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.