and Harry flees. Happily for him, the “Knight Bus” - a transport for displaced witches and wizards - comes to get him. He heads to the Leaky Cauldron, but along the way, he learns that murderous sorcerer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) - the titular prisoner of Azkaban and a supposed supporter of ultra-evil Lord Voldemort - escaped.

At the Cauldron, Harry briefly meets with the Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy) before he reunites with pals Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). Ron’s father (Mark Williams) tells him that Black blames Harry for Voldemort’s death and will likely pursue our hero.

The kids head back to Hogwarts for another term. On the train ride, Harry tells his pals the deal, and he also gets a visit from a scary creature called a dementor, one of the guards of Azkaban, as it searches for Black. Harry goes through a weird reaction and passes out before new professor RJ Lupin (David Thewlis) intervenes.

When they arrive at Hogwarts, headmaster Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) welcomes back the amassed students but also gives them a warning. The dementors will stalk Hogwarts until they catch Black, and they can cause harm to others anyone who might get in their way. After the kids get reacquainted and start classes, they hear that Black is sighted nearby and fret about his possible return.

Those fears soon turn to reality, as Black apparently shows up on the scene. Harry overhears discussions that indicate a new professor may have helped Black gain entry into the building, but he doesn’t get more information than that. Suspiciously, however, Lupin doesn’t come to teach his next class, and substitute Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) has the kids alter the curriculum to learn about werewolves.

Time passes, and Harry finds out more about Black and the baddie’s connection to his family. He declares that he’ll be ready for the villain and tries to learn what he needs in case that day comes. The rest of the flick follows the events that lead to this inevitable confrontation and twists along the way.

For the first time, someone other than Chris Columbus directs a Potter flick. One will likely find it difficult to tell, however, as Alfonso Cuarón doesn’t exactly leave a strong mark on the material. He got much of his fame in America from 2002’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, a fairly raunchy “coming of age” tale that featured lots of sexual content. That seems like an odd basis on which to select the director of a Potter effort, and Cuarón comes across as unsure of himself in these surroundings.

Maybe “unsure of himself” isn’t the correct term, but Cuarón fails to give Prisoner a distinctive feel. If you didn’t know that someone other than Columbus directed the movie, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the action onscreen. I’d say that Prisoner presents a slightly darker tone than its predecessors, at least at times. Cuarón manages to make elements like the dementors appropriately scary, but otherwise, I see little to make the flick come across as different from the prior efforts.

Some might regard that as a good thing. After all, the previous Potter movies did well, so why alter the formula? Then again, why bother to get a new director if we’re going to get the same old thing? I don’t mean to harp on Cuarón heavily, but I admit the sameness that came with Prisoner was a disappointment. I hoped the change in director would bring a new spirit to the movie and make it more distinctive.

Instead, it works in a manner very similar to the first two. I thought those lacked good story development, and that happened here as well. For filmmakers, the biggest problem with the Potter films relates to the source material. By that I mean that they need to make good movies but they also need to satisfy the legions of fans who adore the books. Those are long tomes and apparently filled with lots of moments that don’t necessarily further the plot. Those elements may work fine on the printed page, but they slow down a movie.

Nonetheless, perhaps out of a sense of duty to the fans, all three Potter movies include lots of these “slice of life at Hogwarts” moments. We see plenty of them in the first two films and they continue here. Actually, Prisoner probably cuts back on them a little, but they still fill too much time for my liking.

It’s shocking to realize that at 142 minutes, Prisoner is the shortest of the three flicks. The first two were too long, and that flaw continues to mar Prisoner. It’s all about the exposition, which progresses at a snail’s pace. Some will argue that the views of daily life at Hogwarts give Potter its distinctiveness, but I feel that enough is enough. We saw lots of those establishing moments in the first two flicks; now they’re just tedious.

Because of that, the movie’s third act works the best. We see some clever moments during the second half as the kids find out the truth and work out the solution. Once the filmmakers remember the film actually has a plot and they bother to explore it, the flick improves.

On the negative side, the story seems awfully familiar. Does Harry ever deal with anything other than people who want to kill him? There’s not much else to the plot, and this sense of déjà vu mars the movie. It’d be nice to see a flick in which there isn’t an ominous threat hanging over Harry’s head. This makes him more of a reactive character than anything else, though the third act allows him to become more involved in his own fate.

It doesn’t help that Radcliffe continues to be a bore as Harry. I cut him slack in the first movie since I thought the story wanted him to start out as a cipher so he could better develop later. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to occur here. He’s still flat and without much personality.

Viewed on its own, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban presents a reasonably entertaining piece. My mild dissatisfaction with it comes from a sense of boredom. It’s the third movie in the series and it doesn’t do much to make it distinctive. Sure, each film needs to present enough similarities to make them feel like it melds with its predecessors, but that doesn’t mean it must come across like a remake.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Lather, rinse, repeat; Prisoner looked a smidgen better than the first two Potter flicks, but it still was pretty similar visually.

Sharpness remained 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.

As with the prior movies, Prisoner didn’t exactly feature a sizzling palette. However, it varied hues well enough, and the DVD 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.

Another sense of déjà vu greeted me when I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Prisoner. As with the prior flicks, the audio helped add life to the proceedings, though the third Potter presented slightly weaker sound when compared to the first two. 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 soundfield lacked the involvement to bolster the track up to the “A-“ of the first two movies, but the audio continued to work well enough for a “B+”.

Just like the first two releases, Prisoner comes as a two-DVD set. Only a few extras show up on the first disc. We find a Cast and Crew section that simply lists the names of participants and their characters/jobs. Warner Bros. does this for many of their DVDs, and I don’t get it. If I want to find out who played a certain role, I’ll look at the end credits. I go to “Cast and Crew” areas for biographical info about the participants, or at least to check out a filmography; these basic charts are useless.

Trailers appear for each of the first three Potter films. At the start of DVD One, we find a promo for The Polar Express and an ad for Elf on DVD.

After this we head to DVD Two and its supplements. 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.

One nice touch: most of the DVD’s supplements offer both English and French subtitles. Warner doesn’t usually provide these, so I was pleased to see them here.

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. (Plus, Warner really needs to update their “Special Events” page – it’s a year behind!)

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.

The DVD also greatly resembles the two prior releases. Picture quality improves slightly, while audio was just a little less immersive. Unfortunately, we get another bland collection of extras that only barely rises above the level of mediocrity. Who do we have to kill to get some real supplements like an audio commentary? The Prisoner DVD does the most important parts right, as visuals and sound are strong, but the insubstantial collection of bonus materials makes it another disappointing release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.196 Stars Number of Votes: 51
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