Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Warner Brothers trusted a talented independent filmmaker with one of the most valuable franchises in the business and Alfonso Cuarón not only didn’t let anybody down but he allowed the third Harry Potter movie to grow up along with the young actors in lead roles. The cuteness of the first two movies is gone – we don’t see as many classroom scenes and the ones we see have more assertive, older kids. The look and feel is darker this time but I wouldn’t call it a dark film – there is still an undertone of optimism that good will prevail. Special effects are put to very good use – they don’t overwhelm the story or the human characters. One of my favorite effects was the triple-decker bus – very British -- that Harry takes to London at the beginning of the film – it’s truly a magic bus – invisible to muggles, capable of amazing speed and able to compress itself to get through traffic. Another favorite is Buckbeak, the horse/bird creature that befriends Harry – a very cool piece of CG work – I loved it. The magic tree is also very impressive visually.
The set-up has an evil wizard (Gary Oldman, perfectly cast as Sirius Black) escaping from prison and going after Harry because of a connection Black had with the murder of Harry’s parents – he is going to finish the job! A complication involves some nasty ghost-like creatures called Dementors – they are supposedly some kind of cops of the supernatural realm who are out to catch Sirius Black but if you get in their way they have no problem killing you as well. After a close encounter with them, Harry is terrified and gets help from a Professor Lupin (David Thewlis – another great performance) who teaches Harry and the others how to deal with fear – not a bad life lesson for wizards and muggles alike. The film is never too serious or heavy in tone but comic relief is still provided by Emma Thompson as the wacky, tea-leaf-reading Professor Trelawney.
All of these adult performers are absolutely great but, among them, I have a favorite: Alan Rickman as Professor Snape – he sneers, disparages, and even borders on being cruel to the kids -- but I could always tell that it was tough love – there is never a doubt that he’s a good guy. You can probably tell by now that I’m more impressed with the adult supporting cast members than the three young leads -- Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley; and Emma Watson as Hermoine. The adult cast of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a dream team of fine British actors so it isn’t really fair to expect a group of teenagers to live up to that standard. I still can’t help but conclude that the film would have been stronger had the adults been given more prominent roles and the kids’ roles diminished somewhat. I know that this would not be true to J.K. Rowling’s beloved book which would anger the fan base – so it’s not a practical idea but still – I maintain – would make a very fine film even better.
The story is told very well – well acted, beautiful visually in both production design and special effects – and holds several surprises that don’t seem tacked on. The film may be too intense for young children but should please all but the most jaded adults – I recommend seeing it on the big screen – it would lose a lot in conversion to video/DVD.
Images are copyright Warner Brothers.
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