Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

© 2004 Ray Wong

HARRY POTTER is possibly one of the most profitable franchises in history. The third installment, while darker and more serious in tone and content, continues the tradition by bringing us the alternate universe we have grown to love, filled with out-of-this-world creatures, wizards, witches and magic.

AZKABAN opens, as usual, at the Dursleys’ home. Even though student wizards are forbidden to use magic outside of Hogwarts, Harry simply cannot contain his wrath toward Aunt Petunia, turning her into a giant balloon. He leaves the Dursleys’ and expects to get into a lot of trouble, only to find himself escorted back to Hogwarts. As it turns out, a convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has escaped from the prison of Azkaban and is rumored to be looking for Harry.

As Harry, Hermione and Ron struggle through their third year, Hogwarts is under extreme security to guard against Sirius. Eventually, Harry discovers that Sirius betrayed his parents and was responsible for their deaths. He vows to kill Sirius when he sees him. Harry also then finds out what exactly happened to his parents.

Director Alfonso Cuarón (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) has created a darkly moody, visually stunning film. It is, however, less playful and fanciful than the first two installments, directed by Christopher Columbus, who remains as executive producer. There is a lot of setup in the first hour (which are important for the second hour), and at times it feels a little slow. As we follow Harry and company around Hogwarts, we wonder: where is the plot? In a way, the magical wonderment of the first two films is somehow replaced by a “been there, done that” feeling, with the exception of the Hippogriff, a fantastical half-eagle, half-horse creature. Characters we have come to love and hate in the past – Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore, Snape, Harry’s archenemy Malfoy, even Hagrid – simply become throwaways. The story focuses a little too heavily on the Harry trio, making it a little dull.

Thankfully, the plot thickens once Harry discovers the secret behind the death of Peter Pettigrew, a former Hogwarts teacher. The second hour picks up in earnest, culminating in a satisfying conclusion. Parents beware: there are some scary moments involving the Dementors that will frighten small children.

Cuarón is skillful, proving that he could handle a Hollywood blockbuster. The cinematography is beautiful to behold and the sets – Hogwarts, the forest, the village, the city of London, etc. – are gorgeous with painstaking detail. The editing is a little choppy at times, but John William’s score is masterful.

Radcliffe has matured into a fine teenage Harry, though his performance remains a little stiff. Hopefully his characterization will continue to improve as Harry becomes more complex. Watson, likewise, has turned into a beautiful, headstrong (and thankfully, less irritating) Hermione. Grint is, as usual, funny and expressive as the timid, awkward Ron. Thewlis is effectively sincere as Professor Lupin, while Oldman is outstanding as the emotional, mysterious Black, stealing every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is adequate, and Gambon makes a fine replacement for the wonderful Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Rickman keeps on doing what he does best, while Smith has only a few cameos.

The HARRY POTTER franchise has grown and matured as a major force in the world of entertainment. Expectations are high, and it is interesting to see how it holds up in the future. Even after Rowling finishes her seven books, I am sure that Harry Potter will live on in the movies, much like the other English gentleman: James Bond.

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Steven Kloves (based on J.K. Rowling’s novel)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild violence, alcohol, scary moments, magic and witchcraft


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Editing – 7
Sound/Score – 8
Cinematography – 8
Production – 9

Total – 7.7 out of 10

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