Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Movie Review

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Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Year: 2004
Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy
Play time: 2h 22min
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Screenwriters: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Mark Williams, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Pam Ferris, Robbie Coltrane, Daniel Radcliffe

“Why would I go looking for somebody who wants to kill me?”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is No Doubt a Great Movie!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great film — not just a fun treat, or a solid adaptation, which are words to describe Chris Columbus’ work, but a wonderful movie. From the opening shot, which zooms past a monochromatic Warner Bros. Logo and through the window of Harry’s Privet Drive residence to find him fumbling desperately under the covers with his magic wand, lying down and closing his eyes whenever the suspicious Uncle Vernon enters the room, we know this is not the same naïve, wide-eyed, cheerful wizard we once knew. Not only is the scene a sneaky and amusing way to suggest that Harry is at last entering teenagerdom, but it is also a moving representation of the more fundamental change in the character: he is alone now, on his own, and using his newfound wizarding fantasy to hide from the world at large is no longer working.

Alfonso Cuaron Adds Up the ‘Love & Friendship’ Among the Film’s Cast

Yet, as Professor Dumbledore intones, “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times,” and indeed, director Alfonso Cuaron finds room for friendship and love even in the midst of his generally pitch-black vision. Watch for the little stuff — the way Ron grabs Harry’s shoulder and turns him away when Draco Malfoy and his Slytherin compatriots start in with their unceasing, merciless taunts, or how Harry instinctively shields Hermione with his body when dementors and werewolves and animagi start attacking in the last act. These details moved me halfway to tears, and they are exactly what was missing from the earlier films — a dose of genuine humanity within this elaborate magical world. When Harry goes for a ride atop Buckbeak the hippogriff, smiling and laughing and holding on for dear life as the animal soars through the sky and glides along the water, he’s not just a kid having a blast, but a boy taking solace in a momentary break from the harsh reality below — where Hagrid, Ron and Hermione are waiting, yes, but more importantly also Malfoy, Snape, Azkaban guards, and perhaps even the dread Sirius Black.

This Third Part of Harry Potter is Dark, Scary as One Can Feasibly Make It

From the beginning I imagined what I would do if, in some alternate reality, I were to take charge of the Harry Potter movie universe — I would make it dark, scary, adult, a fantasy film to frighten as well as enchant. Watching Azkaban I was convinced that this is about as scary as one can feasibly make it. Cuaron abandons Columbus’ action-adventure, Raiders-wannabe sensibility in favor of a quiet, mounting dread. This is no horror movie, but it pushes the PG rating about as far as it can go — the exuberant swordfights of The Chamber of Secrets are replaced by visions of gathering, swirling dementors and gangly-limbed werewolves, creatures we feel can actually hurt our heroes, suck the life out of them without batting an eye. The dementors are essentially just hooded, shadowy figures, but they are scarier than any kiddie CGI skeleton the effects team could have created, and the scarce hints we do get of what is under that hood are genuinely unnerving.

One of the reasons for my giddy anticipation of Azkaban was the hope that Cuaron might actually move the camera, as opposed to setting it on a tripod and telling people to get in front of it and act, as Columbus was wont to do. Well, Cuaron doesn’t just move the camera, he hurtles it, sending it flying across his sets, spinning around his characters, swooping up and down to his heart’s content. The camerawork, combined with the better, darker, more consistent production design — and, as David Poland pointed out, one that appreciates Hogwarts as an actual physical space — heightens both the sense of tension and of wonder. At last, it is not merely a series of gorgeous sets but an actual visual universe.

Cuaron and the cast mostly underplay the big emotional payoffs — Harry and Hermione’s brief moment of celebration at their ultimate success comes off as more sardonic than anything else (“Did what? Good night!”) — but in the rare instances they do let loose, the scenes have a real impact. Say what you will about Dan Radcliffe, but he can do anger like nobody’s business, and when he yells “HE WAS HIS FRIEND!” or starts kicking furniture, his fury is palpable.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is the Best of the Harry Potter Series Until Now

I praised both The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets upon their release. Of the latter, I wrote “It’s good, genuinely good, not just as a cultural sensation but as a movie all its own.” The Prisoner of Azkaban is leagues beyond it. That last freeze frame puts to shame the second filmos applause-and-pan-out finale, suggesting a multitude of possibilities for the franchise and for its title character. I pray that Mike Newell, who is set to direct film number four, doesn’t screw it up.

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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