Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is still my favorite movie in the franchise to date. When it was released in 2004 it was a much darker movie then the previous installments and set the foundation for the tone of the future movies. With the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Ultimate Edition on Blu-ray we get a great transfer in a great package for this excellent film.
For those living under a rock Prisoner of Azkaban is the third movie in the Harry Potter series. The movie finds Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) returning to Hogwarts under an aura of danger. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the man imprisoned for killing Harry’s parents, has escaped from Azkaban prison and is on the loose. Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) return to the school to find that creatures called dementors are roaming the grounds ‘guarding’ against Sirius’ potential attack on the school and Harry himself.
As is the pattern every year there is a new Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), who hides a secret but he is a stalwart companion to Harry and an effective teacher for our heroes. The rest of the faculty returns with Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) becoming a professor with his own magical-creatures class. Prisoner of Azkaban also introduces us to the newly recast Albus Dumbledore very effectively played by Michael Gambon following the passing of Richard Harris.
The story follows Harry and his friends learning about Sirius Black and Harry becoming filled with fear and anger at the thought that his parents killer was not only loose but could be coming for him. The dementors are a constant presence, indiscriminate in their harassment and fear-inducing power, only Dumbledore and the walls of Hogwarts keep them at bay. Revelations about Harry and Sirius’ past arise and his world is changed forever. Saying more about the story is both a disservice and unnecessary, the story is well known and this being the Ultimate Edition it is important to know that the version of the film is unchanged from past releases.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a great book as it shed a lot of light on Harry’s past, introduced a number of key characters and delved deeper into Harry, Ron and Hermione’s motivations, wants and needs. The new director, Alfonso Cuarón, understood that this was a darker, more motivated story and tackled the project with amazing results. I won’t delve into the story details as this movie and book are well known, but Cuarón was able to work with the ever-increasing skill of the young cast and counter-balance them with the sheer skill and presence of the accomplished actors to amazing results.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban looks amazing on Blu-ray with a stellar 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. This is a very dark film (in tone and visually) and the color balances are nearly perfect. Blacks are dark and foreboding while even grey and dismal scenes seem to pop. When we are in daytime or well lit scenarios the colors stand out effectively and enhance the feel of the moment.
The transfer was expertly done with little to no artifacting to be seen and noise is non-existent. The textures in this transfer seem almost touchable at times and there is a very three-dimensional feel to the film at times. The CG in Prisoner of Azkaban is more mature than in previous chapters and coupled with the excellent transfer does not stand out as readily. This is a phenomenal transfer of a great film and further proof that Warner Brothers is one of the better studios for Blu-ray implementation out there.
The Ultimate Edition version features a lossless DTS-HD soundtrack (compared to uncompressed LCPM from the original blu-ray release) and it is a treat to hear. Prisoner of Azkaban is a very dialogue-rich film and the sound levels are mixed perfectly for this. Even during thunderstorms, chase sequences or in the bustle of a full school of students each character is clearly heard throughout the film.
The surround mix is represented very, very well, with ample ambient sounds throughout the film (in particular the quidditch match) giving you a feeling of truly being in the scenes. The subwoofer is used to good effect, never over-utilized but giving satisfying thrums during key moments. This is an excellent transfer with crystal clear audio and levels that all movies should strive to achieve. Further proof that stellar audio makes a great movie even better with its inclusion.
This being the Ultimate Edition there are a host of extras common to the ‘Ultimate’ run of the Harry Potter movies. There is a hardbound book of images from the film, two collector’s cards, a code to download a digital copy of the movie and of course the fold out digipack containing the three Blu-ray discs.
The supplements in Prisoner of Azkaban – Ultimate Edition are not very engrossing; most of them are reprints of the extras provided with the DVD release. There is no Picture-in-Picture feature nor is there a full-length commentary, which is a true shame because this movie deserved those features.
- Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures (HD, 63 minutes): The true meat of the Ultimate Editions is the ‘Creating the World of Harry Potter’ features. In this third part of the excellent series we learn about the processes involved in creating the creatures in the movies. Showing the full process from initial sketches, to models to CG and animatronic creations this features is an excellent supplement and deserves to be watched.
- Vintage TV Spots (SD, 66 minutes): Three television specials are available, they are your typical marketing fluff pieces, but there are nuggets of enjoyment to be found. Oddly enough Jeremy Piven narrates one of them, “The Magic Touch of Harry Potter”, the other two are weaker simply because the Piven is not involved. The other specials are Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
- An Interview with Alfonso Cuarón (SD, 8 minutes): Cuarón discusses his take on the film and how he entered the world of Harry Potter. It is presented in Spanish with subtitles and makes me wish there was a directors commentary.
- Inside the Creature Shop (HD, 8 minutes): Very minimal compared to the full length feature this featurette takes a quick look at Special Makeup Effects Designer Nick Dudman’s Creature Shop.
- Additional Scenes (HD, 5 minutes): Five unfinished (and not great) scenes are presented in HD.
- Theatrical Trailers and Assorted Ads (HD, 10 minutes): More marketing fluff is available for your viewing pleasure as three theatrical trailers, an iPod app advert and a look at the “Film Wizardry” book are offered.
- Original Special Features (SD, 70 minutes): The remaining supplements don’t bear much mentioning as they are the same as offered on the previous DVD release. The menu is awkward and difficult to use, but there are a few gems to be found. Of note is an interview with J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers, a look at the animal trainers and a look at the creation of the dementors. Not worthwhile is the obligatory DVD-ROM games, virtual classrooms and obnoxious cast and crew interviews hosted by the Shrunken Head and Johnny Vaughn.
The Final Word
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favorite movies in the franchise and it is treated to an amazing video transfer and stellar audio mix. While the supplements are not as great as previous Ultimate Editions the package as a whole is terrific and well worth adding to your collection.