Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

****

Reviewed by: David Haviland

Harry Potter's back and the good news is he's better than ever. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron takes the helm, turning in a darker effort than the previous films, as Harry and his friends move into adolesence.

The story begins, of course, at the Dursleys, where Harry is becoming increasingly resentful of his mistreatment. When a visiting aunt (Pam Ferris) provokes him, Harry loses his temper and inflates her like a balloon in the film's most whimsical moment.

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Harry returns to Hogwarts to find that the murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from prison and is thought to be coming after him. As a result, the prison guards, the soul-sucking Dementors, are roaming Hogwarts and seem to have a particular effect on Harry.

As in the previous films, the children are supported by an exceptional array of British acting talent. Alan Rickman has a lot of fun reprising his role as the sneering Professor Snape and Robbie Coltrane is routinely excellent as the genial Hagrid. Emma Thompson and Timothy Spall get to wildly overact as characters that will probably amuse children and Michael Gambon takes over as Dumbledore, giving him a warmer, less magisterial feel than Richard Harris.

As for the children's performances, they are improving, although Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint are still completely outshone by Emma Watson, who makes the most of the series's best role, as the quick-witted, determined Hermione. She gets more to do this time, as well being responsible for the film's juiciest line, when, in a moment of time travel, she sees herself reinacting a previous scene and asks, "Does my hair really look like that from the back?"

Harry Potter is all about magic, of course, and CuarĂ³n doesn't disappoint. The action sequences are genuinely exciting, in particular a storm-lashed Quidditch game and a wonderful epic flight on a Hippogriff, a bizarre creature that seems to be half-horse, half-pigeon. Overall, the film looks great, with a darker, grainier feel, although the special effects do seem a little homely and second rate when compared with, say, The Lord Of The Rings.

However, despite some impressive moments, the story loses momentum at times, which is probably indicative of the challenge faced by screenwriter Steve Kloves, as the third book is a hundred pages longer than the first. At one point in particular the script attempts to tie up a number of plot strands and succeeds only in baffling.

Nonetheless, it's an extremely entertaining film, the best of the series so far, with enough action, humour and suspense to please adults and children alike.

Reviewed on: 05 Jun 2004
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Harry returns to Hogwarts to find he is being pursued by the escaped murderer Sirius Black.
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Scott Macdonald ****1/2

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Writer: Steve Kloves, from the novel by J K Rowling

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Pam Ferris, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall

Year: 2004

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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