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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Reviewed by Andrew Kozma and Jason Myers, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Alfonso Cuaron (Director)
Genre:   Fantasy/Horror
Released:   June 4, 2004
Review Date:   June 08, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

Harry Potter has an unfortunate, miserable, dejected, wretched life. His parents were both killed when he was too young to remember them, he's the target of the most evil and powerful wizard ever known (who has a penchant for returning from the dead), and he lives with relatives who would prefer he was killed by this wizard rather than be a burden on them.

You all know this already.

Dobby the House Elf: Tell it again! Dobby loves Harry Potter!

Andrew: And if you don't, well, then you've probably decided against the whole "adolescent wizards fighting unspeakable evil while trying to deal with the horrors of growing up at the same time" genre. If that's the case, then you can't be helped.

Otherwise, I say you should go see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban now. This is the first movie of the year that I left thinking, hey, I should/ could recommend this to everyone I know, and they'll probably enjoy it, even if at first they make a face like they've just tried one of Bertie Bott's nastier concoctions.

This is by far the best Harry Potter movie yet and, I fear may be the best in the to be completed at someunnamed future date series.

The new director, Alfonso Cuaron, turned up the darkness in the Harry Potter world. It's something that wasn't much explored in the first two movies. This is a world where everyone lives in fear (of Voldemort, of being exposed as wizards), even more so than the non-wizarding world, since there are horrors known only to those using magic. The wizards aren't too worried, as far as I can tell, about troubles of the non-magical variety, but Harry deals with both, most evidenced by his adopted parents.

The cinematography, beautifully done by Michael Seresin (Angel Heart, Angela's Ashes), crystallizes the dark mood in the storms, the sinister woods, the Dementors, and the way that the camera lingers over Aunt Marge's expansion at the beginning of the film; a result that a child might wish for, but not perhaps in such gross detail.

That's virtually the first action we get, a scene where Harry uses his power for vengeance, and it hints at the difficulties he will face in controlling his powers.

As for the subtly morbid nature of the film, there is the whomping willow. Although it's used for laughs, it is telling that the device used to show the changing of the seasons is an irrepressibly violent tree that kills all living things coming within its reach.

The new characters introduced (and their respective actors) are well worth their presence, especially Professor Lupin (David Thewlis); as in the book, I was sad to see him go. Maybe that should've been proceeded by a spoiler warning, but if you don't know by now that Defense of the Dark Arts teachers only last a year then you shouldn't be wasting your time reading this review. You should be reading Rowling's books.

Emma Thompson ably portrays crazy and well-meaning Professor Trelawney, and Gary Oldman is a wonder as Sirius Black, especially in all those wanted posters. Most notable is Albus Dumbledore, played by a new actor and mostly, unnoticeable as such.

Jason Myers: For me it definitely was a jarring transition. In Sorceror's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, Richard Harris brought a dignity and kindness to the character that made Dumbledore a most genuine father figure to Harry. Michaeal Gambon isn't a bad Dumbledore, but he's more like a slightly-off hippie uncle-figure than a father-figure.

Andrew: There are changes, as Gambon adapts the character to himself, but those changes aren't so disconcerting that you think a boggart has taken the headmaster's place. It's interesting to watch how the actor brings a subtly different, but no less true, Dumbledore to life.

The kids are as good as always, especially Hermione (Emma Watson), who has a significantly larger role in this film than the others. Or maybe it's just the comeuppance she gives to Malfoy that makes it seem so.

The CGI characters, especially Buckbeak, seem almost real, and the transition from real Potter on a broom to fake Potter riding a fake broom is done smoothly, with the strain on credibility nicely blended away.

There are so many small things to enjoy in this movie, tidbits that make it necessary to keep your eyes and ears open at all times. For example, the choir for the opening ceremonies at Hogwarts is singing the witch's song from Macbeth. There are paintings, and all the attention that goes into what are essentially background elements. In one stair scene there is either a ghost giraffe or a giraffe from a painting running along one wall. In a different type of enriching detail, Lupin's love of jazz, particularly during the boggart scene, brings him to life.

Lastly, this movie has the most entertaining end credits I've seen, well, ever.

Jason: Also the longest running end credits ever.

Andrew . . . and they kept me in my seat until the final "mischief managed." Notice that all the major characters have individual footprints and see if you can find Sirius (or is it Lupin?); watch for the animal footprints, and try to figure out what games the feet are playing near the end. Hopscotch?

What makes this movie so great, though, is it owns up to the darkness in the world and in childhood. Harry is successful and lives are saved, but this movie can't be said to, have a happy ending. There's betrayal, injustice, and prejudice all clearly displayed, and essentially unrighted by society. Still, we must do as Lupin does: work for what is right in the world and don't let the unfairness of it all stop us from trying to live and do as we think best.

So enjoy the movie and have a good, dark night.

This is the best Harry Potter film so far, and I predict (and hopefully I'm worse than Trelawney) will be better than future installments, because as the series goes on the books get longer and more involved. This film didn't need any introduction -- in the books, the intro covers about the first fifty pages -- so we got directly to the action. Still, much had to be left out, where the first two films seemed almost direct transcriptions of the novels.

Malfoy isn't really a presence in this movie, he's just hinted at, and Harry's continuing rise up the Quidditch charts isn't shown or even implied. All the beauty, wonder, and humor that comes from the wizarding classes is, in the film, subservient to moving the plot along directly, chop-chop. As the series goes on, more of the books will have to be cut to make the film work.

Jason: I don't take it as a good sign that Rowling's massive tome Goblet of Fire, which was going to be split into two movies, is now going to be crammed into just one.

Andrew: This film works best of the three as an individual work of art. If that trend continues, we'll have films that match the books but tell a story, and have a life, all their own.

Revstaffer Andrew Kozma is probably one of those jerks who, even after someone’s told him that they haven’t finished all the Harry Potter books yet, just doesn’t get the hint to stop making references to the latter books in the series.

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