Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—Warner Brothers
Directing this movie had to be tough. On the one hand, legions of Potter fans don't want a filmmaker to swing too wide of J.K. Rowling's beloved source material. Yet critics and audiences were becoming restless with Chris Columbus' literal interpretations of the first two books. It turns out that director Alfonso Cuaron was an excellent choice to take over the reins. His visual flair gave Hogwarts a much-needed fleshing out; he kept much of the original story intact while stepping up its pacing; and he got some of the best performances yet from Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson as Harry and Hermione. Younger viewers may find this film scarier than the first two, but it's all in keeping with Rowling's move toward darker themes.
Speaking of dark, the widescreen edition's 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer (a 1.33:1 version is also available) didn't handle Cuaron's delicate palette very well. Many shadows had no detail and went to absolute black, while elsewhere the film looked muted and washed-out. Sonically, the disc fares much better; the well-balanced Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack made thorough use of each speaker.
Warner also wins points for the extras disc, which is packed with kid- and adult-oriented material. My daughter played the onscreen games for hours, and I liked the interview tracks, particularly the discussion between Cuaron and Rowling. She seemed genuinely pleased with his rendering of her work.