To hear much of the talk about ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) at the time of its theatrical release, you'd think that the biggest plus to catching the movie on DVD is that it gives the option of fast-forwarding past all those less kind, less gentle, notably more intense moments conjured up by J.K. Rowling. Well, that was the popular angle, anyway -- but oh, how quickly we forget creep-outs like those marauding spiders in the preceding installment, ''Chamber of Secrets."
This time around, the eeriest moments involve the Dementors, grim-reaping specters on the hunt for prison escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who's said to be on the hunt himself -- for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). Beyond that, the series' newly tougher edge -- to the extent that there is one -- really stems from the maturing Radcliffe being called on by new director Alfonso Cuarn (''Y Tu Mama Tambien") to show flashes of vengeful anger, a young wizard developing mastery of his powers but not of his temper. (Shades of Luke Skywalker.)
Is heavier better? Much as we love Emma Thompson, the movie's solid, darkish performances from Oldman, David Thewlis as the new prof on campus, and Michael Gambon as headmaster Dumbledore (replacing the late Richard Harris) do work better than Thompson's googly-eyed tea-leaf-reading instructor. But then, an early effects-heavy sequence aboard the Knight Bus, driven by the tag team of a borderline blind man and a shrunken Rasta head, is the silliest element of the whole affair -- and also the best.
Extras: Interviews with Rowling and the filmmakers; production featurettes; games. (Warner, $29.95)
''THE TERMINAL" (2004)
In Steven Spielberg's latest, Tom Hanks charms as Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European traveler turned man-without-a-country when a coup in his fictional homeland leaves him stranded, seemingly forever, at JFK. That charm is even more vital here than in Hanks's usual fare, as it helps sweep a number of story weaknesses under the tarmac. Assuming you're rooting hard enough for Viktor, you'll probably forgive that he picks up English so swiftly, or that a romantic subplot with Diego Luna (''Y Tu Mama Tambien") is so silly, or that Catherine Zeta-Jones's lovelorn flight attendant is ham-fistedly made into a Napoleon buff. Spielberg and Hanks play it proficiently, but they played it smarter in ''Catch Me If You Can."
Extras: Numerous production featurettes, including a look at building the film's dazzling airport set. (DreamWorks, $19.95)
''PETER GABRIEL: PLAY" (2004)
The fact that MTV is what it is today isn't for Gabriel's lack of trying -- just as the network was what it was in the '80s largely because of his addictive, groundbreaking videos. ''Sledgehammer," ''Big Time," and 21 others from throughout his career are collected on this essential disc. Even the recent ''Barry Williams Show," while not as inspired, holds interest, as does new concert footage of Gabriel mischievously performing ''Games Without Frontiers" on a jousting Segway.
Extras: Bonus videos. (Now available from Warner Strategic Marketing, $19.99)
Emmanuelle Bart is a widowed schoolteacher who flees WWII Paris with her children, only to find herself in a different fight as she struggles with feelings stirred by a hunky, underage good Samaritan (Gaspard Ulliel). Not surprisingly, the background wartime ugliness plays more realistically than the taboo romance. There's no denying that, man alive, Beart and Ulliel are sexy together -- make that young man alive -- but you'd think that director Andr Tchin would be building up to something more substantial than a hot sex scene, well-crafted as his film is overall. There's greater dramatic interest in Beart's I'm-the-adult-here power struggle with Ulliel, who conveys his character's immaturity well, and with her somewhat younger, sharp-minded son (Grgoire Leprince-Ringuet).
Extras: Cast interviews. (Wellspring, $29.98)
Watch the Sox win the Series all over again
For Red Sox fans who haven't watched something like ''The Official 2004 World Series DVD" since back before there was DVD -- like, oh, say 1986 -- rest assured, it isn't just post-victory euphoria talking when we tell you: The production values on these things are a lot cooler than they used to be. The editing is slicker, the soundtrack is infinitely hipper, and go figure, your team gets a bit more face time when it wins.
Native fan Denis Leary is a smart choice as the 90-minute disc's narrator, lending the proceedings a tone that perfectly captures Red Sox Nation's perennially disappointed crankiness as well as its fiery keep-the-faith-and-damn-the-Yankees passion. (The other prominent voice, naturally, is guaranteed future analyst Kevin Millar.) When Leary says in voice-over, ''Tom [Gordon], meet Big Papi" before David Ortiz's clutch homer off the Yankee reliever, you can almost picture the comedian flicking a cigarette at the mound.
It's a limitation of the format that for all the local emphasis placed on beating New York -- that might as well have been the World Series -- the DVD packs its recap of those games into an opening half-hour covering everything from regular season action to the Nomar trade. We see as much of the Cardinals here, practically, as we did in real time during the sweep. On the upside, in this abbreviated form, those extra-inning marathons just breeze right by, so you can go to work the next day looking like you actually got some sleep.
Extras: Complete final at-bats of the series-clinching games against the Yankees and Cardinals. (Major League Baseball Productions/Q Video, $19.95)
Treats from Byrne, same as he ever was
In addition to his underappreciated solo material, one expects to hear such Talking Heads classics as ''This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" and ''Life During Wartime" whenever former head Head David Byrne performs. But perhaps the biggest treat of ''David Byrne: Live at Union Chapel" is the eclectic singer-songwriter's remarkably straight-faced version of Whitney Houston's bouncy pop hit ''I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." As Byrne, who has also performed songs by Crystal Waters and Missy Elliott, explains, ''The challenge is if I can take my tongue out of my cheek and do it in a completely unironic way," and that's exactly what he does. (Also key are shots of the audience dancing and singing along to every word.)
The song comes late in the show, and it perfectly captures the festive mood of Byrne's 2002 concert in the elegant London hall. Performing with a band and string section, Byrne makes more obscure solo material such as ''God's Child" and ''The Great Intoxication" as vital as such warhorses as ''And She Was," ''What a Day That Was," and especially ''Once in a Lifetime," which remains effective, even if Byrne has retired some of the more comically spastic movements that made him an 1980s MTV icon. Presented in either stereo or lush surround sound, the DVD includes several worthwhile moments with Byrne talking about his music, which thankfully serve as more than gratuitous asides. (Rhino, $19.99)