HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
IS GOOD SCARY FUN
I saw Harry
Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban 2 weeks ago, and my original review was
that of a jaded know it all fan of the books that was disappointed that certain
scenes were cut out. In retrospect, I realize that this is easily the best
of the first three Potter films in many ways. There's lots of changes and
new things to enjoy. The children have matured greatly, as has the series
itself. Chris Columbus, who works best with childish fare like Gremlins
and Home Alone was a good choice to direct the original two movies, but this
installment, which calls for a decidedly more dark and disturbing tone, is
expertly handled by Alberto Cuaron (a bizarre choice that ends up paying off
mightily). Clearly, this is designed to appeal to the both the die-hard
and casual Potter fans alike.
NOTE: Some mild
spoilers are highlighted in black...drag your mouse over them to reveal them, if
As Harry returns to Hogwarts for a third year, he's told that a killer named
Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban (an Alcatraz style prison for criminal
wizards) and wants to kill Harry. Sirius has some connections to the death
of Harry's parents, and Harry spends much of the film wondering what it's all
in an inconsequential side story about a creature called Buckbeak the Hippogriff
and Hermione's ability to be more than one place at the same time, and there's
not too much else going on.
around, the screenplay is much more heavily edited from the source material,
which may make some of the characters motivations and actions be a bit confusing
to those that haven't read the book. I saw the first two films before I
read the books, and it was all magic surprise for me. But now that I've
read the entire series, I'm a bit more jaded about what they've left out of
Azkaban. So the line of me being a picky critic and a geeky Harry Potter
fan may be a bit blurred, but hopefully I'll explain it enough to make a good
review for you here.
The first two
films (Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber
of Secrets) were fantastic stories that were easy to adapt straight from the books,
but so much of Azkaban is about personal fear that ends up being difficult to
show on screen. In the book, a Dementor
touches Harry and it drains the soul out of him, you get inside of his mind and
you can feel the sheer horror he's going through. In the movie, you just see him
faint. This is a sign of things to come for the rest of the Potter franchise in
which significant portions of the book are cut to make the story fit into a
feature length film.
For example, we're told Azkaban is a scary place to be and that Sirius Black "is
a killer", but we're pretty much expected to take these claims at face value as
the fearsomeness of both are never actually demonstrated.
Even the misunderstood incident where Sirius was believed to have killed Peter Pettigrew
and several Muggle bystanders is missing from the film .
The scene where we first see The Dementors while the kids are on the train is
very terrifying, as are most scenes they appear in. They even interrupt
the prerequisite Quidditch game with a horrifying effect.
Daniell Radcliffe gives his best and most complex performance as
Potter in the series, and Emma Watson appears more confident as Hermione and is
a much better actress this time around. Alan Rickman is sadly only used
sparingly in this film as my favorite character, Professor Snape, but David
Thewlis as Lupin is a nice addition to the cast.
The big surprise
was how good Tom Felton has become as Draco Malfoy. While he comes off as a
spoiled annoying rich twit in the first two films, he's gained about a foot of
height on Harry and has matured considerably since we've last seen him, which
helps him to actually come across as menacing for a change.
Rupert Gint doesn't get to do much but whine as Ron Weasley again, but the
dynamic presence of his older twin brothers works very well, and makes you
eagerly await the 4th and 5th movie where they should be given significant and
hilarious things to do if you've read the books.
thing to get used to is the absence is the lack of Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Michael Gambon
tries, but his take on the bearded professor is a sour and mostly humorless man
that lacks the fatherly charm and sarcasm of the previous portrayal.
It's rather funny to see how the other Hogwarts students have evolved. Matthew
Lewis who plays Neville Longbottom has turned from a dumpy overweight kid to a
rather stretched out and awkward looking boy. An even funnier change is from
Jamie Waylett who plays one of Draco's lackeys, Crabbe. A big hulking moose in
the first two films, he's gotten taller, skinnier, and in the process, more
intelligent looking as a result.
The big change
is the new director, Alfonso Cuaron,
who handles the maturing Potter franchise with a decidedly more mature approach
than Christopher Columbus has. One only can wonder what this great
artistic visionary could have done with the first two films if he had the
chance. He takes the subject matter seriously, and is more than competent
with his first mega budget film. That being said, these films practically
direct themselves, as it's Rowling's vision that really shines through, no
matter who touches it. In fact, some of Cuaron's touches are just plain
distracting, like the closing scene where Harry's face is paused in a weird
freeze frame during a moment of triumph. You almost expect a Journey song
to start playing over the closing credits.
The CGI is hit or miss here, with the home run being from the hippogriff
creature, Buckbeak. His movements and rendering are beautiful, with each feather
animated to perfection. The same can not be said, however for
Lupin's werewolf alter ego, that ends up looking rather ridiculous, as an
anorexic weird short haired gangly thing that my daughter mentioned reminded her
of a mole rat.
Gary Oldman works
wonderfully as Sirius Black, but unfortunately, just as in the book, really only
pops up in the film's end. And you'll likely have to wait to Part 5 of the
series to enjoy any substantial screen time from him at all. Hopefully he'll
have the time to visit a dentist during this layover, as his teeth are horrible
to look at, even by British standards.
I get the feeling that many thing were cut for time. Hopefully it'll get
the Lord of The Rings style treatment when it comes out on DVD with plenty of
the deleted scenes either restored, or placed as extras in the Special Features
entire Potter crew is busy making the 4th Film Harry Potter and The Goblet of
Fire, as you read this, so you won't have to wait long to get your fix again
if you feel like you've been left hanging.
It's not as if they'll have try hard to convince anyone to see these movies,
good review or not.
you stick around to the end credits, you can hear Harry mutter a little
something that's worth the wait.
Dress up like part of the
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