Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban Ultimate Edition Blu-ray Review
The transfer presented here is exactly the same as the original Blu-ray release. Nothing has been changed – the same 1080p encode is used. This means that if you have the original disc then you will already be familiar with what you are presented with here.
For those who do not already own the disc, though – what can you expect? Well, I am afraid I have always been less than impressed with this transfer so to see it recycled with no effort is disappointing to say the least.
I should qualify this, though, and state that rather than being poor all the way through – the transfer is actually annoyingly inconsistent. There are moments where it really shines, but far too many moments where it simply shocks with the level of incompetence shown.
So, firstly the good bits. Well, it is a vast improvement on the DVD that is for sure. If the DVD is all you own so far, and you are considering the Ultimate Editions as an upgrade then you are unlikely to be disappointed. As already mentioned, Cuaron deliberately drains most of his world of colour – and a difficult palette is rendered well in this transfer. I say most, because there are moments of vibrant colour. A bluebird flying through the environment, the pink of Hermione’s sweat shirt and other moments are quite shocking in their brilliance against the drab background. There is a level of colour here that you simply don’t get on the DVD version.
Contrast is also impressive, leading to some dark blacks and when Harry unleashes his Patronus (oo-err misus) the blinding white light is electrifying whilst the background always retains its fidelity and clarity. Detail level is also generally excellent, but there are exceptions to this and that is in facial detail. Close-ups of faces (of which there are many) really do show a waxy texture and a lack of detail which is unforgiveable in a modern high definition transfer. Another problem within the transfer is the occasional appearance of crushed blacks. This may be inherent in the film, but it is not present all the way through – although when it does appear it really does spoil the image.
Overall, then, I was rather unimpressed with the transfer here. It is a shame that another master wasn’t used for this disc and we have the flawed transfer from the original pressing. There are certainly good points – but the image is far too inconsistent for a decent mark.
As with the other Ultimate Editions, we lose the original uncompressed LPCM offering and it is replaced with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.
The first thing I noticed was the low general volume levels on this track, which was very disappointing. I had to dial my amp up 5db from my normal listening level in order to get the best out of this mix, and even then I was singularly unimpressed.
The dynamic range seemed somewhat lacking here, to my surprise. Everything seemed rather uniform and at no time did this really impress. There is also a severe lack of bass – I cannot honestly think of one scene where the sub was really utilised. The last film I reviewed was Lost In Translation and that used the LFE more than this did – which is really quite disturbing.
There are plus points, of course. The front sound field is nicely wide and enveloping – complementing the onscreen action nicely. Once the sound level had been adjusted then the dialogue was usually clear – although there were some points (notably the boggart scene) where the dialogue was overwhelmed by SFX and music.
Ah yes, the music. In a film like this, the soundtrack should soar but on this disc it never did, and there were no points where the music really asserted itself to my ears.
As for the surrounds, these were as inconsistent as the picture. There are times when they are used well, underpinning the action with accurate pans. But for probably 90% of the picture they were completely silent.
As you can probably tell I was deeply unimpressed with the soundtrack. Sure, there are good points about it but for a high budget film like this, and a collectors edition of such a film, I would just expect a lot more.
Of course, this being the latest in the Ultimate Edition series, there are certain constants that one would expect to see. The box here is the same size as the previous releases. That means it is the width of between 4 and 5 standard Blu-ray cases, it is also the same heights as the previous releases – slightly bigger than a standard blu-ray. However, Warners have made a slight change with this box when compared with previous releases. The front is now a lenticular hologram. Whilst this is undeniably impressive, it is not flush to the front cover but is an inset on the front of the box. This means the top and the bottom of the box overlap slightly, and are correspondingly easy to damage.
This may seem like a small complaint – but when you are releasing a series aimed at serious collectors, one could assume that you would make the effort to make each box uniform. It will be interesting to see what they have done with The Goblet of Fire.
It should also be noted that this set does not include an extended version of the film. There are some high definition deleted scenes but there is no option to have them reintegrated into the film.
So, as before we start with a 48 page hard-back full colour book. This ties in with the theme of the third part of the Creating the World of Harry Potter documentary – which is entitled Creatures. Again, the book consists of beautifully shot images, with captions explaining each shot. It is beautifully put together and is nice for fans to own. We then get a nice envelope, which contains a code for the digital copy of the film – no need to enter a disc into your computer this time – and two more character cards – this time Hermione Grainger and Sirius Black.
