Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

An Alfonso Cuarón Movie

With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall and others

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Warning: This review contains a spoiler for people who have not read the book!

Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at Hogwarts does not start well: he leaves the Dursley house in a rush after angrily blowing up Uncle Vernon’s sister Marge (Pam Ferris) and now has to fear expulsion from his school because of once more using magic illegally if inadvertently during the holidays. Upon his arrival in London he learns that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a fugitive from the wizard prison Azkaban, is out to get him. Because of this threat against Harry’s life the dementors, the Azkaban prison guards, are stationed at the gates of Hogwarts. Dementors are terrifying creatures who suck all cheerfulness and happy memories out of their victims. This time Harry does not have to deal with Lord Voldemort, but with the memories of his own past.

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón hits the Harry Potter movie franchise like a fresh breeze. While his predecessor Chris Columbus almost slavishly followed the books and created an illustration for them rather than movies that were works in their own right, Cuarón had the courage to follow his own vision of the third installment of the series. I was enchanted by Columbus’ movies, but here it is all too obvious how it can be done better. Many of the sets are the same, but well-known places have a new look when seen through Cuarón’s camera. I especially enjoyed all the wide-angle shots, apart from the gloomier atmosphere the most notable change from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It is also the shortest of the three movies although the book is thicker than the other two, due to a much faster pace that barely leaves you time to breathe. All in all I think that Cuarón made very sensible cuts. Almost everything that’s important in the book is there and what the director added was cleared with J. K. Rowling to make sure there will be no inconsistencies with future books (already written or not).

Who still pictures the kids as they where in the first two movies will be surprised at how mature they have become. Not only as far as their age is concerned, but also in terms of their acting abilities. Hermione (Emma Watson) finally was allowed more than just a few lines of dialogue. I thought Michael Gambon, who took over as Albus Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris, a good choice and also David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, even if he wasn’t like I pictured the character in the book. Funny moments were provided by Emma Thompson as the eccentric divination teacher Sybil Trelawney, a great talent who can boast two real prophecies in her entire career. My personal highlight, however, was Gary Oldman playing the title character of both book and movie. He manages to portray the (allegedly) crazy killer and the tortured man who was wrongly imprisoned with equal credibility. Who thought him only capable of playing bad guys will now have to think again.

The special effects were also well-done for the most part. The dementors are creepy creatures that will make your blood curdle. Buckbeak, the hippogryph, seems so real that it’s hard to imagine he exists only in a computer and not on the set. The werewolf is not so convincing, especially since in Rowling’s world werewolves are hard to tell from real wolfs. But this didn’t ruin the overall positive impression the movie had on me.

I wouldn’t mind if Alfonso Cuarón took the helm again in one of the later movies. For now I’m curious to see how Mike Newell will treat book 4.

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