Many feel that "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004) is the best film of the entire Harry Potter series. It certainly seems to be a step up from the first two installments. Once again, we have the triumvirate of Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) facing a difficult fantasy situation that must be resolved.
The rap on this film, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and released by Warner Brothers, is that it has one of the better storylines in the series but is "the one that got darker."
Harry Potter is having a tough time with his relatives, as usual. You might have thought by now that they would have caught on to his special nature and treated him the same way the parents did in that Billy Mumy "Twilight Zone" episode, but no such luck.
He runs away after using magic to inflate Uncle Vernon's (Richard Griffiths) sister Marge (Pam Ferris, who was not being nice toward his parents. Clearly, the boy needs anger management. Power corrupts, right?
At first he is worried that he will be disciplined for using magic outside of his school, but he finds out that he won't be penalized after all. Not exactly the best lesson to teach youngsters, but there you go.
Harry soon learns that a dangerous criminal,Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), has escaped from the Azkaban prison. Black intends to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. Well, good luck with that, the film isn't called "Sirius Black and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
A further complication arises. Vile creatures called Dementors are appointed to guard the school gates. For some unexplained reason, they have a bad effect on Harry which he must figure out.
By the end of this year, many questions about his past will be answered, and he will have a better idea of the adventures that await.
This film has terrific actors such as Oldman and Emma Thompson because of its fame with kids. As Emma said, she took her role because she wanted to impress her daughter. Oldman claimed he "needed the work," and you know that with his involvement, things will get serious. The establishment clearly does not give these serial flicks much respect, but there is a very good reason why they keep getting made: cold hard box office receipts.
After Chris Columbus decided not to do this sequel, several directors passed on this film. Eventually, it went to Cuaron, the Mexican director of (among other things) the sleeper hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien." He seems a strange choice, considering that his main credential was a film that glorified teenage sex, but this series is all about money, and he showed he could make it while working with young actors. And make it he did: the film grossed almost $100 million in its opening weekend alone, and about $800 million worldwide. Even though this is the only Potter film to gross less than $800 million worldwide, that still is a lot of money. A whole lot of money. An intense amount of money. Certainly enough to keep the franchise going.
You'll always find quality help with those kinds of numbers, even though it ain't Shakespeare. Cuaron did turn down the opportunity to direct the next sequel, showing that there are limits. Ian McKellan also turned down a role in this film, claiming it would be "too hard to live up to another legend" after appearing in "Lord of the Rings." The fact that this is basically is a kid's flick and he is a serious actor probably didn't enter into the equation, not with the kind of money they surely dangled in front of him.
There are aspects to working on a Potter film that may partly explain why so many people turn the opportunity down. Cuaron's contract, for instance, explicitly forbade him from cursing in front of the child actors. Filming in Scotland reportedly was miserable as well, as it constantly rained. And you couldn't curse about it, no sir....
As the third of eight films in this series, this is a must for fans. If you are one of the few who never saw the first two, viewing them is pretty important for understanding this film.