|"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004).|
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 huge step up from the first two installments. Once again, we have the triumvirate of Harry 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." Now that they have introduced the characters in the first film and settled them into their roles in the second, the filmmakers apparently decided to try some actual storytelling.
|Tom Felton once again gets in some good moments as Harry's classmate/rival in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."|
Harry Potter is having a tough time with his relatives, as usual. You might have thought by now that they would have caught onto his special nature and treated him with special sensitivity, the same way the parents did in that Billy Mumy "Twilight Zone" episode when he kept sending them to the Cornfield, but no such luck.
|Harry grabs Hermione in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."|
Harry 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? But hey, it's just old 'arry, let the little wizard do his tricks.
|The Potter triumvirate sticks close together in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."|
At first Harry is worried that he will be disciplined for using magic outside of his school. You see, even wizards have rules. However, Harry finds out that he won't be penalized after all. Not exactly the best lesson to teach the youngsters who are devoted to this series, but there you go. It is the 21st Century and all, and the young star cannot be punished because that might make the kids who idolize him feel bad. We can't have that. Instead, Harry must return to save the day!
|A tense moment in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."|
Harry soon learns that a dangerous criminal,Voldemort's trusted aide Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), has escaped from the Azkaban prison. Sirius Black intends to kill Harry to avenge the Dark Lord. Well, good luck with that, the film isn't called "Voldemort and the Prisoner of Azkaban," it's called "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" for a reason.
A further complication then 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.
|Hermione has fun using her magic skills to torment other children. Again, some of the lessons imparted in "Harry Potter" are quite unusual. Emma, by the way, wears the same pink hoodie for what seems like half the film.|
Anyway, telling more detail would give away the plot. Rest assured, by the end of this school year, many questions about Harry Potter's past will be answered, and he will have a better idea of the adventures that await.
|Hermione and Harry get very touchy at times in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," but, no, stop, they're still too young.|
This film has terrific actors such as Gary Oldman and Emma Thompson. One thing that you notice when reviewing the series is that the longer it goes on, the greater the caliber of actor who leaps on board the Harry Potter express. Naturally, this is because of its fame with kids, which provides a guaranteed audience each time out, and also for more personal reasons. As Emma Thompson said, she took her role because she wanted to impress her daughter. Oldman claimed he "needed the work," which of course is nonsense. However, simply by seeing Gary Oldman's name attached you know know that things will get serious - he's not exactly a comedic actor. The only mildly surprising thing is that he accepted the offer, but even top actors have bills to pay.
|The lighting in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is outstanding, creating an otherworldly sense simply by how the sets are lit.|
The establishment clearly does not give these serial types of flicks much respect, as evidenced by their being overlooked at awards time. However, there is a very good reason why they keep getting made: cold hard box office receipts. The Potter films always make a mint, and the producers can afford to meet just about anybody's price to play a role. After Chris Columbus decided not to do this sequel after filming the first two entries, several directors passed on "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Eventually, the job 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. If Cuaron was about anything at that point in his career, it was money, as he had shown that he could make it while working with young actors in "Y Tu Mama Tambien." And make it Cuaron did with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban": the film grossed almost $100 million in its opening weekend alone, and almost $800 million worldwide.
|Here's a test: if you know who this is without my telling you, you are ready to see "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Hint: he is played by Michael Gambon.|
Even though "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is the only Harry 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, and to hire just about whomsoever you want to play a part - assuming they are motivated by money, that is. 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 after this, though, 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 perhaps entered into the equation, given 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... at least not in English. So Cuaron signed on anyway, probably spoke a lot of Spanish when he got frustrated, and he produced an excellent entry into the Harry Potter universe.
|Our triumvirate of titans, Hermione, Harry and Ron, right there next to each other in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."|
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.