Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

on June 04, 2004 by Christine James
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"Something wicked this way comes!" sings a toad-clutching choir of students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's welcome feast. Is it a maniacally snip-happy director they're ominously auguring? Because the scariest thing about this adaptation of J.K. Rowling's third "Harry Potter" tome is how tenuous a grasp helmer Alfonso Cuaron, taking over from Chris Columbus, has on the subtleties, backstories and human connections that are so vital to the mythos.

Those who credit Cuaron for bringing a darker edge to the material should re-read the books, as that arc is markedly evident in the text. The look and feel of Harry's world has already been established in the franchise's two predecessors and isn't particularly innovated upon here. Cuaron still gets 50 points to Gryffindor for successfully conjuring the basic elements but might have to be sent back to Remedial Potions to distill the essence of nuance.

Young wizard Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione return for their third year of training in magic at Hogwarts, but school is the last thing they (or this movie) have on their minds: Convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), accused of leading the evil Lord Voldemort to Harry's parents, has escaped Azkaban prison and the clutches of its soul-sucking Dementor guards, and is now fixated on finding Harry. As a result, the Grim Reaper-like Dementors have stationed themselves on the campus grounds and, though Headmaster Dumbledor keeps them at bay, they have no qualms about ingesting the spirits of any students who get in their way. Which Harry manages to do time and again.

Cuaron tries to touch on a couple dozen of the subplots that so delightfully and leisurely unfold in the book, but here come off like a fast-forwarded highlight reel. By the end, you pretty much understand what happened but you don't fully feel why it was meaningful. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, David Thewlis and Gary Oldman. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Written by Steve Kloves. Produced by David Heyman, Chris Columbus and Mark Radcliffe. A Warner Bros. release. Fantasy/Adventure. Rated PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language. Running time: 140 min

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