Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth


A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2004 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)

Unlike the first two Harry Potter films, 2004's "Harry Potter and the

Prisoner of Azkaban" (hereafter referred to as HP3 to save my failing

fingertips) doesn't open at Thanksgiving (it's the start of the summer

season and here's Harry already!) and isn't directed by Chris Columbus

(this time around Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón takes over the directing

reins). But it still looks and feels very much like a Harry Potter movie no

matter how you slice it, and that's good news for the rabid and

multitudinous fans of J.K. Rowling's series of children's books (later to be

dramatized with alarming alacrity) about a now 13-year-old orphan

who just so happens to be a wizard.  
     That has as much to do with the Harry Potter phenomenon as it does 

the product on the table, of course--HP3 is neither worse nor better than

its predecessors--and it carries with it the same criticisms that befall any

attempt at literary adaptation, i.e., the stuff they left out, the stuff they

put in, and just how the filmmakers' interpretation matches our own humble


Having myself struggled with Rowling's lack of sophistication, patently

obvious and "chiefly Brit." humor, and surprisingly sub-juvenile POV, I will

admit that she sure knows how to set up a story, populate it with living,

breathing personalities, and tell her tale with an uncommon yet assured

simplicity. Case in point: Sirius Black, a central figure in HP3, is actually

introduced (or at the very least mentioned) on page 16 of "Harry Potter and

the Sorcerer's Stone"! Now that's forward thinking...

     The gang's all here in HP3 of course: Harry, Ron, Hermione, the 

Dursleys, Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy,

all wistfully realized by the very same actors as before (with the exception

of Albus Dumbledore--Michael Gambon steps in for the late Richard

Harris without missing a beat). And there are some typically decent

additions: Emma Thompson as Professor Sybil Trelawney, David Thewlis

(remember him from Mike Leigh's "Naked"?) as black arts master

Professor Lupin, Timothy Spall (another Mike Leigh favorite) as the ratty

Peter Pettigrew, and yes that's Gary Oldman as the eponymous prisoner

himself, with a chamber full of secrets--and a very animated wanted

poster--all his own.

"The Prisoner of Azkaban" is the one, lest you've forgotten, that features

Harry, in his third year at Hogwarts, attaining greater insight into the

betrayal and tragic death of his parents while being pursued by an

escaped murderer (Black) and ghoulish, life-sucking Dementors (whose

first appearance, parents of little ones take note, should have garnered

the film a PG-13, not PG, rating).

Personally I had higher hopes for this film, given Cuarón's involvement

(his "A Little Princess," an adaptation of another beloved children's book,

and "Y Tu Mamá También" were two of my ten best films of 1995 and

2001 respectively), but the worst you can say about HP3 is that it's more of

the same... and endlessly so (almost two-and-a-half hours by the time

John Williams's unmemorable score drones to a close). The hippogriff,

made unnecessarily central, is decent; the werewolf, necessarily central,

is ludicrous; and they should have done more with the Marauder's Map.

Otherwise "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is a dependable

and easygoing entry in the ever dependable and ongoing series.

David N. Butterworth
Got beef? Visit "La Movie Boeuf"

online at http://members.dca.net/dnb

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X-RT-RatingText: 2.5/4

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