Pros: Story, acting, special effects
Cons: A few minor ones
The Bottom Line:
For third magical story
That is lots of fun
A New Director Brings Us Another Fun Adventure
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban brings us a new director in the form of Alfonso Cuaron. While there are some obvious stylistic changes to the movie, it still expertly captures the third book in the series.
This year finds Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) facing a personal threat from day one. Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban. His betrayal led to the deaths of Harry's parents years ago. Everyone assumes that Black is heading to Hogwarts to kill Harry and avenge You Know Who's death. Is he out to get Harry? Will he catch up with our young hero?
Naturally, as the books get longer in the series, the films have to cut more out. This one does a decent job by cutting out most of the Quidditch matches and streamlining the plot. The plot loses some of the twists, bumps, and details, but it certainly works. I first saw it without having read the books and really enjoyed it. Only now that I've read the books do I know the details I was missing. Just ask my roommate, who heard all about then when we'd finished watching it together. Yet I can't think of a way to get those details into the film without making the film even longer. And since it is already almost two and a half hours, it's not like we're looking to make the movie longer.
Having watched the first three films in such close proximity, I really noticed the difference in the films this time. If you are paying attention, it's obvious they've changed the outdoor setting for Hogwarts. Even the insides of the castle look different with the Great Hall being less ornate but the halls have many more portraits. I think these are the new director attempting to make an impact on the franchise. Again, this is something that purists will note and be bothered by. But I found them to be minor things and didn't hamper my enjoyment of the film at all. I also noticed the prominent display of clocks in this film. Definitely a stylistic choice that creates a bit of foreshadowing.
The cast does their normal great job. All three of our leads are growing into fine young actors. They get to tackle some more emotional material here, and handle it well. Michael Gambon takes over the part of Headmaster Dumbledore (due to the death of Richard Harris, who played the part in the first two films), and he does a great job. There is a little difference, but not much. There is one scene of obvious overacting, however. Ironically, it involves the adults. It takes place near the climax. The scene is supposed to be frenzied and intense, but it just doesn't work as filmed.
The special effects are once again amazing. For this film, they've created the dementors, the cloaked guards of Azkaban prison. They are absolutely creepy. In fact, they may be too intense for small kids, so parents may want to consider that. But they perfectly capture the representation in the book. Also perfect is Buckbeak, the hippogriff who is created from CGI. As you'd expect from a film created in the last few years, you'd never know it wasn't really there. There is one effect near the end (I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't be more specific) that I thought could have been better. But it's around for so little time it's not really an issue.
Book purists may be disappointed by the changes made to the story. But I think you'd hard pressed to find a better film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban no matter who was involved.