Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter
Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger
David Thewlis as Professor Lupin
Gary Oldman as Sirius Black
Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore
Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape
Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall
Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid
Emma Thompson as Professor Sybil Trelawney
Warwick Davis as Wizard
David Bradley as Argus Filch
Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon
Pam Ferris as Aunt Marge
Fiona Shaw as Aunt Petunia
Harry Melling as Dudley Dursley
Robert Hardy as Cornelius Fudge
Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
Dawn French as Fat Lady in Painting

Special Features:
Deleted Scenes

“Creating the Vision” interview with J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers

Interviews with the cast lead by Johnny Vaughan and the Shrunken Head

Three challenge games

“Conjuring a Scene” making-of featurette

“Care of Magical Creatures” animal trainer featurette

Self-guided iPIX tours into Honeydukes and Professor Lupin’s classroom

Choir Practice: sing-along with the Hogwarts choir

Hogwarts Portrait Gallery

Hogwarts Timeline

Electronic Arts game preview

DVD ROM Features: Wizard Trading Cards

Theatrical Trailers

Other Info:
Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Languages
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 142 Minutes

Synopsis:
This is the third film in the Harry Potter series and it is based on the book by J.K. Rowling.

As Harry Potter prepares for his third year as a student at Hogwarts, he gets some troubling news. A servant of Voldemort’s by the name of Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban and is on the loose. Even worse, he is searching for Harry Potter. With a homicidal maniac after him, it is believed that the safest place for Harry is back at the school.

At first Harry is distracted from his troubles by the joy of returning to school and reuniting with his friends Ron and Hermione. He meets an amazing new creature called a Hippogriff in Hagrid’s magical animal class, too. But there’s a menacing new presence surrounding the school. Evil creatures called Dementors are patrolling Hogwarts looking for Black. But Sirius Black will have something much bigger to worry about when Harry realizes that he was once a friend of his parent’s who betrayed them to Voldemort. Moving from a defense to an offense, Harry starts looking for Black in order to get revenge.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is rated PG for frightening moments, creature violence and mild language.

The Movie:
I always thought that the Harry Potter books got progressively better as they went along and I’ve found that the movies have followed suit. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is arguably the best of the Harry Potter movies. Everyone involved is in top form and the film hits the ground running and never lets up.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, Harry Potter 3 switches directors between films. Alfonso Cuarón picks up where Chris Columbus leaves off and he has big shoes to fill, but he fills them nicely. And like The Empire Strikes Back, Harry Potter 3 builds on everything from its predecessor. While still retaining the look and feel of the earlier films, you are treated to different corners of Hogwarts that are new and exciting. The paintings in the halls do cool new things beyond what was seen in the earlier films. You’ll explore deeper into The Leaky Cauldron. New characters are added that are bound to be new favorites. A Quidditch match in a rainstorm is very cool and intense. The film is also able to bypass all the required background on the characters and situations and dive right into the adventure. After the required introduction at the Dursley’s, Harry is quickly thrown into danger and the story is off running immediately. It helps the pacing and makes it feel significantly shorter than its over 2 hour running time.

What’s interesting about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is that it is both darker and funnier than the earlier films at the same time. There are many more jokes, one-liners, and physical gags than in the previous movies. For example, a scene where the students face off with scary creatures in a class ends up being really hilarious (I won’t spoil it here). Hermione’s mothering of the boys is played up in little moments here and there. Draco Malfoy and his goons are also the butt of many jokes and beatings. But as silly as the film is, it is also quite intense. The Dementors will probably frighten small children as well as a werewolf and a large dog. The themes of revenge and growing up are also emphasized in this film amid its dark setting.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all return as the stars of the tale. They still prove that their casting was perfect and they nail the characters yet again. While Grint probably has the least screentime of any of the characters, everyone has their moment to shine this time around. I realize now that it’s going to be hard to accept any other kids in the roles of these beloved heroes. New characters this time include David Thewlis as Professor Lupin. He does a fantastic job playing the new, enthusiastic professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. He’s a great mentor for Potter and Thewlis and Radcliffe have great chemistry together. Gary Oldman is also excellent as Sirius Black. As you might expect, he’s able to switch between homicidal maniac and sympathetic character with relative ease. Oldman is equally believable in either role and it’s impressive to see him make you buy the transition in such short order. Emma Thompson is also a lot of fun in the film as Professor Sybil Trelawney. Thompson looks like she’s having a blast as the flaky professor and she helps add to the humor in the movie. Also filling in for the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore is Michael Gambon. While he’s barely in the movie, he’s able to add nice touches to the character that make him likable. He ends up being a good successor to Harris.

