HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
****1/2 (out of 5)
June 4, 2004
Daniel Radcliffe as HARRY POTTER
Rupert Grint as RON WEASLEY
Emma Watson as HERMIONE GRANGER
Gary Oldman as SIRIUS BLACK
David Thewlis as PROFESSOR LUPIN
Alan Rickman as PROFESSOR SNAPE
Michael Gambon as PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE
Maggie Smith as PROFESSOR MCGONAGALL
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
BY KEVIN CARR
Well, here we are at our third year at Hogwarts. But like the young witches and wizards, we’ve gone through some changes. It’s nice to see the movies grow up a bit.
The plot follows the same formula as the first two films. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is struggling to keep his sanity at home with his dreadful aunt and uncle. He gets in a fight with them before he heads off to Hogwarts for the year. There’s a dark force hunting him, which this year turns out to be a mad wizard named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) that has escaped from Azkaban prison. Black, a Valdemort devotee, has his sights set on Harry, presumably to kill him as Valdemort did his parents.
The first thing that you’ll notice with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is that the kids have really started to grow up. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Rupert Grint (Ron) are starting to take the shape of men rather than little boys, and Emma Watson (Hermione) is developing as well. I’m reminded of watching Angela Cartwright grow up on “Lost in Space” before the eyes of the world.
Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is no longer a cute blond cherub. He’s shot up about a foot taller, his voice is cracking and this makes him smarmier than ever. Kudos goes to the filmmakers for sticking with the cast chosen for the first film even though several of them are smack-dab in their awkward adolescence stage, like supporting cast members Devon Murray (Seamas), a much leaner Matthew Lewis (Neville) and James and Oliver Phelps (the Weasley twins).
Another big casting difference is the absence of the late Richard Harris as Professor Albus Dumbledore. The reins of the headmaster are taken over by Michael Gambon, who does an excellent job keeping the role alive. He doesn’t just imitate Richard Harris’s Dumbledore but makes the role his own while keeping it true to the books.
Just by glancing at the poster, you’ll see that this film is noticeably darker than the first two. I remember when “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” came out, there was talk about how dark it was. After all, it dealt with the death of children and had Harry go head-to-head with a giant killer snake in the finale. But all the darkness of “Chamber of Secrets” is dwarfed by this new film. And to be honest, I liked that a lot.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” is the first of the films to not be directed by Chris Columbus. While I liked the first two films, I’ve never been a big Chris Columbus fan. I feel he’s bland as a director. He doesn’t milk the drama out of a scene. He has a sanitized way of looking at things.
This new film, helmed by Cuarón, demonstrates how wishy-washy Columbus was in many of his decisions. Cuarón adds complexity to the film – not just with the plot and characters, but with the cinematography, set design and lighting. This is a completely different Hogwarts. Where in the first film, the school sat on a level green across from Hagrid’s hut and the Quidditch pitch, things are more rustic in the new film. Hogwarts stands on a lumpy hill with a crooked path leading down to Hagrid’s home. The new set design adds depth and realism to the school, helping to hide the fact that much of it is created in the memory of a computer.
There has been some criticism about having such a dark film for kids, but you have to realize that this film wasn’t necessarily made for children. Sure, these books have been published in the children’s market and that is where they first gained popularity, but J.K. Rowling’s goal was not to write a children’s book. It was simply to tell a story. And if that story has to deal with death, murder, betrayal and werewolves, so be it.
It’s nice to see Warner Bros. take a few risks with this new Harry Potter now that the franchise itself is encroaching upon the two billion dollar mark worldwide. Cuarón breathes new life into the franchise. He makes this film more cinematic than the first two. His interpretation of the Dementors, the spectre guards of Azkaban, is excellent and creepy. I shudder to think what they would have been under the wavering hand of Chris Columbus.
We can only cross our fingers and hope that Mike Newell can provide a decent follow up with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”