It's Harry's third year at Hogwarts; not only does he have a new "Defense Against the Dark Arts" teacher, but there is also trouble brewing. Convicted murderer Sirius Black has escaped the Wizards' Prison and is coming after Harry.
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Harry Potter is having a tough time with his relatives (yet again). He runs away after using magic to inflate Uncle Vernon's sister Marge who was being offensive towards Harry's parents. Initially scared for using magic outside the school, he is pleasantly surprised that he won't be penalized after all. However, he soon learns that a dangerous criminal and Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black has escaped from the Azkaban prison and wants to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. To worsen the conditions for Harry, vile creatures called Dementors are appointed to guard the school gates and inexplicably happen to have the most horrible effect on him. Little does Harry know that by the end of this year, many holes in his past (whatever he knows of it) will be filled up and he will have a clearer vision of what the future has in store... Written by
Harry Potter is growing up! The voice is deepening, the shoulders are broadening and...hurray! You no longer feel like a creep for having a little crush on Daniel Radcliffe...whoops, did I say that out loud? Say what you will, I see him making the jump from child star to adult actor in a way that Haley Joel Osment only dreams of.
Appropriately, this third film in the Harry Potter series has matured along with it's young stars. At first glance the storyline itself is relatively simple - Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban Prison and young Harry is on his hit list. But the reality is that this movie is about being a teenager and all the trials and tribulations that go with it. On one level, Harry is like any other kid at school - he puts up with torment from bullies, gets into scrapes with his teachers and hangs out with his friends. But this is not just any school. This is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry has a whole OTHER set of problems. Like an escaped madman who may just want to kill him, for example.
The plot contains the requisite amounts of twists and turns. The focus is on Harry's past - Sirius Black was his godfather but just may have been in league with he who's name cannot be mentioned. There is the usual game of 'are they or aren't they?' when it comes to deciding which characters are really the baddies. Alan Rickman continues to walk the finest of lines between good and bad with his marvelous performance as Professor Snape. Has there ever been a better match of actor and character? Snape shows again that, while he may take occasional delight in making his students' lives difficult, he does have their best interests at heart - like any good teacher. Other plot quirks worked well - I enjoyed the way the time travel angle was worked in and the map showing the location of everyone in Hogwarts was a delight.
Visually, this is a much darker film and it is a sumptuous treat for the eyes. There is so much incredible detail in the sets that it's impossible to absorb it all in one sitting. All the staples from the other films are there - the paintings talk, the staircases move, ghosts roam the halls - watch out for the knights on horseback crashing through windows! The special effects are all top notch. A word of caution for any parents - there are some genuine scares here. The Dementors are particularly nasty, and I would certainly think twice about letting very young children watch this film. This is without even considering it's running time - two and a half hours - which is a very long time to expect some children to sit still.
One of the most impressive things about this film is the way that the young cast are more sure of themselves. As Hermione, Emma Watson grated in the first film with her occasional woodenness. Pleasingly, she has grown into herself as an actor and her performance here is much more mature. A leading lady of the future, perhaps? Hermione is growing up and is tired of being taken for an irritating goody-two shoes know it all. Rupert Grint provides comic relief and Daniel Radcliffe gives an outstanding performance, considering the whole film rests on his shoulders. Harry is the hero - the audience needs to identify with him. By the end of this film teenage girls will want to take him home to mother, while their mothers will just want to take him home and adopt him!
New cast members acquit themselves well. The role of Sirius Black was tailor made for Gary Oldman - he has a requisite creepiness with just a dose of humanity to bring the character to life. Daniel Thewlis is good as Professor Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts master who takes Harry under his wing. Emma Thompson is amusing as a Divinination professor with bad eyesight. She can see into the future but can't tell which students are falling asleep in her class!
Many have criticised Michael Gambon's performance as Dumbledore. While it's true that he is no Richard Harris, I personally was pleased that he didn't attempt to imitate his predecessor. Gambon is accomplished enough a performer to stay true to the character while at the same time putting his own stamp on it.
Take away the magic and monsters, and what you have is a coming of age movie. Harry is forced to grow up and confront both his past and his future, and come to terms with the reality that he is no ordinary wizard. With the spectra of 'you know who' continuing to loom on the horizon, roll on film four!
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