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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Movie Review

by Shmuel Ross
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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The third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, opened on May 30, 2004, in the United Kingdom and June 4, 2004, in the United States. As readers of the books know, the third one introduces the character of Sirius Black, brilliantly played here by Gary Oldman. At the start, he has just escaped from Azkaban, a maximum-security wizard prison, and is believed to be on his way to attack Harry Potter at Hogwarts. Dementors—a sort of magical prison guard—are sent to Hogwarts to try to stop him. By the end of the book (and the movie), we learn some surprising things about Sirius, and about the night Harry's parents were killed.

We also meet Professor Lupin (played by David Thewlis), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, who turns out to have secrets of his own. The last two Defense Against the Dark Arts professors made it through only one year at Hogwarts each; will he turn out to be different? And there's Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson), the Divination professor whose predictions sometimes actually come true.

In addition to these new characters, most of the cast of the first two films has returned for the third, with Michael Gambon replacing the late Richard Harris in the role of Dumbledore. Hagrid is now the Care of Magical Creatures instructor, and his first lesson, with a hippogriff named Buckbeak, has important results for the rest of the film. We also get to see part of a Quidditch match, and some very, very creepy dementors.

New Director

The third film has a new director, Alfonso Cuarón, taking the place of Chris Columbus. The difference between the two is clear in every scene. Columbus's films are straightfoward retellings of the first two Harry Potter books; while they can't show everything from the books, they follow the story pretty closely in the parts that are there. Cuarón, on the other hand, uses the third book as a starting point, but changes a lot. Part of this can be seen in how much he cuts out—his film is shorter than the previous one, even though it's based on a longer book. He focuses on the part of the story about Sirius Black, and a bit about Buckbeak. Almost everything else—the contest between the houses at Hogwarts, Percy's naming as Best Boy, the introduction of Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang—is removed.

Cuarón also changes the parts that do make it into his film. Harry, Hermione, and Ron now dress like ordinary students entering their teens, instead of wearing magical robes. Ron's father tells Harry about Sirius Black, instead of Harry overhearing it. The showdown in the Shrieking Shack goes from almost three full chapters to a few short minutes. Several new details are added to what Harry and Hermione do at the end. There are also many digital special effects, computer-generated characters (including the dementors, Buckbeak, and the Whomping Willow), and fancy camera work. In particular, there's a mindbending shot involving a mirror at the start of Lupin's first lesson that needs to be seen to be disbelieved.

Future Films

One question nobody knows the answer to at the moment is how much longer Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint will continue to play Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The characters are one year older at the start of each film, but the films are now taking more than a year to complete, which means that the actors are aging faster than the characters. At the moment, all three are working on the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is being directed by Mike Newell, but no decision has been made on whether they'll be back for the fifth. The answer is likely to come down to whether audiences would be more upset by having new actors take the place of the main characters, or having those characters played by actors who are a bit too old for the part.

In the meantime, this film has been doing very well. It broke a U.K. record by making more than five million pounds (more than nine million dollars) on the day it was released. It also made more on its opening weekend in the United States than the previous Harry Potter films did, taking in $93.7 million. After its first two weekends, it had made more than $362 million around the world.


Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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