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.
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
Although this film isn't all that I'd hoped it would be, I believe that it was the best of the three 'Harry Potter' films so far, thanks largely due to director Alfonso Cuaron. In 'Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban', the trio are now thirteen and beginning their Third Year at Hogwarts, under the fear of an escaped criminal who played a part in the deaths of Harry's parents and seems to be stalking the school, preying on Harry.
The child acting in this film has improved slightly with Emma Watson and Rupert Grint probably faring the best in comparison to their young co-stars. Although he is lumbered with a Ron who has once again been reduced to a comic character, it's a sign of Grint's abilities that he does well without looking embarrassed or too clownish. Dan Radcliffe was still very poor, obviously struggling to portray Harry's darker emotions in a manner that isn't wooden and awkward and and this was very apparent in the scene where he makes an atrocious effort to cry when he finds out his godfather had betrayed his parents to their deaths. while Tom Felton was let down by poor scripting of Draco.
The adult cast were excellent. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were perfectly cast. Lupin was soft yet stern when needed and you could feel there was a parental rapport between him and Harry, and I couldn't imagine anyone other than David Thewlis in the role. And Gary Oldman was great in depicting Black's determination, mingled with an hysterical madness due to his incarceration in the hellish wizarding prison Azkaban. As for Michael Gambon, who was recast in the role of Dumbledore, I felt he was an improvement. Richard Harris was a gifted actor but his Dumbledore had a cold, aloofness to him whereas Gambon was able to portray the warm, eccentricity of the character without diminishing the power and wisdom of Dumbledore. And the rest of the regular cast, such as Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith, were perfect although we expect no better from them now!
One of the best aspects of this film is how it no longer pandered to kiddies like the previous two films did. There was a darker, moodier edge to the story and the characters. The wizarding world no longer seemed like a perfect haven and the characters had grown beyond being innocent children; this reflected the book itself since many feel PoA was a turning point in the series where it finally felt like Harry Potter- boy and book- were growing up. The Hogwarts' setting differed from the previous films yet not only was it definitely more faithful to the books but finally it felt as if the castle was in Scotland rather than perpetually sunny Disney Land and this enhanced the mood being set in the film. The clock was a nice touch, linking to the theme of time in the actual storyline, as was the bridge in being a place for Harry to mull over his problems. Also, in many ways, this film could have ended up a muddled mess in regards to the ending but Cuaron handled the Time Turner scenes well.
However, there were flaws to the film, which let it down. The characters of Hermione and Draco were poorly scripted so they seemed like two completely different characters from the ones we know and love in the books. Although Watson as an actress has improved since CoS, the main problem with the script is that Hermione is being portrayed as being too cool and cocky compared to the bookworm who has no interest in fashion that we know Hermione to be in the books. Steve Kloves, the scriptwriter who admits he's responsible for the change, really needs to learn heroines don't need to be cool Buffy types to be admired; part of why Hermione is so popular as a character in the books is that she appeals to girls who are bookish themselves and easily identify with her. And as for Draco, he comes across as too much of a cowardly, weak girlie-boy rather than an insidious, vicious brat who can be a threat to Harry when he chooses to.
Also, there was no telling of what Black did to Snape in school that left him so bitter in his hatred and I wished they'd included the scene where he let slip what Lupin was, especially as this animosity between him, Black and Lupin plays a larger role as the books go on. And speaking of Lupin, the werewolf CGI was atrocious. He looked like an emaciated rat rather than the wolf-like creature who leaves even the more powerful wizards quivering in fear. I wished there was more in the ending too as I would have loved to see Vernon's face when he found out who Black was. Kloves needs to learn how to round the Harry Potter films off properly as this was also a sticking point in CoS.
At the end of the day, there were scenes left out, some of which we didn't mind skipping but others (an explanation to Harry of James Potter's friendship to Black and Lupin) were sorely missed. It was a great film but it could have done with being made longer or skipping on non-essential scenes (less of the Knight Bus and Hermione punching Malfoy in a manner that makes her out to be a thug) to make way for scenes which are more important. I think I was disappointed because I was expecting something along the lines of RotK but it's still great viewing. I'd give it a seven-and-a-half out of ten with the hopes Cuaron will return to the helm again although preferably not with Kloves as the scriptwriter. I think Cuaron would be excellent working with a script produced by someone who has a better handle on the darker aspects of the books and a deeper understanding of the HP characters.
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