I know there's going to be a comment saying that I need to review the movie, not the movie compared to the book, but that's just not possible. I read this book at least five times before this film even came out. I can't even begin to separate the two. The Harry of my imagination is intertwined with the Harry of the films so tightly that when I re-read the books, the face of Harry is constantly moving and changing, reflecting both boys. These adaptations are different than any other because these books and films are so incorporating, so engulfing to the fans that they provide such a unique and intimate experience that you can't even compare them to others.
The films have gotten progressively darker as Harry unearths darker places of the wizarding world, and particularly in his own mind. The blue hues and darkened edges of this film might not work in any other of the series as this is the film that thoroughly probes the theme of Harry's psychic link to Voldemort. There are also sweet and funny comedic interjections, much-needed in this film as they were in Harry's life at this time. Foiling Umbridge and the Ministry is Dumbledore's Army, a secret student association of those brave enough to stand up to Umbridge's totalitarian school regime in order to defend themselves from dark sources outside the school's walls.
Following the perennial formula of the other films, Harry once again finds himself ostracized at Hogwarts, and instead of leaning on his friends, he resents them and turns away from his only sources of comfort. Mercifully distracting him from his isolation and frustration are his crush Cho Chang, played forgetfully by Katie Chueng and quirky ally Luna Lovegood. Luna Lovegood is played by Evanna Lynch, the champion of the Harry Potter fans. Evanna Lynch was a fan of the books, in love with the world of Harry Potter and a regular pen pal of JK Rowling's. In a sweet gesture of solidarity, fans rallied behind Lynch, countering nay-sayers who brought up her lack of experience. Lynch's love for the Potter world was her experience, and nobody who watches her as Luna can say she doesn't feel and understand Luna. She is Luna.
The trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint indeed get better with every film. I had my share of winces in the first three films, but as we get to the later films, they are fewer and farther between. It is an incredible gift from the fates that not one of them had to be replaced throughout this series, as their chemistry and familiarity develop throughout the years alongside that of the three friends they portray.
The veteran actors always seem to steal scenes in the series and this film is no exception. Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman, while considerably older than their characters, are still irreplaceable as Sirius Black and Professor Snape. Rickman in particular is brilliant as the tortured Snape to those of us who know what's coming. I have a very public thing for Helena Bonham Carter and her interaction with Matthew Lewis' Neville Longbottom is priceless in both its dry humor and devastating connotation.
Imelda Staunton gets her own paragraph for good reason. If you've ever seen her outside of her character of Dolores Umbridge, perhaps on A Bit Of Fry and Laurie, then you know how affable and bubbly the woman is. It could not be a more severe opposite from that of the tyrannical Umbridge, who has come to undermine Dumbledore at Hogwarts. When I first heard of the casting, and the initial promotional pictures came out, I had my doubts. "She is not nearly ugly enough", I remember saying. No, she's not ugly, on the outside, but her portrayal of the worst type of person you could ever know is exceptionally ugly. Umbridge brings out an emotion in all of us who have read the series, and especially in those of us with children. Voldemort is obvious, he will tell you how he will kill you before he does so. There is no doubt about his villainy. Umbridge is all pink ribbons and kittens to your face, all the while planning your demise. She preys on the weak and the scared, manipulating anyone she can to get her way. Staunton envelopes herself in Umbridge, speaking in the most irritating and grinding way, until you can no longer stand to have her on your screen. Her most climactic moment was improvised secretly with Daniel Radcliffe to truly bring out the most natural and knee-jerk reaction of the other cast members. This works two-fold as I can clearly remember my blood boiling at this scene in the theaters. The slap resonates still just as loudly as it did the first time I saw it. To know that Staunton can flip a switch from the sweetest and funniest lady to the nastiest type of person is truly inspiring.
One important theme throughout this feature is the integrity the directors strived to maintain to the books. Harry Potter fans are not only fiercely loyal but we are also intensely possessive of the Potterverse. Just ask any one of us about the betrayal we felt when Hermione wore a pink dress to the Yule Ball. The filmmakers admit to sleepless nights agonizing over maintaining the magic and the Britishness of the stories. Seeing initial concept art of the Golden Snitch and the Hogwarts uniforms definitely brought a few tears to my eyes. As someone who has been following Harry since the first book, some of the background props and set blueprints are agonizing to see just casually set up as a last-minute setting for a DVD interview.
I personally loved the affection JK Rowling has for Alfonso Cuaron directing PRISONER OF AZKABAN. While it might be a polarizing installment, it remains a solid fan-favorite. It's my favorite book and favorite movie, despite it being the least loyal to the original storyline. It's just that pretty and magic of a film.
Other evolutions include the wands, the Forbidden Forest and of course the cast. A familiar yet intimate retrospective.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: BEHIND THE MAGIC: This was like a more-annoying-than-usual episode of Entertainment Tonight that you suffer through simply because its about Harry Potter. The host is grating as hell, and the production felt more like a tv spot than a DVD feature.
BUILDING THE MAGIC: A stunning look into the painfully intricate and authentic sets. There is no way the films would have been as wonderful had JK Rowling not been on set, advising and helping the set designers. The atmosphere of Grimmauld Place is incredibly upheld and I shared Daniel Radcliffe's desire to actually live there. There's also some time spent on Umbridge's office with designers discussing the French furniture, draperies and of course, kittens. Matthew Lewis sums up The Room of Requirement perfectly as "a fight club for Hogwarts." Each of these sets is introduced in earnest and affirms the insatiable appetite Potter fans have for any precious time at Hogwarts. The Ministry of Magic set was particularly interesting to me as it was probably the vision that clashed the most with my own.
THE REBELLION BEGINS: An in-depth plot revisit developing Harry's reluctant leadership and Umbridge's not-so-reluctant devil-from-the-depths-of-a-hell-you-cannot-imagine-ship. Oh, and a look at the awkward kiss between Cho and Harry.
FULFILLING THE PROPHECY: Perhaps more geared towards those who haven't read the series, this feature goes more in-depth into the missions of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's Army and the Ministry of Magic.
Each of these seems to overlap with some of the earlier features, and quite a few soundbytes get repetitive.
TRAILING TONKS: Natalie Tena takes us through a day of filming, starting with hair and make-up. This is similar to other "day in the life" featurettes of the other Ultimate Editions. Tonks bugs the hell out of me, so I preferred the similar feature in GOBLET OF FIRE.
HARRY POTTER: THE MAGIC OF EDITING: Mark Day (editor) and David Yates (director) do a walkthrough a scene being edited via different camera angles, visual effects and music. Also some before-and-after sequences. Also a interactive editing room for you to edit a raw scene.
DELETED SCENES: While you can select all, the first scene is three minutes of Professor Trewlany acting the fool at dinner. Some cute daily life scenes at Hogwarts are worth it for the true fan.One of the more poignant scenes from the book regarding Harry's empathy towards Trewlany is elaborated on.
TRAILERS: Both theatrical and teaser trailers. If I remember correctly, these must have lined up with the release of the final book.
A lot of material gets recycled here, but most of the behind-the-scenes stuff is worth the watch. There is also a small hard-cover full-color movie book incorporating all seven years included that is very pretty and, as is the packaging for the discs. Also included are two more collecting cards featuring Dolores Umbridge (for me to burn) and Luna Lovegood.