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HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG) (2004)

Warner Bros.

Official Site

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Producer: Chris Columbus, David Heyman, Mark Radcliffe

Screenwriter: Steven Kloves; from the novel by J.K. Rowling

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Thewlis, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane

 

 Rating:


Muggles rejoice! Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban allows us to experience yet another year at the magical school of Hogwarts. And what a year it is. Benefited by better source material and Alfonzo Cuarón’s direction, Prisoner Of Azkaban is the best of the series so far, and the shortest. Harry and the gang are growing up and this is reflected by the movie’s darker look and theme.

For those who have not read the books, the Prisoner Of Azkaban is Sirius Black (Oldman), a convicted murderer and a former supporter of he who cannot be named, and of course Sirius holds a grudge against Harry Potter (Radcliffe). Life at Hogwarts is anything but normal this time around because the prison guards of Azkaban, terrifying creatures called Dementors, are on the grounds under the auspices of protecting the school. The usual crowd of Hogwart’s teachers is portrayed by some of the finest actors in United Kingdom. Returning for their third movie are Professor McGonagall (Smith), Severus Snape (Rickman), Hagrid (Coltrane), and Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris). Among the new faces are Professor Trelawney (Thompson), the fortune teller with constant predictions of death and dismemberment, and a year at Hogwarts simply wouldn’t be complete without a new defense against the dark arts teacher. Luckily for Harry and the gang, this one, Professor Lupin (Thewlis), really knows his business.

Prisoner Of Azkaban was a longer book than either of the previous two so the movie flows at a quicker but more even pace under Cuarón’s skillful direction, especially after Harry ditches his muggle family and is reunited with his school chums Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger (Watson). This film calls for a bit more depth than the first two, letting them be more than simple caricatures Rupert Grint and Emma Watson succeed admirably in running circles around poor Mr. Radcliffe. Throughout the story we are supposed to be convinced that Harry is a very angry person capable of unspeakable violence, but the best Radcliffe can manage is a mild tantrum. The scenes he has to carry on his own drag on a bit and one scene specifically was strongly reminiscent of Titanic. But fortunately these are few and far between and his capable co-stars are more than up to the task of creating emotion or tension when necessary. Rupert and Emma have grown with their characters so now Ron is comic relief with compassion and Hermione’s type A personality is tempered with some feminine qualities. Michael Gambon plays Dumbledore with a little more mischief in his eye and spring in his step than Richard Harris, and he doesn’t hail from the Marlon Brando school of acting that made Richard Harris s-l-o-w-l-y mumble out all his lines. David Thewlis appears exactly as Professor Lupin seemed in the book—bland, always tired and out of sorts, almost instantly forgettable except for some ineffable quality that isn’t quite right.

Beyond the opening scene, the movie carries not an ounce of unneeded material. Everything that happens reveals a little more about the story and the characters within, and yet at the end it is not all spelled out. The task of telling an entire year’s-worth of education in two hours is easily accomplished by showing the whomping willow at the start of each new season. The movie has a much darker look, with constantly overcast skies and muted colors as if to remind the viewer of the Dementors lurking just out of sight, blotting out the sun. None of this is entirely original but it helps to remind everyone of Hogwarts’ otherworldliness, whereas in the first two movies, Hogwarts was simply boarding school with wands instead of pencils.

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban is easily the best movie of the series so far. It follows the story of the book, though maybe not word for word, making for a better adaptation to the screen. And best of all, the smartest witch of all time isn’t turned into stone in the middle of the movie. Fans of the book are sold on this already, but as long as those dragged along with them approach the movie with an open mind they will find it to be an enjoyable experience in its own right.

  —Woodrow Bogucki

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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