Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

“That suggests that what you fear most of all… is fear itself. This is very wise.”

Not even Wednesday Weirdness can stand in the face of cinematic extravaganza that was the Harry Potter film series. As such Potter Week+ continues as with the third installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If you’d like to read this review in context, you might want to start by going back and reading my reviews of the first, and second films.

After a disappointing second entry the Harry Potter film series takes on a new director, and a new flavor, and, a new life in the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuarón takes over the director’s chair vacated by Chris Columbus (who stays on as a producer). This would establish something of a precedent as the next two films would also feature new directors.

Cuarón brings a very different feel to this installment. ‘Prisoner is a far less direct and faithful adaptation of the book, but is a better film for it. In place of trying to cram in every plot detail and expository conversation from JK Rowling’s increasingly lengthy text, Cuarón boils it down to the necessary elements, while adding a touch of realism to the fantasy world. We spend far much more time in the classroom, or the quidditch pitch, and instead see more development of the main plot and the characters.

Prisoner is the fist film where the lead trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione actually begin to feel like real people, as the performances of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson all improve by leaps and bounds. Grint’s Ron in particular is worlds better than the grinning doofus presented in ‘Chamber.

I suppose that I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the one major character to re-cast in the entire film series. Michael Gambon takes over the role of Dumbledore after the passing of Richard Harris. While Harris’ Dumbledore was quietly confidant, with a sense of humor that seemed to gloss over immense power Gambon’s interpretation seems more forceful. I’m not going to say one interpretation is better than the other, but perhaps Gambon’s is better suited to the more involved role the character plays in the later films.

This is the film that starts to really raise the stakes for the wizarding world; where in the early films most of the drama came from wondering who would win the House Championship, here the stakes escalate to life and death. The film is accordingly darker, gloomier, and outright scary at times, and of course the stakes only get higher from here.

This might well be the best single film in the series, it’s considerably better than I remembered it being. The ending feels like maybe a little bit of a cheat what with the timey-wimey do-over and all, but that comes right from the novel, and is probably necessary for Harry’s development, so I can’t mark it down for that. Judged strictly on its own merits this is certainly best of the three Potter films thus far. I seriously thought about calling this one a “Must See”, but I think it falls just a little bit short. It is, however, absolutely Worth Seeing.

[Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Director: Alfonso Cuarón – Rated PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing