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Bonus Points: Weekly Guide to DVDs

'Harry Potter': Almost Magic

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2004;

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (Rated PG; List price: $29.95)
Release date: Nov. 23

Though the DVD release capturing the most attention today is undoubtedly "Seinfeld," young wizards may be equally excited about the arrival of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," one of the major releases of the holiday season.

Daniel Radcliffe stars in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." (Murray Close - Warner Bros.)

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Easily the most compelling of the first three "Potter" films, "Azkaban" comes in a two-disc set, the second of which is filled with deleted or extended scenes, short documentaries, games and interactive features. Like the "Potter" DVDs that preceded it, the package is peppered with nicely designed menu screens that evoke the enchanting world inhabited by Harry and chums Hermione and Ron.

As for the extras, some are more magical than others. The featurettes "Care of Magical Creatures," a five-minute look at the movie's animals and their trainers, and "Conjuring a Scene" are far more interesting than all 43 minutes of cast interviews. The DVD also could do without the self-guided tours of Honeydukes candy shop and Professor Lupin's classroom. Every Potter DVD contains features like this, which look cool but tend to get boring pretty quickly. Fortunately some of the other games -- including my favorite, "Catch Scabbers!" -- make up for the more-monotonous moments.

Despite its shortcomings, most Potter-philes will happily dig into every nook and cranny of this DVD. Given the number of times "Harry" will be viewed and reviewed, Potter-phile parents can feel satisfied that money for this DVD is money well spent.

Most Revealing Bonus Point: The "Conjuring a Scene" featurette squeezes a lot of behind-the-scenes details into roughly 15 minutes. Among other things, viewers will learn how those creepy dementors were created and how Buckbeak the hippogriff came to life.

Most Annoying Bonus Points: Kids with crushes on Daniel Radcliffe may enjoy the "Head to Shrunken Head" series of cast interviews, conducted by British journalist Johnny Vaughan and (no, I'm not making this up) the talking shrunken head from the movie. But most will be embarrassed for the actors, who are forced to answer a barrage of inane questions. Honestly, should Gary Oldman ever have to answer to a shrunken head? I think not.

Most Fun Bonus Point: Perhaps it's my penchant for getting rid of rodents, but I got a kick out of "Catch Scabbers!," a game that allows the viewer to assume the role of Crookshanks, Hermione's ornery cat. Using visual clues and the arrow keys on the DVD remote, Crookshanks attempts to navigate through various obstacles in the hope of nabbing Ron's rascally rodent. The game boasts three levels, which means you can spend (or waste, depending on your perspective) three times as much time playing cat to this DVD's mouse.

Coming in next week's "Bonus Points": "Spider-Man 2." And don't forget to check out the DVD holiday gift guide.

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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