Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The best way to rent movies!

The plot in a nutshell
Harry, Hermione and Ron are back in the third installment of the Harry Potter legacy.  Based on the third book of course, this film is a darker adventure for young Harry.  He learns about Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), an escaped murderer from the infamous Azkaban prison, guarded by the soul sucking Dementors.

It's up to Harry and his Scooby Gang to figure out what's really going on - as in any good Potter book, nothing is quite what it seems.  There's a new crop of teachers as well, including Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) taking over the Defense of the Dark Arts, and Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson) teaching Divination.  

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
I love the Harry Potter books.  Each one assumes that the reader is getting older and more intelligent, just as Harry is.  The stories are more intricate, the tales darker.  And the third book might very well be my favorite, with a deeper look into the deaths of Harry's parents and what really happened that night.

Unfortunately, I think this is the first book that translated badly to screen.  Oh sure, it has it's occasional bright moments, but for the most part this film is cramped with stuff, and no time for characters or story development.

Once again, Harry is with the terrible Dursleys, just waiting to get back to Hogwart's.  And just as you'd expect, poor Harry manages to use magic illegally, again in anger.  If Harry's anything, he's consistent.  Only this time the magic world is far too concerned about the escape of madman and murderer Sirius Black to be too worried about any minor infraction by Harry.  They even seem a little too forgiving, at least to Harry.

Harry meets up with the Dementors, loathesome guards of Azkaban.  He and they don't get along, and it's not just because the Dementors have such poor social skills.  The Dementors are going to be part of his life for awhile too, as they are sent to guard Hogwart's against the possible infiltration of Black.

Most of the first half of the movie plods along, with little action, and even less character development.  We get to see Harry angry, we get to see Ron scared, and we get to see Hermione smart, but even these basic emotions aren't as well played as previous films.  But the three kids at least get a little time to develop - the adult characters are left with almost nothing.

This is the first film without Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and he is sorely missed.  While Gambon is adequate, he never exudes the personality, playfulness or father-like qualities that Harris brought to the role. The best characters from the previous films are almost non-existent.  McGonagall is in a couple brief scenes, and even Snape is sorely underused.  There's plenty of Hagrid, but there has always been too much Hagrid, and the new characters never have much time to truly develop.  Lupin gets the most screen time, and he does alright with what he has, but we never truly connect, and therefore never care all that much about his outcome.

The greatest waste is Sirius Black.  Oldman has precious little screen time in the 2 hour and 19 minute movie, and that's too bad.  The few moments in the film where I felt there was a real connection were in the brief moments between Black and Harry.

Everyone has discussed how director Cauron was going to make a darker film.  But darker doesn't mean it has to be soulless, and that's what this film felt like.  They were very hard pressed to fit everything from the book into this film, and trying to do so meant much of it was rushed and incomplete.  They are currently filming Goblet of Fire, and it will be utterly impossible to fit that book into any movie that's 3 hours or less in length.

The main actors have aged, and while I think they should be allowed to - it seems like we expect 14 year olds in movies to look like they are still pre-teen - I have to admit that they are growing up fast.  It's a good thing they are already working on the next film, and I have a hard time imagining these three being able to stay for all the films.

This was not a bad film by any means.  I enjoyed it, laughed out loud at a number of the cuter parts, and found myself moved by the simple conversation between Sirius and Harry.  But it's not the best of the three Potter films, and I hope that the fourth fairs better.

Rating - Qualified See It On The Big Screen.
Yep, I'm qualifying it.  If you're a big Potter fan, or you're the parent of one, I suggest seeing it on a big screen with good sound.  There's no doubt that this kind of film deserves that treatment.  But for the casual fan, this one can be a renter.  Don't feel bad if you miss it first time around, or that you have to rush out to watch.  And don't be surprised if people who are not Potter fans in general find it boring or slow.  Considering the ending, it would be a surprise if they didn't.

I'll be very interested to see if it can stay on top of Shrek 2 over the next few weeks.  Of course it will do better this weekend, but when it comes time for those repeat viewers, which one are they going to pick?

Oh, and for those that read my toy review...Harry does wear goggles in the film during the short quidditch match.  Thankfully, it's because of the weather, not some silly new safety rules.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's a few things to spoil here, although the surprises in the film aren't quite what they were in the book...












The end of this film is very quiet and anti-climactic, particularly compared to the first two.  There's no actual big bad here, no major incarnation of Voldemort, but it seems to me that the evil in the book was far more pervasive and dangerous.  Here, I never felt as though there was any real danger, either from the Dementors or from Pettigrew.

One scene that was missing from this film that was sorely needed was the murder of Harry's parents.  In the book we got a vivid description of the events that led up to their death, including what supposedly happened with Pettigrew and Black.  That scene would have added far more tension and conflict - without it, there's little here outside of the Dementors that created much excitement.

And does that ending mirror the book?  Now I know it's been several years since I read Prisoner of Azkaban, but I can't imagine that she left it with so many loose ends.  Harry helps Sirius escape, blasting Snape, and there appears to be no problem for him?  And did it end without the usual year-end climax?  In this film, there's absolutely no feel for the school year, no sense of time outside of the changing weather.

When did Malfoy turn into a complete wimp?  He's clearly terrified of Potter and the gang, and posed no threat to any of them in this film, in any way.  He's one more threat that's non-existent, and knowing that Sirius was not a threat hurt me with this film.  For folks who have never read the book, the surprises might be more interesting, but for those that have already experienced the story, this version may end up being a let down.

This page copyright 2003, Michael Crawford. All rights reserved. Hosted by 1 Hour