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Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (Ult. Ed.)
(Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, et al / 3-Disc DVD / PG / (2004) 2010 / Warner Bros.)

Overview: In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry, Ron and Hermione, now teenagers, return for their third year at Hogwarts, where they are forced to face escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, who poses a great threat to Harry. Harry and his friends spend their third year learning how to handle a half-horse half-eagle Hippogriff, repel shape-shifting Boggarts and master the art of Divination. They also visit the wizarding village of Hogsmeade and the Shrieking Shack, which is considered the most haunted building in Britain!

DVD Verdict: There are two reasons that HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is the best of all the films in the series. First and foremost, the movie was headed by one of the finest directors working in the world today, Alfonso Cuarón, directed of one of the greatest films of the 21st century, THE CHILDREN OF MEN, as well as the celebrated Mexican film Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN.

The first two films frequently suffer from pacing and rhythm problems. Things just frequently feel "off." Too many scenes don't work or are too abbreviated. But the worst thing about the first two movies is that they focus on the most lamentable parts of the relevant books and then drag them out. Cuarón is, unlike Chris Columbus, a genius. Second, THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is the last book in the series that can be moderately summed up in a film.

THE GOBLET OF FIRE was the first of the Harry Potter books that could be considered a very long book. So THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN contained most of the highlights of the novel without seriously abbreviating the story. But I don't want to exaggerate things. THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN works as a movie less because it summarizes the events of the book than because it gets at the heart of the story and repackages it into a new medium. Ultimately THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN works not because it is a good adaptation of a movie, but because it is a great movie on its own merits.

That really does sum up why this is the best of the Harry Potter movies: it is the only one of the films that stands on its own. All of the other of the movies play as if the director/writer has an eye on the movie from which they are derived. Too their credit, subsequent movies try to follow in the path of AZKABAN and several of them are entertaining. But what is lacking is the great script of this film and the impeccable talent of Alfonso Cuarón.

One of the most impressive things about the series of films as a whole is the extraordinary array of acting talent. The main three improved tremendously after the first two movies and they were constantly surrounded by an amazing group of actors. In this film such excellent actors as Robert Hardy, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Julie Christie, and David Thewlis join the cast.

It is amazing that actors of this quality join and already impressive group of performers. Sadly, another great actor, Michael Gambon, joined the cast under sad circumstances. After the death of Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two movies, Gambon took over as head of Hogwarts. I loved Harris and I regretted his loss, but Gambon stepped into the role and didn't miss a beat.

While I've loved the subsequent Harry Potter movies, none of them have come up to the level of this one. In fact, in an objective list of the great fantasy movies ever made, this is the one entry from the series that could make such a list. By any standard, this is a great movie. Sadly Alfonso Cuarón declined offers to direct subsequent films in the series.

Well, kinda sadly. How can you regret that the movie he made instead of THE GOBLET OF FIRE was THE CHILDREN OF MEN, which is quite possibly the greatest dystopian movie ever made? As I said, that movie would feature in any discussion of the very greatest movies made in the last decade. Still, while I love that movie dearly (if you haven't seen it, you should make a point of doing so immediately), I'm sorry that he couldn't have continued with the Harry Potter series. Heck, I wish he could have made all of them.

Frankly, I am shocked that they were able to get an actor of his stature involved with this series to begin with. Even though he did not continue with the series, he at least elevated the tone from the first two films. Thanks to him the rest of the series aspired to be more, even if later directors did not always succeed. [RM] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Magical Creatures
Tour Nick Dudman’s Creature Shop
An Interview in Spanish with Alfonso Cuarón
3 Vintage TV Specials: The Magic Touch of Harry Potter; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Something Wicked This Way Comes; The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Additional Scenes
Creating the Vision: Interview with J.K. Rowling and the Filmmakers
Conjuring a Scene: Creating Buckbeak and the Dementors for the Screen
Johnny Vaughan and the Shrunken Head Lead Raucous Interviews with the Cast Self-Guided Tours of Honeydukes and Professor Lupin’s Classroom
Meet the Animal Trainers in Care of Magical Creatures
3 Challenges: Test Your Memory with Magic You May Have Missed, Help Crookshanks Catch Scabbers, and Go on an Unxepected Quest with Sir Cadogan

48-Page Creatures Photo Book with rare images from years 1-7
Year 3 lenticular card
Two in a series of character cards: Hermione Granger & Sirius Black