The Harry Potter film franchise is heading into the home stretch in theaters this fall, but on the home market, it’s a different story: Warner Bros. is parceling out deluxe hi-def reissues of the series a little at a time. The first two films reached stores last year; now, they’re joined by the third and fourth Potter flicks. We’ll cover Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in a later post; today, we’ll take a look at the third installment, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in all its deluxe Blu-ray glory.
Synopsis: Approaching his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter has had enough of his muggle relatives. He runs away from them (finally) and enters his third term facing trouble from more than one side: for using magic outside the school and from the news that a notorious criminal, serial killer Sirius Black, has escaped the wizard’s prison at Azkaban and apparently is headed for Harry. The school calls in supernatural help against Black in the form of Dementors, but unusual things continue to put Harry in peril. He is thrown into a confusing panoply of shifting alliegences and shifting shapes where nobody is who or what they seem. Who is the real criminal? What is the real crime? Who is telling or knows the truth? Video: Though the Ultimate Edition package is new, Prisoner of Azkaban has been out on Blu-ray for a couple of years, and the transfer you see here is the same one that came out in 2008. Which is fine, really; there wasn’t anything wrong with the original Azkaban Blu-ray, and there’s nothing wrong with the picture here. In fact, this is one of the better-looking entries in the series — which is saying something, because Azkaban is a pretty dark film, and all that dank, foggy scenery and CGI-assisted action must have been problematic when it was encoded. Whatever Warner Bros. did, it worked — you’ll have to go over the picture with a magnifying glass to detect banding or digital noise.
Audio: The Ultimate Edition soundtrack differs from the original release, albeit only slightly; the standard edition used an LCPM mix, while this time around, we’re given a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Either way, your surround system will get a workout here; Azkaban‘s reams of dialogue are given plenty of room in the center channel, while the sound effects swoop, rumble and roar around you. It’s impressive, but it’s also what you’d expect from a six-year-old blockbuster — this is a movie made for state-of-the-art systems, and it delivers.
Special Features: And here’s why you spend the $34 it’ll cost you to get this set from Amazon today: tons of bonus content, all bundled in a big-ass box, topped off with a hologram cover. Like the others in the series, Azkaban includes three discs: the main feature, a disc of special features related to the movie (on DVD, sadly), and a disc devoted to the creatures of Harry Potter, containing a documentary that continues the ongoing series started with the earlier Ultimate Editions. All told, you get more than four hours of added content; the main “Creatures” documentary is over an hour long all by itself, with the promotional “The Magic Touch of Harry Potter” doc adding another 40 minutes or so.
The rest of the bonus features are shorter, including deleted scenes, interactive maps and games, trailers, and various behind-the-scenes featurettes. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like you know everything there is to know about Azkaban — but the main draw is the “Creatures” documentary, which, like the other Ultimate Edition docs, takes a look at the Potter franchise as a whole, and includes plenty of interesting information about the making of the movies.
And then there’s the swag packed into the box alongside the discs: cardboard trading cards in an envelope, a slip of paper containing a code for a digital copy of the movie, and a hardcover 48-page booklet that gives you a peek at concept art, models, and stills from the film. Reissues are a dirty business, but Warner Bros. usually doesn’t put “ultimate” on a box unless it’s deserved, and this is another case in point.
Bottom Line: An artful blend of slapstick comedy, fast-paced action, and poignant drama, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is widely regarded as the best entry in the film series, and it’s given its due with the Ultimate Edition box. This is obviously for collectors only, but unlike a lot of deluxe reissues, this set comes with a ton of worthwhile extras, and it’s reasonably priced. If you’ve already added the first two Ultimate Editions to your shelf, make room for Azkaban.