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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  (2004)


Rating: PG

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: November 23, 2004
Review posted: November 22, 2004


Reviewed by Rachel Sexton




Adolescent wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to Hogwarts school for his third year with the threat of being pursued by Azkaban prison escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). His loyal friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) always help along the way, as Harry deals with classes, Draco Malfoy, and, of course, Black. He learns a lot about his parents and grows up in the process.



Always solid examples of mainstream family-oriented filmmaking, the Harry Potter series enters a new era in its third film. The lead characters are now 13, adolescence has arrived and the sensibility of the film has taken its cue from that. Director Alfonso Cuaron and his team craft a mature Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with an exciting plot, stunning visuals, and assured lead performances.


Perhaps it was the daring choice to change directors from safe Chris Columbus to Mexican auteur Cuaron that truly elevated every aspect of the film. The scripts of these films always work but could be called slavishly true to the original. This time, the usual entertaining and intricate plot is the shortest of the adaptations so far and the most adult. From the director of Y Tu Mama Tambien, who expected anything different? Visuals of wonder and magic are definitely within his capabilities (helped by gorgeous Scottish locations) but he adds even more than that.


In a featurette on this disc, author J.K. Rowling says that he adds touches that foreshadow what happens in the following books. Aside from Black appearing again, could she be referring to the couple of staging bits that suggest a Ron and Hermione romance? Fourteen and fifteen years old is the right age for those things to start. (I havenít read the books, so no one tell me!) As a romantic, that development, especially handled well, couldnít thrill me more.


The visual effects are a seamless mix of CGI, blue screen work, and animatronics. Legend John Williamsí great score just sizzles like never before. As I wrote in my review of the film when it was released, the costuming also reflects the growth of the characters. Heck, even Cuaronís transitions, mostly dissolves, are well done.

Now, I have to mention the three leads because theyíve evolved steadily. Daniel Radcliffe is a bonafide leading man now, Emma Watson gets a great female character and runs with it, and Rupert Grint (my favorite) clearly has a charm beyond being excellent comedic relief. Life after Potter for them is filled with other good roles, I hope. Brilliant British actors fill up the supporting cast, too many to name. One of my idols is Emma Thompson, and she delightfully appears here as Professor Sybill Trelawney.



Director Cuaronís great images are preserved well in the widescreen format. None of the color or visuals are lost on the small screen. A really good presentation.



The excellent aural sound of the film is done good service by the, as always, Dolby Digital 5.1.



Trailers: The theatrical trailers for all three Potter films are included on the first disc with the film. A nice feature.


Deleted Scenes: There are 5 in all, though two are simply extended scenes. I like the completely new scenes and they would have worked in the film as well.


Creating the Vision: Strong interviews with the director, writer, and many other creators of the film cover the story, the production design, visual effects and more. A substantial studio featurette.


Interviews: Johnny Vaughan interviews the filmmakers and nearly the entire principal cast: the three leads, their Gryffindor friends, their Slytherin enemies, Dumbledore and Hagrid, Professor Lupin and the new Dumbldore, even the Dursleys. Theyíre fun, but best of all is the hilarious addition of the Shrunken Head from the film.


Magic You May Have Misses: This is a fun interactive game that quizzes players on the magic going on in the background of scenes. Pay attention!


Tour Lupinís Classroom: This is a nice feature, incorporating extra footage in a 360-degree tour of the classroom and office. The functions load a bit slowly, though and you canít move anywhere once you get to what I assume is the end.


Tour Honeydukes: This feature is like the one above, except set in the mouthwatering Honeydukes candy shop. It has the same good and bad points as the one above.


Catch Scabbers: This is another interactive game. The arrow keys on the remote lead you around obstacles to catch Ronís pet rat. It actually takes practice and the kids will probably like it.


Choir Practice: Film clips play to the entire song that the Hogwartís choir sings in the film. The lyrics are printed on screen as well. Cool to watch.


The Quest of Sir Cadogan: Another interactive game, this may be the most fun of all. It is a bit hard to follow but has funny bits. Kids will love it.


Care of Magical Creatures: Behind the scenes footage details the care of the animals seen in the film, some you might not have thought of, like the hippo in the portrait of the fat lady in Hogwarts. Itís all interesting.


Conjuring a Scene: This may be the best featurette, discussing mostly the visual effects achieved by makeup and CGI. Most interesting is how Buckbeak and the Dementors were created.


Game Preview: For the kids, an early look at the latest Potter video game. Boys especially will want to check this out.


DVD-ROM: A couple of features can be accessed in a computerís DVD-ROM: a Hogwarts Timeline and Trading Cards.



More than a family film and the best of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban excels in direction and performance with a new tone that bodes well for the installments to come. The extras on the two-disc set are well done, too, adding to the pleasant experience of the film. Bring on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire directed by Mike Newell next November!




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