December 24, 2010

With a story that changes the game for the rest of the series, director Alfonso Cuaron arrives in the universe of Harry Potter with a vision and enthusiasm that comes together to expand, nurture and mature this world of witchcraft and wizardry. If Christopher Columbus gave birth to the film universe of J.K. Rowling’s multi-billion dollar wizarding series with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, then Alfonso Cuaron weens it off the baby bottle with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and teaches it to fly on a Firebolt before it can even think about crawling. Continuing the double-dip home video releases, Warner Bros. has delivered yet another Blu-Ray collection that is truly worthy of being called an Ultimate Edition of my favorite film in the entire Harry Potter franchise. Read more about this spectacular Blu-Ray release after the jump.

After Chris Columbus gathered the nuts and bolts to bring Harry Potter to the big screen, someone had to take the training wheels off sooner or later. Thankfully this change in the characters, visuals and tone of the franchise comes at a time when the story takes a dark turn, and everything we think we know about Harry Potter is thrown into upheaval. It’s hard to believe it’s already been six years since this film came out, but because of that length of time, there’s not much need for me to delve to deep into explaining this story as you’ve probably seen it countless times in theaters, on DVD or perhaps on ABC Family. Long story short: It’s Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts and not only does he have a mysterious yet helpful new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, but there is also trouble brewing as convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the the wizard prison Azkaban and has Harry in his sights.

For my money this is the best film in the franchise. From the mature themes, dark subject matter, coming-of-age nature, change from cheesy wizard hats and robes to more casual and fashionable wardrobe and beautiful visuals, it’s a near perfect adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s beloved book (which also just happens to be my favorite as well). In addition, Harry Potter has never looked better with this Blu-ray release that shows every detail and makes the magical creatures (a staple of this particular release) look all the more realistic. But while the film is truly the star of the home video release, it’s the supplements that make an Ultimate Edition like this truly spectacular. Coming in a superbly crafted box that’s actually thicker and more intricately designed than the hardcover version of the book, you know that there’s plenty of goodies contained therein. So what’s inside the box?


Along with a 48-page collectible booklet highlighting the creatures of Harry Potter, a removable, 3D lenticular cover and two collectible character cards featuring Hermione Granger and Sirius Black, the Ultimate Edition of Prisoner of Azkaban also includes the following special features:

Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures: The crowning achievement of supplements on this release continues the epic eight-part documentary that – when all is said and done – will be no shorter than an eight-hour documentary chronicling nearly every facet of the Harry Potter franchise from Sorcerer’s Stone to the two-part finale of The Deathly Hallows. Clocking in at just over an hour, this installment focuses on the various creatures and the hard work that went into bringing J.K. Rowling’s imagination to life on the big screen.

Thankfully, this particular supplement is also presented in HD. Going behind-the-scenes of every film, this documentary ventures into the creature shop giving us a look at the gigantic, fully-functional, mechanical versions of Aragog the Acramnatula, Buckbeak the Hippogriff, the Hungarian Horntail dragon and much more. Outside of the practical creatures, there’s also an in-depth look at the CG creatures from the various films including Grindylows, Cornish Pixies and Dobby the House-Elf.

If anything, this supplement gives you an appreciation for all the months of hard work from dozens of people that goes into crafting a creature that may only appear onscreen for a few minutes. In addition, hearing the directors and actors talk about the creatures really makes you realize that they’re more than a presence just for fantasy’s sake. Each creature in the film serves as a challenge or a catalyst to develop the characters and their relationships throughout the series. Also included are never-before-seen glimpses of concept art, animatics and one particular creature sequence featuring trolls that ended up getting scrapped

Inside Nick Dudman’s Creature Shop: While this department is very prominently featured in the above one-documentary, in this 8-minute featurette special effects and creature designer Nick Dudman takes us on a tour of the creature shop featuring the various make-up prosthetics, creature molds, animatronics and more. My favorite bit is briefly seen in the background where a poster of The Twilight Saga’s Robert Pattinson has a mustache drawn on it.

The Magic Touch of Harry Potter: This 45-minute special delves into the making-of the first three films, with a more intense focus on Prisoner of Azkaban. Complete with cast and crew interviews, film footage, B-roll and narration by Jeremy Piven (which seems very strange), this is your standard behind-the-scenes special that’s more akin to a promotional documentary you would find on TV before the film’s release. For those familiar with the series, not much new is revealed here, and the supplement acts as more of a A&E biography recap than anything.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure that this featurette was originally broadcast on HBO as part of their First Look series. A very brief overview of the film with traditional interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, this supplement runs a mere 13-minutes. This has some overlap with interviews from some of the shorter supplements.

The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The more unique of the shorter featurettes, this one highlights the making-of the film through a mostly candid conversation between Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

An Interview in Spanish with Alfonso Cuaron: For all the subtitle fans out there, this special feature is for you. Director Alfonso Cuaron sits down for an interview that is completely in Spanish. If you can’t speak the language, you should still take the time and be patient enough to read the subtitles of the interview to hear what this amazing filmmaker has to say.

Additional Scenes: Several different deleted scenes (sometimes presented in HD, depending on which supplement disc you’re viewing), there’s definitely some good stuff here featuring more scenes with the Knight Bus, the introduction of the Sneakoscope and more.

Theatrical Trailers: All three of the theatrical trailers for the film are included.

In addition, all of the special features from original two-disc DVD release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are included on another disc. They are as follows:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Creating the Vision interview with J.K. Rowling and Alfonso Cuaron
  • Interviews with the cast lead by Johnny Vaughan and the Shrunken Head from the Knight Bus
  • Three challenge games: Magic You May Have Missed, Catch Scabbers and An Unexpected Quest with Sir Cadogan
  • Conjuring a Scene: Creating Buckbeak and the Dementors for the screen
  • Care of Magical Creatures featurette with the on-set animal trainers
  • Self-guided tours into Honeydukes sweet shop and Professor Lupin’s classroom

THE FINAL WORD: Since the eight-part documentary with an hour-long installment included on each Ultimate Edition release is planned through both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it’s safe to say this is about as good as a special edition, home video release of any Harry Potter film is going to get. Likely these will be the editions included in the gargantuan box set that is sure to be released following Deathly Hallows Part II, so if you’re a rabid Harry Potter fan, these Ultimate Editions are for you.

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