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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/10/2004

I unfortunately had to check out the third Harry Potter movie twice, because Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban didn’t impress me the first time around.  It was my fault, since the movie was so long (even though technically it was shorter the first two movies) that I nodded off a couple of times.  When I saw it for the second time, I loved it.  This proves that sometimes your perception of a movie can affect your enjoyment if you get enough sleep.


Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), now 13-years-old, is waiting to go back to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because he can’t stand his aunt and uncle, Vernon (Richard Griffiths) and Petunia Dursley (Fiona Shaw) and their spoiled son, Dudley (Harry Melling.)  After being insulted by his visiting Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris), Harry blows her up like a balloon, via his magical powers (that he isn’t allowed to use outside of Hogwarts), and runs away from home.  He is transported by the weird Knight Bus and is taken to Leaky Cauldron Inn, where Cornelius Fudge (Robert Hardy), the head of the Ministry of Magic, barely gives him a slap on the wrist.  He finds out that a murderer named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), whom has escaped from the Azkaban prison, is after the last of the Potters…Harry…and everyone else is on edge because of it.  Black was supposedly responsible for the deaths of Harry’s parents, James and Lilly Potter, after betraying them to Lord Valdemort, and he was Harry’s godfather as well to boot.  To protect Hogwarts and Harry, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) allows some creepy and dangerous spirits called Dementors to patrol the grounds.  When Harry arrives back to Hogwarts, still run by Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall (Maggie Smith), he reunites with his friends and fellow students Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), along with Ron’s pet rat Scabbers and Hermione’s new cat.  He also reunites with some of the regulars, good and bad, including Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), jerky student Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) and his dad Lucius (Jason Isaacs, mentioned but not appearing this time in this movie), and the strict Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), the Potions Professor and head of Slytherin House.  Hagrid has been promoted from groundskeeper to the new Professor for the Care of Magical Creatures, which Snape has problems with, especially when Hagrid introduces them to a Hippogriff (which is a part eagle, part horse) named Buckbeak.  The new professors to the school are Professor Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), a goofy woman who is the Divination teacher, and Professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), who has taken over as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  Aside from worrying about being killed by Black, he has to deal with the Dementors, who screws up his Quidditch game and messes with his ability to learn about Boggarts, which can make themselves appear like a person’s greatest fear (which are turned into something silly by casting a Riddikulus charm.)  Hermione has been appearing in two places at once (via a charm given to her by McGonagall) so she can get to all her classes on time, and Scabbers is missing, leading Ron to think that Hermione’s cat ate him.  With Black on his tail, the Dementors freaking out everyone, and a gnarled tree called the Whomping Willow just being a hazardous pest, Harry has a lot to deal with in his third year at Hogwarts, especially when he finds out certain things about some of the professors in their past, particularly Lupin.


When I finally saw the movie, I had noticed that it was much darker than the first two (probably contributing to my sleepy time in that dark theater.)  In both cases, I noticed that it was darker in tone and not actually how dark it made the theater appear.  This one seemed more serious than the first two, and there are a couple reasons why I think that it may be this way.  First, Chris Columbus, the director of the first two installments, decided not to direct the third one (he still serves as a producer.)  The job went to Alfonso Cuarón, the director of 1995’s A Little Princess (which I haven’t seen in awhile), 1998’s Great Expectations (which I hated), and 2001’s Oscar nominated Y tu mamá también (which I haven’t seen, but intend to check out eventually.)  While Cuarón’s first English language movie, Princess, was G-rated, the other two mentioned above were R-rated.  His selection for Azkaban may have made him an unusual choice to helm it, but I think that his new take on the Potter saga makes him almost perfect.  Second, the acting has gelled for the three lead child stars.  Aside from a few minor roles, Radcliffe has essentially been Potter his whole career.  Not that he was bad before, but with this third movie, he now fully understands the role, leading to his ability to make it more serious.  This goes for Grint and Watson as well, who are in the same boat with the Potter movies (and with the same acting experience), and they too contribute to the seriousness.


The rest of the cast are just as great.  Coltrane and Thompson are criminally underused, but both are highlights, especially Thompson, who pulls comic relief duty as the odd Divination teacher.  Gambon fills the role unfortunately vacated by the late Richard Harris flawlessly.  Thewlis becomes the third mysterious professor in a row to be cast perfectly.  As far as the “bad guys” go, Rickman is still great, but Felton is starting to get on my nerves.  Draco has gone from an entertaining foil to an annoying whiner.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t as good as the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but it’s better than the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  While I loved this third movie, it didn’t entertain me in the same way that Secrets did.  I am excited about how the series is going though, and I hope that the fourth movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (scheduled to be released in November of 2005), directed this time by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, Mona Lisa Smile), will continue the fun.  I just need to make sure that I set alarm clock correctly and get to bed at a decent time!


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