HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
Entering his teens, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is back with the dreary Dursleys for his holidays when a vile visiting aunt provokes him into an act of magic, which is forbidden outside the magic world. Fearing retribution, he runs away, to be picked up by the Knight Bus and taken to the Leaky Cauldron pub, where he learns that the dangerous wizard who supposedly led Lord Voldemort to Harry's parents and was thus responsible for their deaths, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped and is said to be after Harry himself. His third year at Hogwarts thus proves to be extra fraught, what with the soul sucking Dementors - Azkaban guards - and strange new creatures, amazing adventures and the looming confrontation with Black. Just what is Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) so eager to reveal and just what is the real link between Sirius Black and Harry Potter's past?
Review by Louise Keller:
Picking up Chris Columbus' director's wand, Alfonso Cuarón brings a welcome density to Harry Potter And The Prizoner of Azkaban, as it explores new depths of J.K. Rowland's magical world of wizards. Richer and more satisfying than the two previous films, we revisit the intricately constructed world of Hogwarts enveloping us into a reality filled with details, that captures not only our imaginations, but also our hearts. Cuarón delivers sophistication to the storytelling, while the inventive special effects never seem like effects at all. Everything we loved before about Harry Potter is back, together with a new energy. No longer are magical powers a novelty; now it's a matter of how the powers are used.
Ultimately the success of the film lies in the characters, and the emotions that they trigger in us. Harry's sense of decency as he sets out to avenge his parents' death; Hermione's ultra-bright, no-nonsense witch; Ron's loyalty as the more conservative of the three friends. And as they become teenagers, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have fleshed out the roles; the relationship between the three characters always feels real. Whether it is a squabble between Hermione and Ron about her cat chasing his pet rat, or serious concern when Harry falls off his broomstick playing Quidditch in a stormy sky, we can relate to them all.
Palms sweat and we almost stop breathing as the shadowy faceless Dementors that fly like zombie-bats terrify. Each encounter is made even more terrifying, as much is left to our imaginations. Buckbeak - the half-horse, half-eagle on whose back Harry takes a memorable flight - is a novel creature and there's a satisfying story twist when Cuarón takes us beyond the hands of the giant clock. Paintings whose subjects move (Dawn French's fat lady is a highlight), floating candles, the whomping willow tree... there are so many delightful things to enjoy in this intricate world. And of course, characters like Dumbledore (Michael Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris) and Alan Rickman's unfathomable master with the booming voice return, and there are some new characaters: David Thewlis' teacher with a secret and Emma Thompson's wildly eccentric crystal gazer.
Enjoyable for all ages, Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban is a wizard of a tale, and chances are you will be humming John Williams' haunting theme for days to come.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The first signs of teenage rebellion in Harry Potter, now 13, make for a terrific opening sequence, as Harry inflates an aunt already over-inflated with her own importance. Hurriedly leaving the Dursley home, Harry is picked up by the purple triple decker Knight Bus, a combination of sight gag and pun, with a collection of extra effects that will have children (of all ages) swaying with laughter and delicious fear.
But then the mood darkens (there are no sunny skies) as Harry arrives at Hogwarts for his third year, as news breaks of the escape from Azkabar of Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), the prisoner who has spent 12 years behind bars as one of the instruments of the murder of Harry's parents. The menace is further heightened by the deadly Dementors, the black spirit guards of Azkaban searching for Black - and sucking out your soul if you stand in their way - or even if you don't. So young Harry is under many threats and pressures, including that ever-malodious Malfoy boy and the mysteries of his past.
The adventures are rugged and beautifully rendered in a triumph of creative vision and digital do-goodery as Hogwarts is literally animated, its framed pictures on the wall alive with the personages portrayed, its classrooms vibrating with weird and wizardly objects, mystically powered books, doorlocks and fittings that my house refuses to wobble.
But that's nothing compared to the wild beasts that inhabit this magic world, from the all-important rat, Scabbers that is Ron's pet - and more - to the ambitiously conceived Buckbeak, half horse half eagle, and Professor Lupin's (David Thewlis) secret other self, the werewolf. Yes, Professor Lupin is a dark horse, as it were, hiding something that we discover to our surprise. There are others.
Gary Oldman is well cast as Sirius Black, the feared wizard against whose presence Hogwarts locks down in one of the shorter but most gripping scenes. But then Alfonso Cuarón (maker of Y tu mama tambien, another ties of passage movie, albeit very different locations!) was also spotted as the right director for this third Potter film, although everyone was holding their breath until it was finished. The mood is certainly darker, fittingly so, and the first year of their teenage years is marked for the three central characters by having to make tougher decisions and risking more. And having to rely on their own, maturing self.
The underlying themes give the film substance amidst the fun, although being a fan of the magic arts, I don't find any of the wizardry too much or boring. The issue of wizardry and its benevolent use is a subtle replacement for faith, if you are making a spiritual movie, or supernatural powers, if you're tackling comic book material. Here, the added element is that the characters have to learn to make use of these 'powers' themselves, and at the same time learn the rules about using them. This may be a stifled lesson in the Potter productions, but it's there.
As Steve Kloves' clever and witty adaptation swings through its paces with Cuarón's dynamic direction, we are held under the spell of a tale that confirms all our fundamental human wishes: to overcome the worst within human nature with the magic of our own powers of self knowledge and truth. It's a great piece of filmmaking with lasting value.
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HARRY POTTER SPLASH PAGE
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (PG)
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Pam Ferris
PRODUCER: David Heyman, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
SCRIPT: Steve Kloves (novel by J.K.Rowling)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Seresin BSC
EDITOR: Steven Weisberg
MUSIC: John williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Craig
OTHER: Visual Effects Supervisors: Roger Guyett, Tim Burke
RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 10, 2004