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Harry Potter Countdown: “Prisoner of Azkaban” Review

Steven's Rating: 9/10 Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.5/10 (4 ratings total) Producer Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films made of the Harry Potter series of fantasy books by J.K. Rowling, couldn't have made a better choice than stepping away from the camera and giving the reigns to a seasoned director with a fresh perspective. It's what makes Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban go from merely good to great. Director Alfonso Cuarón, who brings his fantasy experience from the mid-'90s film A Little Princess, adds a layer of complexity, maturity and beauty to the Harry Potter universe that had been just a bit too fantastical and gimmicky under Columbus' direction. Though the second does this better than the first, the third completely outdoes both. In this chapter, Harry (Radcliffe) heads for Hogwarts with the knowledge that an infamous Dark wizard named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped the Wizard prison of Azkaban and is out to find Harry and kill him. Along the way Harry must learn to overcome his fear of the Azkaban prison guards out searching Hogwarts for Black -- ghastly creatures called Dementors -- during which he learns a bit about his parents. New to the cast include David Thewlis as new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and ally of Harry's, Remus Lupin, a nearly unrecognizable Emma Thompson as Divination teacher Professor Trelawney and Michael Gambon as the new Albus Dumbledore after the sad passing of Richard Harris. All are great, even Gambon, who adds a youthful vigor to Dumbledore despite the true magic that Harris brought to the role. A lot has also changed visually in "Azkaban." There seems to be more of a sense of realism to the characters despite the fantasy world around them. Cuaron has the main trio of Harry, Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson) in modern dress most of the film (whenever they're not in classes) and this really helps make them seem more like the teenagers they are. It makes us identify with them more. Even when they are in robes/proper dress, they do what Catholic school kids with uniforms would: loosen the ties, unbutton a couple buttons -- Cuaron's image is not as neat and tidy of a fantasy world. This is more of a young adult's adventure story, not a children's fantasy. Then again, the books are heading in this direction and it's only appropriate. The sets are even more beautiful and Cuaron's attention to the seasons changing helps emphasize his themes of time while grounding the narrative of the film. Steve Kloves, adapter of the first two books, has clearly by now honed his craft. He has much better ways of working in the information of the book visually than through dialogue. Cuarón's vision makes that seem all the more apparent. What you see in "Azkaban" just has so much more weight to it. There aren't nearly as many visual effects or interesting nature sequences that are just there to be pretty. All of it has a purpose with the exception of Harry flying around on Buckbeak the hippogriff for a few minutes, and even that lets John Williams take his great score to the next level. "Azkaban" is easily the best Potter film to date and it's one of the shortest, so that gives you a sense of how much more improved the entire process was this time around. This film really lives up to the book more than any other in entertainment and maturity. It's a shame Cuarón didn't stick around for another go. Rating: 9/10 Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.5/10 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Directed by Alfonso Cuarón Written by Steve Kloves, JK Rowling (book) Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis 


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