The effects are again amazing. The Dementors are pretty good. It would have been easy to make them copies of the Ringwraiths in Lord of the Rings, but they manage to have unique looks and they are appropriately menacing presences. The Quidditch match again is fantastic, this time set in a lightning storm. You get a real sense of speed as Harry flies through the clouds and rain. But by far the most impressive effect in the film is the Hippogriff called Buckbeak. The creature is an imaginative design and he has tons of personality despite being a mix of animatronics and CG. He takes Harry on an amazing flight that ends up being one of the most impressive and beautiful scenes in the series.

John Williams again does an excellent job with the music. He builds on his already memorable Harry Potter theme with a dark tune called “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. It is sung by a Hogwarts chorus and adds an eerie note to the student’s arrival at the school.

While it has been a number of years since I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I think the heart of the story is here. I can’t address which details from the novel were changed or dropped, but the story is pretty close to what I remember. I think Harry Potter fans will be quite pleased.

This movie was great on every level, so I have no real gripes. If I had to address anything, it would be the fact that this film is going to be really scary for young children. A werewolf transformation is quite graphic and the Dementors will probably frighten as well. If you have young children, you might want to screen the movie before you let them see it otherwise you might be dealing with nightmares for a while.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is an excellent movie filled with action, adventure, thrills, chills, laughs, and amazing sights. It’s a perfect summer film and well worth checking out on the big screen.

The Extras:
There are a number of bonus features included in this 2 disc set. Here are some of the highlights:

Deleted Scenes – The deleted scenes are actually quite disappointing. One features a little more hijinks on the triple decker Knight Bus amid traffic. Another scene shows the Griffindor students dealing with the knight in the painting covering their dorm doorway. Later on in another scene he reveals how he let Sirius Black into the dorm. There’s one other deleted scene in the dining hall, but it is extremely brief and it doesn’t really move the plot along. A final deleted scene shows a bird flitting around Hagrid before being swatted by the Whomping Willow. If you were hoping that the deleted scene held a lot of new story and information, you’ll probably be disappointed

“Creating the Vision” interview with J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers – This is an extensive interview with author J.K. Rowling and director Alfonso Cuaron. They talk about how they worked together, how they adapted the book, and how they collaborated on the set. They say there are a lot of hints about the future books in the film and that Rowling even admired a few things they added in the film which she wishes she included in the books. It’s a pretty interesting look into the adaptation of the novels.

Interviews with the cast lead by Johnny Vaughan and the Shrunken Head – Vaughan interviews almost the entire cast for this feature and it ends up being the highlight of the extras. He talks to Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, and the Griffindor kids, the Slytherin kids, the Dursleys, and more. While Vaughn throws easy questions at the kids, he asks more probing questions of the adults. A lot of the answers end up being fluff, but there is some good info in it. The Shrunken Head does a few jokes on the side, but his shtick eventually is appropriately left on the side by the end.

Three challenge games – The first game is “Magic You May Have Missed”. In this, you try to spot small things happening in the background of certain movie scenes. It’s a neat way to highlight some of the effects you most likely missed. The second game is “Catch Scabbers”. In this you chase the rat through a series of obstacles. It’s an awkward game, but kids may enjoy it. The final game is a quest through the paintings with Sir Cadogan. You must navigate a maze and solve a series of puzzles to make it to the end. Kids will probably love this as well.

“Conjuring a Scene” making-of featurette – This feature shows how they made the Shrieking Shack, the Dementors, and Buckbeak. Being a fan of special effects, I particularly enjoyed this featurette.

“Care of Magical Creatures” animal trainer featurette – Until I saw this I didn’t realize just how many live action animals were used in this movie. There were cats, bats, owls, rats, hippos, and more. This shows how they were trained and used in the film.

Self-guided iPIX tours into Honeydukes and Professor Lupin’s classroom – This is tour of several of the sets from the film. As an added bonus, some of the main actors are filmed for these spots and can be seen wandering the sets along with you.

Choir Practice: sing-along with the Hogwarts choir – Want to sing karaoke to “Something Wicked This Way Comes”? Here’s the feature for you.

The Bottom Line:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a wonderful new chapter in the Potter series. It builds on everything established in the previous films as well as adding a few cool new characters, creatures, and locations. If you liked the first two movies, you’ll love this sequel.

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