Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban UHD Blu-ray Review
Fantastical elements play second place to the story, in what is the best film of the franchise
Expecto Patronum!After a supposed Dark Wizard, Sirius Black, escapes from Azkaban purportedly to kill him, Harry is trained by a new defence against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin, with his suspicions towards Professor Snape growing and horrific soul sucking apparitions called Dementors - the prison guards of Azkaban - patrol the grounds of Hogwarts. It's all go with the busiest year for Harry yet. The Prisoner of Azkaban book proved to be a turning point for the films; it marked a point when Rowling’s writing reached a level of maturity that ensured literary respect. It was also significantly darker than what had come before; there were actual elements of horror, and the true nature of the wizarding world was finally revealed. The three main characters underwent their own stresses; the relationship between Hermione and Ron was particularly strained and Harry’s skill was at last allowed to take form. As for Sirius Black, his character shapes Harry's fortunes for years to come. It's a fine, rip-roaring read, felt by many to be the best of the books for style, story and sheer guts. It required a skilful director to bring this new tale - once considered big enough for two instalments - to the screen and the Warner executives chose Alfonso Cuarón, a truly visionary director. Through his eyes we have the greatest Harry Potter of the franchise.
Cuarón’s style was far darker than that the previous efforts, it looked cold, stark and foreboding. The whole film is shot through with a kind of mean streak, every time the Dementors show up we feel the despair they induce and Harry’s stand off against them is heart stoppingly good. One big change was the casting of Dumbledore due to the tragic death of Richard Harris, with Michael Gambon doing a reasonable job, despite not quite having the presence required. The rest of the other newly cast parts are uniformly excellent; David Thewlis plays it tortured as Lupin and Gary Oldman has the smarts to bring the wonderfully three dimensional character Sirius Black to glorious life, needing to play both sides of the coin. But above all Danny Radcliffe finally manages to get some emotion; he has the spunk needed to fight off the evil that surrounds him, but the vulnerability of the teenager he is playing. Not that the franchise was floundering, but The Prisoner of Azkaban really forced home just how good this franchise could be in the hands of a director not afraid to take the source material and run with it, taking a book where the fantastical elements play second place to the story and forging a film that follows suit. Cuarón’s adaptation is highly charged both visually and emotionally and is the best of the film interpretations.
Picture QualityHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban was shot using Arricam LT and Arriflex 435 Advanced cameras on 35mm film, originally finished as a 2K DI and that seems to have been used for this release by Warner Brothers for this Ultra HD Blu-ray. The film is presented with an up-scaled to 3840 x 2160p resolution and in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the disc uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HRD10.
The image is quite soft and lacks that crisp edge the extra resolution tends to bring.
Michael Seresin’s cinematography was very different from the previous films, much darker, reduced pallet, with a predominance on blues, hence the whole film was digitally graded to achieve this effect. When it comes to the UHD, it has brought out more detail and enhanced the (stark) colours, but also compounded a number of issues inherent in the original source. For example, detail is far better, skin has greater texture, the dew drops on the playground have never looked so precise, wall coverings (posters, painting etc.) are far easier to see, while landscape establishing shots are gorgeous. However, the image as a whole is still quite soft and lacks that crisp edge the extra resolution tends to bring. Colours are denser, grade better and contain more depth than ever before, thanks to the WCG, and the black level is deeper and containing more shadows (the wolf in the playground has never been more visible), but, it also darkens the frame in the early part of the film more than previous versions. You can argue it increases frame depth, and to a degree, it does, however it is perhaps a tad crushed. During the latter half of the film this becomes less of a concern as whilst the image doesn’t ‘lighten’ the black levels become part of the picture rather than standing out as too dark. Compare the playground to the forest and you will see what I mean. The white level is good and bright; the Potronus charm being decently blinding (though not as much as the diary flashback in Chambers) and crucially never seem to clip.
The source is clean without issue and retains a light grain structure, while there are also no digital issues to contend with.
Sound QualityThe English DTS:X surround track makes full use of the surround environment to fully envelop the listener, including overhead channels; check out the quidditch match in the thunderstorm – how the rain and wind is whipping around and overhead, how the dementors cruel presence penetrates the sound field and how the snitch flies in and out. Indeed any thunder rumbles from overhead! Bass is deep and tight, with plenty of LF effects to keep the neighbours awake. The score makes good use of the surround environment, the choir’s singing for the first time in the Great Hall is very nicely seen. Dialogue is clear and precise and never lost in the mix. Lighter moments also benefit, the bar in the Leaky Caldron, for example, with the various magical patrons going about their business. Other scenes of note, the Night Bus manic travel through London, and Harry’s flight on Buckbeak – both give a tremendous sense of space. Another great mix.
ExtrasThere are no extras on the UHD disc, and this 8 disc set does not contain any Blu-rays with extra features – a somewhat peculiar commercial decision by Warner. So if extras are your thing, you’ll have to hold on to your old Blu’s.
Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is part of an eight disc set released by Warner containing all films in 4K.
This disc, courtesy of 2K up-scale is superior to the dated Blu-ray: detail, colouring and black and white levels are all improved. However, the scan has also highlighted some of the inherent flaws of the source, the early part of the film is too dark, whilst the whole is also somewhat soft despite the increased resolution. The DTS:X surround track gets thing back on track though, with plenty of opportunity to showcase the immersive surround experience. Indeed this is the best way to see and hear the film. The only fly – no extras at all, no Blu-ray, nothing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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