Latest Software Reviews

DVD: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—Warner Brothers
Audio: 5
Video: 3
Extras: 4
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.—Drew Hardin

DVD: The Stepford Wives—Paramount
Audio: 3
Video: 3
Extras: 3
Beautiful production, costume design, and cinematography are the standouts in The Stepford Wives, a comedic remake of the 1970s version that's only sparingly comedic. Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna, a stressed-out former TV executive who, along with her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick), moves to the seemingly idyllic Stepford, Connecticut, to chill out and get away from it all. She soon observes that the women are a little too perky, perfect, obliging, and smiley for her comfort and is determined to find out why. The sets are striking, full of colonial, pillared homes that are all immaculately kept and color-coordinated, as are the ladies' outfits, designed by legend Ann Roth. The bright, flowing dresses that adorn the wives are visions of whites, pastels, and florals that perfectly match the ladies' porcelain-skinned complexions and sunny dispositions. The men are also a sight, all pink shirts and lime shorts. Together, they're like Garanimals, which works.

Not much else does, though. The director's commentary track, making-of, deleted and extended scenes, gag reel, and other tidbits are ho-hum. The 1.85:1 anamorphic picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack are run-of-the-mill. The estimable talents of Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Kidman, and Broderick are wasted in this bland outing. With big stars and great talent behind the scenes, it's a high-powered Hollywood studio film that needs a jolt of electricity and energy, which I kept waiting for but never came. It's not bad; it's just 87 minutes of blah.—Tony DeCarlo