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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

  Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Steven Kloves, J.K. Rowling
Starring: Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman, Daniel Radcliffe, David Thewlis, Emma Watson
Links: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Book, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Children's

This movie gets: 8.67 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 28th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Back to the Future (1985), pearly's review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) and mino's review of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004).

"A seemingly contradictory review that only makes sense in my mind" - a review by pearly

At times, I felt that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was dragging a little. But for the most part, I really enjoyed this third installment in the Potter franchise. Plus, I loved that the little boy sitting behind me asked his parents whether he was allowed to say that the dementors were his favourite characters. Very cute.

In this one, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) discovers that a man named Sirius Black, who had been imprisoned at Azkaban, has escaped. He then learns that Black betrayed his parents all those years ago, and told Voldemort where they were, leading to their death. And that Black, who is still an avid follower of Voldemort, is now after Harry, to finish the job, as it were.

But Harry, as usual, is having none of that. And along with his buddies Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), he does his best to solve things the only way he knows how.

This is the first Potter film not to be directed by Chris Columbus, with these duties now being given to Alfonso Cuarón (though only for this film, for the next one, it's Mike Newell doing the honours). The difference is noticeable if you're paying attention, but it's only in slight accentuations of different things - highlights on certain aspects that the directors have chosen differently based on time constraints. Otherwise, it's quite consistent with the first two, and would flow on nicely in a movie marathon viewing.

Cuarón has a slightly bigger focus on some of the new incidental characters, which is a plus (though, admittedly, Columbus did have to do a lot of introducing, which would have cut into the general storytelling time). Unluckily, the character of Peeves (in theory played by Rik Mayall) doesn't get a look-in, but the painting of the fat lady who guards the Gryffindor common room, played by the wonderful Dawn French, makes an hilarious, albeit brief, appearance.

One of the top things about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is that it is, for the most part, well timed. The obligatory opening at the Dursley's house is kept brief, moving quickly on to the proper part of the story, and some aspects of wizard life which have already had a good going-over in earlier (and probably later) films of the series are kept fairly brief, the best example of this being the Quidditch match.

The new additions to the cast in major roles are also wonderful. Gary Oldman as Sirius Black is my particular favourite, Emma Thompson was clearly having fun with her role as the whacko Divination teacher, and David Thewlis as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher made a good mentor for Harry. Alan Rickman is back and as great as ever as oily Snape, and Michael Gambon looks almost the same as Richard Harris did in the role (Harris having unfortunately died since the last one was made), although the warmth of his character wasn't done quite as well.

And haven't our favourite little wizards and witches grown so! It looks like Harry himself will have to spend a fair bit of time in makeup by the next one, cos he'll be pimpling right up, and meanwhile, Hermione is becoming even more of a little stunner, and Ron is coming into his own - he's much more handsome than I would have thought he would be if judging by Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) only.

So, overall, I greatly enjoyed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, though, being released in summer over in America means it was released in winter here in Australia, and leaving my toasty warm bed early in the morning to watch it did put a little bit of a dampener on it. And the credits were amazingly long, though pretty to look at, with all those little footprints bounding across screen. As good as the others, but, for me, not particularly better.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 2 Jul 2004

"Third time's the (magic) charm" - a review by mino

I believe I've mentioned before that I consider the art of making movies for children is a vastly underrated one. People look at kids' movies as a lesser form of art, rather less worthy of credit or praise than those for adults. This manages to completely ignore the fact that, if anything, kids are far more discerning than adults. Hell, I don't know many young kids who'd sit through Titanic (1997), but damned if a lot of low-entertainment-threshold adults didn't make it the most successful movie of all time. Movies for children are more exacting in a lot of areas, particularly the fine balance required in pacing the movie well — the difference between leaving kids floundering without a clue and having them bored to tears is fine indeed.

An equally difficult art, I feel, is taking over the work of another director, particulary one who has acquitted himself very well indeed. Dealing with established characters in a sequel is hard enough, let alone when a different director is making the sequel: matching the tone of someone else is not the easiest thing in the world, judging by how many sequels made in such a fashion look rather piecemeal and slipshod.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then — Alfonso Cuarón's tilt at the Harry Potter franchise previously under the control of Chris Columbus — is indeed a fine effort. Cuarón was helped, I feel, by the fact that author J.K. Rowling produced a very different novel with her third in the series. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) was much darker than the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), because the book was likewise darker. The novel of Prisoner of Azkaban, though, was a different beast again: equally dark, but also more violent, more emotional, and generally more complex. The plot — a dangerous killer escapes from Azkaban, the wizard prison, and has Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's star pupil, Harry Potter, firmly in his sights — has much more of an edge than the rather MacGuffin-filled plots of the previous books. This gives Cuarón a chance to make a bit of a break from Columbus' style, and it's a chance he takes up with delight.

Most noticably, Columbus' rather slavish devotion to the books, while probably exactly what was required at the time, is cast aside for a more precise approach — Cuarón is careful to prune the movie back to the bare essentials, making what would have been a three-and-a-half hour movie if made in Columbus' style well under two-and-a-half hours, and the movie is the better for it. Another fifteen minutes or so might not have gone astray, as some of the exposition was a little too hurried, even for me (as someone who's read the books) — I'm not sure how someone who hadn't read Azkaban would cope.

The first half-hour or so of the movie had me a little concerned, as Cuarón's ability to engage with the characters seemed a bit limited — the movie didn't seem to have as much ‘personality’ as the first two, and the humour was a little forced. Once things started flowing, though, things improved greatly and it was very easy indeed to come along for the ride.

