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Entering his teens, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is back with the dreary Dursleys for his holidays when a vile visiting aunt provokes him into an act of magic, which is forbidden outside the magic world. Fearing retribution, he runs away, to be picked up by the Knight Bus and taken to the Leaky Cauldron pub, where he learns that the dangerous wizard who supposedly led Lord Voldemort to Harry's parents and was thus responsible for their deaths, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped and is said to be after Harry himself. His third year at Hogwarts thus proves to be extra fraught, what with the soul sucking Dementors - Azkaban guards - and strange new creatures, amazing adventures and the looming confrontation with Black. Just what is Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) so eager to reveal and just what is the real link between Sirius Black and Harry Potter's past?

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
For all you fans of Harry Potter, the wait for this DVD is over: a 2-disc set that's been designed to please the core audience, and transferred with technical purism from film to DVD. See it, hear it! Fun in the Theme of Magic is perhaps the best way to describe the package. Disc 1 is devoted entirely to the film (apart from three trailers) so there is enough room for maximum quality.

The first signs of teenage rebellion in Harry Potter, now 13, make for a terrific opening sequence, as Harry inflates an aunt already over-inflated with her own importance. Hurriedly leaving the Dursley home, Harry is picked up by the purple triple decker Knight Bus, a combination of sight gag and pun, with a collection of extra effects that will have children (of all ages) swaying with laughter and delicious fear.

But then the mood darkens (there are no sunny skies) as Harry arrives at Hogwarts for his third year, as news breaks of the escape from Azkabar of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the prisoner who has spent 12 years behind bars as one of the instruments of the murder of Harry's parents. The menace is further heightened by the deadly Dementors, the black spirit guards of Azkaban searching for Black - and sucking out your soul if you stand in their way - or even if you don't. So young Harry is under many threats and pressures, including that ever-malodious Malfoy boy and the mysteries of his past.

The adventures are rugged and beautifully rendered in a triumph of creative vision and digital do-goodery as Hogwarts is literally animated, its framed pictures on the wall alive with the personages portrayed, its classrooms vibrating with weird and wizardly objects, mystically powered books, doorlocks and fittings that my house refuses to wobble.

But that's nothing compared to the wild beasts that inhabit this magic world, from the all-important rat, Scabbers that is Ron's pet - and more - to the ambitiously conceived Buckbeak, half horse half eagle, and Professor Lupin's (David Thewlis) secret other self, the werewolf. Yes, Professor Lupin is a dark horse, as it were, hiding something that we discover to our surprise. There are others.

Gary Oldman is well cast as Sirius Black, the feared wizard against whose presence Hogwarts locks down in one of the shorter but most gripping scenes. But then Alfonso Cuarón (maker of Y tu mama tembien, another ties of passage movie, albeit very different locations!) was also spotted as the right director for this third Potter film, although everyone was holding their breath until it was finished. The mood is certainly darker, fittingly so, and the first year of their teenage years is marked for the three central characters by having to make tougher decisions and risking more. And having to rely on their own, maturing self.

The underlying themes give the film substance amidst the fun, although being a fan of the magic arts, I don't find any of the wizardry too much or boring. The issue of wizardry and its benevolent use is a subtle replacement for faith, if you are making a spiritual movie, or supernatural powers, if you're tackling comic book material. Here, the added element is that the characters have to learn to make use of these 'powers' themselves, and at the same time learn the rules about using them. This may be a stifled lesson in the Potter productions, but it's there.

As Steve Kloves' clever and witty adaptation swings through its paces with Cuarón's dynamic direction, we are held under the spell of a tale that confirms all our fundamental human wishes: to overcome the worst in within human nature with the magic of our own powers of self knowledge and truth. It's a great piece of filmmaking with lasting value.

And on DVD, last it will. Now that you've seen the film, slip Disc 2 in your player and have some fun; Magic You May Have Missed is an interactive little game in which your observation skills are tested, while showing you some of the clever stuff in the film.

For a bit more depth and info, go to Creating the Vision (a sub-chapter in Divination Class) for interviews with the producer, writer, director - and the very youthful J. K. Rowling herself. It's only 11 minutes, but it's dense and full of genuine content.

I also like the piece about the animal wranglers - well, the animals is the bit I like. Owls, crows, bats, rats, dogs, cats - and a hippo. You'll find this inside the Hagrid's Hut chapter under Care of Magical Creatures. (This is my only quibble with the elaborate menu and title structure: it's not clear what's where.) In the same Hut is Conjuring a Scene, which is a series of insights into the make up and hair design, transformation effects (eg from the rat to Peter Pettigrew [Timothy Spall]) and so on. In many ways, this is the chapter where the magic world of Harry Potter is explored. Enjoy.

December 2, 2004

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CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Pam Ferris

PRODUCER: David Heyman, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón

SCRIPT: Steve Kloves (novel by J.K.Rowling)


EDITOR: Steven Weisberg

MUSIC: John Williams


OTHER: Visual Effects Supervisors: Roger Guyett, Tim Burke

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes



PRESENTATION: Disc 1 (feature): 2.40:1 widescreen; Disc 2 (extra features): various

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: trailers for each of the first three Harry Potter films; Disc 2: Divination Class - Trelawney's Crystal Ball, Creating the Vision, Head to Shrunken Head; Defense Against the Dark Arts - Magic You May Have Missed, Lupin's Classroom; Tour Honeydukes; Great Hall - Catch Scrabbers, Choir Practice, The Quest of Sir Cadogan; Hogwarts Grounds; Hagrid's Hut - Care of Magical Creatures, Conjuring a Scene; DVD ROM, Game Preview.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros Home Ent

DVD RELEASE: December 1, 2004

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