Boy was I wrong.
That darker tone certainly came, but more than that, I found myself actually getting invested in these characters for the first time. Perhaps it was their increasing age, or the solid addition of Gary Oldman and David Thewlis to the cast that piqued my interest, but finally with Azkaban (which i shall refer to the film as from here on out), I found myself wide awake throughout. It's great watching Harry, Rupert and Hermione starting to come into their own (and wear JEANS!), and David Thewlis shows up as the first new Hogwarts professor I didn't want to strangle. (Seriously, whoever hires staff at Hogwarts needs to be locked up in Azkaban). Michael Gambon takes over the coveted role of Dumbledore, and inherits the deceased Richard Harris' cloak and beard nearly admirably. Sirius Black's animated mugshot appears throughout the film as a nice build-up to his eventual arrival, and once he does rear his scraggly, ugly mug, Gary Oldman delivers the goods in a way no Potter character had before him. The man is a God.
Special Effects are top notch too, and plentiful to boot. Harry Potter's world has always been rife with fantastical creatures and creations, and the FX wizards (pun intended) of the franchise really outdo themselves with a few creatures in this one, namely the Hippogriff and a few stellar human-to-animal morphine sequences. Oh and I'm still convinced that Hogwarts is a real castle somewhere, it looks that good.
The real savior of the film however is the man who never shows his face. Director Alfonso Cuaron brings a level of maturity and darkness to the proceedings that will keep adults and non-fans of the book engaged. The black, murky color-palette and constant storm clouds looming over Hogwarts make the film far more atmospheric than the previous two installments as well.
And I don't mean this to come off as a Christopher Columbus shit-show. The man did what he could with the first two films, but author J.K. Rowling admits herself that this story is the best one to date. Elements introduced include time-travel (handled beautifully), werewolves (handled tastefully) and blossoming romance (handled subtlely). Everything works well to create a fantastic film experience that for me, pulled off what I previously thought to be impossible; it got me excited for the next installment (and the next four after that).
Trewlanyís Crystal Ball (Deleted Scenes) - Five alternate scenes, more like snippets, with unfinished special effects. Nothiní much worth checking out here, just a few more cute bits. Yeah, I said Ďcuteí.
Creating the vision (11:43) - A standard run-through with the filmmakers and JK Rowling where they look back and reflect on making the 3rd film. Itís mostly just JK and Alfonso going back and forth complimenting each other. You know the drill.
Interviews (43:36) - Host Johnny Vaughn interviews pretty much every member of the cast, a well as Cuaron and producers, with the aid of his buddy, the talking shrunken head, who occasionally chimes in with a few wisecracks.
Magic You My Have Missed - A little quiz game that asks you to pay close attention to a scene and then asks you questions about it. Definitely for kids as itís absurdly easy.
Tour Lupinís Classroom - A do it yourself tour of Lupinís classroom where you decide what you want to see and what you want to learn more about. The layouts a bit confusing but big fans might get a kick out of this.
Tour Honeydukes - Same as above, except in the candy shop. Keep this one away from the kids if you donít want to unfurl their sweet tooth. I donít even like candy too much, and now Iím jonesiní.
Care of Magical Creatures (4:44) - A cool little featurette about the training of the myriad animals (mostly the flying kind) that appear in the film. They put frigginí eyeliner on the cat. You hear that PETA???
Conjuring a Scene (15:35) - Finally, a fairly in-depth, cool featurette on this disk, which bounces around touching on all the various creatures in this film, showing images and video from early concept tests, to pre-viz, onto completion. Buckby in particular is incredibly cool.
DISC 3 - Blu-ray
An Interview in Spanish with Alfonso Cuaron (8:15) - The director gives us some insights on the film, in his native tongue.
Inside the Creature Shop (8:27) - A very cool behind the scenes look inside the amazing creature factory responsible for much of the wizardry in the Harry Potter films. Insane the amount of work that goes into every creature.
The Making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (10:02) - The three kids take us through basically an extended preview of the film. If you havenít seen the movie, this gives away pretty much all of it. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Something Wicked This Way Comes (13:02) - Pretty much the same exact thing as the featurette before it, with a tiny bit more depth and few crew speaking on the film as well. Yay. The Magic Touch of Harry Potter (42:28) - Narrated by Jeremy Piven (WTF?), this long featurette traces the growth of Harry Potter phenomenon from the first film thrugh the third. Starts all the way back with them hiring Chris Columbus and takes you up to Azkaban.
Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 3: Creatures (1:03:22) - The piece de resistance of the disc, this hour long (and mostly HD, thank God) featurette provides a fun look at the effects and creatures of the Harry Potter universe- and not just through the third movie. Because they try to cover so many creatures, they donít go extremely in depth into any of them, however, there is enough really cool things and stories here for everyone.
You also get a ton of trailers for various Harry Potter-related games, books, even iPhone apps.
Not content to stop there, the Ultimate Edition also comes with [deep breath] a hardcover, 48-page picture book with images from all 7 years at Hogwarts, two character cards (Hermione and Siruis) for you H.P. trading card enthusiasts and finally, a "Year 3 Lenticular Card", AKA a removable 3D DVD cover of the film's poster, and of course, a Digital Copy of the film.
EXTRA TIDBIT: Want to turn the Harry Potter films into a fun drinking game? Take a shot every time one of the kids gets knocked unconscious or ends up in the hospital. Am I the only one who feels like Hogwarts is the most dangerous school on Earth!?