Kudos in particular to Cuarón for his use of special effects — while not normally something I focus on, as with the previous two films the effects here are of great quality and not at all overly garish or too overwhelming to the plot. They're more subtle here than before, and add a great deal to the atmosphere. This is something Columbus handled well, and I'm glad to see Cuarón doing even better.

So, enough of the director: what about the acting? Well, the concerns about the core team (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) becoming less endearing as puberty took hold were unfounded. While Harry's starting to sound a little more like Barry White, none of them seem to have grown awkward or become bored, as so often happens with child actors (I call this Macaulay Culkin syndrome). In fact, the only person who seems unfortunately cursed by puberty is Matthew Lewis, who plays class sop Neville: he looks totally different and rather unpleasantly gangly now. Ahh well. The main trio continue to produce excellent performances for teenagers, an age level at which it seems particularly rare to find actors with real personality. Grint and Watson, in particular, continue their comic banter with gusto and are proving themselves to be genuinely talented actors.

The strength of the previous two films was the series of wonderful performances from the fringe actors, playing Rowling's quirky and often hilarious group of incidental characters. Alas, the one flaw with Cuarón's ultra-tight pruning is that these characters appear only briefly, and don't add nearly as much to the movie. Alan Rickman, for example, was probably the highlight of the first two films, though he's largely wasted here, as is Maggie Smith. The new additions to the cast are more than capable, though: most notably Gary Oldman as prison escapee Sirius Black. Oldman seemed a rather odd choice when I first heard of his casting, but he's actually perfect, bringing just the right amount of ‘suave’ to the character, but keeping the necessary edge. David Thewlis is also brilliant as Professor Remus Lupin, a lecturer at Hogwart's, which helps make the film a delight for those who are fans of the books.

The other notable additions are Emma Thompson as divination teacher Professor Trelawney, a totally dotty character who Thompson handles well, and who will become very interesting to watch in the next two movies, given that the character gets a little more ‘meat’. Michael Gambon, the late Richard Harris' replacement as school headmaster Dumbledore, is possibly the only disappointment, but only because Harris did such a stirling job. Gambon's Dumbledore is rather less likeable than Harris', though part of that may be due to Dumbledore's role being pruned back to a bare minimum, as with so much else. Hopefully Gambon will grow into the role a little more in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), currently being made with Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) director Mike Newell at the helm, as the character of Dumbledore is certainly an important one to get right.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great piece of filmmaking for children. As a fan of the books, I'd love to see a three-hour version with a little more of Rowling's atmosphere included, but for a kids' movie, the all-important pacing is very close to perfect. I consider myself something of a connoisseur of kids' films, but for an expert opinion on how good a job Azkaban does, I can only rely on the comments I overheard from the kids around me in the cinema: and every last one sounded as absolutely enraptured as they looked. You can't ask for more than that.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 11 Jun 2004

Movie review statistics

Ratings given without reviews:

Number of reviews: 2
Number of ratings: 3
Average rating: 8.67
Lowest rating: 8 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 9 (by em_fiction, mino)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. I saw the movie last night with my hubby. Overall I have to say that it was not brilliant. There were changes I felt were odd-i.e. the fact that Hagrid seems to have picked up his house moved it to the side of a mountain??!! The special effects were quite good - however where was the good versus evil between the Gryffindors and Slytherins? The characters that Chris Columbus took so long to define (Weasleys, Neville, Seamus etc) were practically non extistant. I felt that the director/writers spent too much time adding comic relief to the movie and there was not enough consistency with the book - which after all, that is what children like. Routine and consistency - I feel older children will pick up on this - my nine year old did. We didn't see any of the corridors or grounds of Hogwarts other than that clock and coutyard. Which I must say became boring very quickly!!!!!!! The acting was great - Snape is and will always be my favourite character. Sirius and Lupin great. The trio were up to their usual standard - although Dumbledore was not as "regal" as he could have been. Where did the hideous nails and rings come from????
    Where was Professor McGonagal? Where was the magic of the first two films - the way the tables in the great halls filled with food etc.

    I came away feeling disallusioned - the first two movies flowed on beautifully - lets hope that Goblet of Fire is closer to the book - because that is what people go to see - the book coming to life on the screen. Albeit not exact - but as close as possible in a short space of time - oh, and if the directors etc are reading this !?! don't change things from one movie to the next and expect that people wont notice - Hagrid has never lived on the side of a hill.

    Rating given: 6

    A comment from Megan McDonald on Sun 11 Jul 2004 14:28 #

  2. So many things about this movies pissed me off! They've changed it SO much, and the changes are BAD! A pet peeve of mine - btw, I'm not happy with the fact that Peeves never got included in the movies =( - is tha Dumbledore says these, though very wise words, they are NOT in the book, and completely superfluous. Also, whatøs with the walk Harry and Lupin takes in the woods and on that bridge and stuff? Is that all derived from the one or two conversations they had, one when the others are all gone to Hogsmeade?
    The whole movies just has a sort of weird wrong feeling about it, and I think the director is to blame here. His style just sin't to my liking. He wrecked the movie, if you ask me, and this is and probably will always be my least favourite one. I bought the DVD so I have the set, but I think I've only seen it once since I got it.

    I wasn't completely happy with the first and second movies either - I'm a bit of a perfectionist, i.e., in the book, Percy's girlfriend Penny has curly hair, but in Chamber of Secrets, it's straight ;-) I'm a geek, I know it - but I learned to love them. I don't think I'll ever learn to love the third one.

    Rating given: 4

    A comment from Maria Brejner on Sat 22 Jul 2006 09:09 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 5.00 (2 ratings)

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