Finally, we get a fold-out slipcase that contains three discs. The first disc is the movie, the second the documentary disc and the third the extras.
Obviously, those collecting the series will be most interested in the documentary. Entitled Creating the World of Harry Potter Part Three : Creatures and lasts an hour and three minutes. This really is not as engrossing as the first two parts, and features a lot of material that we have seen before. It does go into a lot of detail though, and there is a lot of new stuff included. Watching them filming the spider chase from Chamber of Secrets is fascinating, and the fully articulated fire-breathing dragon from Goblet of Fire is also an amazing watch. We get to see the director introduced to it for the first time, and we cannot help but mirror his amazement and awe. The documentary becomes less interesting as the creatures become more CGI (watching something come to life on computer is never as interesting as seeing it actually exist in the real world) but there is still enough here to make a fan salivate. Although it is not up to the standards of the first two parts, this is only because they set the bar so high. This is still an excellent watch.
There is no director’s cut or in movie experience here at all – so what we are left with is a series of mini documentaries and featurettes. The Magic Touch of Harry Potter is a promotional featurette covering the whole of the franchise. It lasts 42 minutes and although it is not the most detailed featurette in the world, it is certainly worth a watch. Much worse is a 10 minute puff piece The Making of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, and a not-much better 13 minute Something Wicked this way Comes which talks about how much darker the film is and illustrates this with copious clips.
An interesting, but all too brief, Spanish Alfonso Cuaron Interview follows in which he talks about his approach, and then we get the 8 minute Inside the Creature Shop featurette, which is pretty much redundant considering the hour long documentary that is new to this disc. The second disc is rounded off with 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes which are now in HD and some Trailers.
Disc three is a DVD which is a direct copy of the extras disc included in the original DVD set. We kick off with exactly the same deleted scenes that we saw on the second disc, but now in glorious standard definition. Creating the Vision is 12 minutes, and covers how they created the world of the film, whilst trying to stay faithful to the book. Head to Shrunken Head features Johnny Vaughan (remember him?) and the shrunken head from the Knight Bus talking to each member of the cast. This lasts 45 minutes and very quickly outstays it’s welcome. Magic you may have missed is an interactive game, and then some interactive tours are included. These are of Lupin’s Classroom, and Honeydukes. More interesting, but unsatisfyingly short, is Care of Magical Creatures which looks at the training of the real animals used during filming. I would have liked to see more of this, as I found it pretty interesting. Conjuring a Scene is also pretty interesting, and features an interesting interview with Gary Oldman. We then get two more annoying interactive games – Catch Scabbers! And Sir Cadogan’s Journey. The package is rounded off with, I kid you not, a sing along version of the song the choir sing at the start of the film!
A huge disappointment all round I am afraid. Warners really pushed the boat out with the first two films. The packaging was excellent, the content good, and the extra documentary in depth and interesting. For the third film, Warners seem to have rather lost interest. For a start, they have changed the packaging slightly. It may seem rather churlish to complain about a different front cover – but these are ultimate collectors editions and as such one would rather expect there to be some consistency. I look at my seven series sets of Star Trek on DVD, and the care that went into those. The difference may not be immediately obvious when the sets are sitting on your shelf – but that is not the point. The worse thing about the redesign is that it is easily damageable. Not good.
Get beyond this, and all is not so good when you dig into the set either. Granted, the supplied book is still excellent, as are the character cards – and there is a third part of the new documentary, although this seems a little more repetitious and less special than the first two parts.
The film is as good as it ever was, but this was always one of the most disappointing in the Blu-ray series so far for AV, and Warners have made no upgrade. This means a disappointing, flawed transfer and the new DTS-HD sound mix is really poor. There is also no director’s cut, and no effort at any PiP track.
This leaves upgraders with a dilemma. Collecting all the sets? Well, then you are like me. You will want this on your shelf, but you will curse Warners and pray that this is a one off aberration. Just buying the disc for the first time and not worried too much about the extra stuff? Then get the standard edition. The film is worth it, even if you have not seen it before. I wish I could say the same about this edition, and hope that the Goblet of Fire UE will be better.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £39.98
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