Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Director Alfonso Cuaron plunges this third Harry Potter installment into chilling darkness but injects just enough humor to remain true to author JK Rowling's original story. This time around, 13-year-old Harry unearths some deep secrets about his mysterious past and finds unlikely allies in lifelong foes.
After having survived yet another summer with the Dursleys, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), now 13, joins up with pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) to kick off a new semester at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But the heartfelt reunion takes a frigid turn on the Hogwarts-bound train when the fab trio has a chilling encounter with the Dementors--morbid phantom guards hired by Azkaban Prison to track down notorious escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). The wizarding world believes Black is responsible for the deaths of Harry's parents and now wants to murder their only heir. But Harry notices that Sirius Black seems much more interested in Ron's pet rat Scabbers than he is in killing Harry, so the rattled but still curious young wizard decides to track down and confront Black about his parents' death and, in the process, unlocks secrets to his own mysterious past. Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of Hermione and Ron; Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), who's now a magical creatures teacher at Hogwarts; and Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), who eradicates pesky obstacles in Harry's way, like linear time constraints.
In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is now a full-blown adolescent--and it shows. His character here is slightly more rebellious than in the previous two films, and he's having a difficult time bottling his teen angst. In the film's opening sequence, for instance, Harry gets so angered by his aunt's disparaging remarks about his parents that he inflates her like a gaseous balloon and watches passively as she soars helplessly into the clouds. This new Harry is a feisty young man, and he's not overly concerned about pleasing everyone around him. And just as his young wizard has matured, so has Radcliffe as an actor. In one scene, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) shares a touching story about Mr. and Mrs. Potter with Harry, as a completely silent Radcliffe eloquently conveys his emotions through his facial expressions--with the stillness of a seasoned pro. Watson and Grint also come into their own and stay true to their characters without overreaching. It is, however, a notable pity Hermione and Ron weren't more fleshed out this time around. Great new additions to the Harry Potter cast include Oldman, who crafts a crazy but sympathetic martyr as Sirius Black, and Thewlis, who renders Harry's mentor Professor Lupin with the perfect blend of mystique and acumen.
It's not surprising that Warner Bros.' came knocking on Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron's (Y Tu Mama Tambien) door for its third Harry Potter installment. Although the director's critically acclaimed feature A Little Princess was a box office flop for Warner Bros. in 1995, the studio was so impressed with his work it did all it could to garner audience support, including re-releasing the film. With Prisoner of Azkaban, the studio took a chance on a lesser-known director and in doing so found a perfect fit in Cuaron. The director's vision here is a much less whimsical one than Chris Columbus' on the first two films; Cuaron drapes the wizard world in beautifully photographed darkness, oftentimes blanketed in shadows and rainstorms, while the sets and CGI creations--including Hogwarts, Hagrid's pet hippogriff, Buckbeak, and the faceless Dementors--are darker and creepier than ever. But despite his stylistic deviation from the first two films, Cuaron stays true to JK Rowling's tale and turns the author's intricate subplots and multi-tiered storylines into a gripping third installment that surpasses the franchise's standards.
Director Alfonso Cuaron isn't afraid to immerse moviegoers deeper in the dark world of wizardry, and in doing so he makes Prisoner of Azkaban the most multifaceted and intriguing Harry Potter film yet.