Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (DVD, 2009, Spanish Audio Sticker) Reviews
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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (DVD, 2009, Spanish Audio Sticker)

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The best Harry Potter film yet.

Jun 4, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Cuaron's vision and artistic story-telling methods.

Cons:Some scenes will feel rushed, truncated, and incomplete w/o knowledge of the book.

The Bottom Line: Exhilarating to the last shot.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA) is a story identical in structure to the first two books/films. Harry makes a narrow escape to Hogwarts, where he is soon at the center of a complicated mystery. With the help of best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, he resolves to unravel the perplexity, which leads to a dramatic and mesmerizing final act.

PoA is in a unique and tricky position for a literary sequel because not only will it be inevitably compared with the book, but because of a directorial change, the film will be more heavily contrasted with its predecessors. Fortunately Alfonso Cuaron (best known for Y Tu Mama Tambien, pardon the lack of accent marks) has helmed the best film of the series, even though it is the least similar to the source material.

While Chris Columbus turned in workmanlike efforts in the first two movies, his primary error was in remaining too faithful to the text, resulting in too much content that slowed down the pacing. Conversely Cuaron has chiseled away at the third book (which is longer than the first two, although the film is shorter) to create his own handiwork that is faithful to the spirit of Rowling's writing, while clearly featuring his own artistic style.

That style is what makes PoA so enjoyable to watch, even if, perhaps especially if you've read the book, as I have. Instead of simply waiting to see how the director's vision matched up with my own, I found myself eagerly anticipating not only the what but the how, as Cuaron's transitions, shots, and camera movements injected new life into the series. The Mexican featured wider and longer shots than most American directors, endowing Hogwarts with a different feeling, one more open and less ominous. His transitions also stood out, in contrast to Columbus' straightforward manner. Many vignettes opened or closed with stylish scene-setting shots, whether it be a freezing flower or a bird veering too close to the Whomping Willow. These transitions meshed with a more subdued color palette to give the film more of a human feel, reflecting the tumultuous times that the main characters were enduring. They also allowed the drama to build, which was important in a film that contained so many vignettes that could easily have felt much more unrelated.

The humane aspect of PoA may be the core enhancement to the series. Cuaron's technical alterations aid this development, as does the maturation of the three children, both as characters and actors. Being clearly older, Harry, Hermione, and Ron have grown past the cute child actor stage and reached the teenage plateau, which for makes them easier to relate with for most of the audience. Additionally the trio is outfitted in normal clothes, rather than their school uniforms, much more often. Not everyone remembers what it was like being a preppy little kid, but everyone recalls life as a jeans-wearing teenager. The physical aspects would possibly be enough, but also the script contains more and better emotions, the three actors are better at portraying them, and the director is better at displaying them. That's a Murderer's Row of improvements that is impossible to overlook.

Consistent with the first two films, the adult actors are stellar once more. From Alan Rickman's permanent sneer as Snape to Maggie Smith's world-weary wisdom as Professor McGonagall to Robbie Coltrane's now-promoted-to-faculty Hagrid, all of the returnees slide effortlessly back into their parts. They are complemented by an equally talented group of newcomers. Michael Gambon performs admirably with the impossible task of replicating Richard Harris' gravitas, combining Harris' established character with his own interpretations. As the latter titular character, a frenetic Gary Oldman is deliriously watchable once he finally makes an appearance. Last but definitely not least is David Thewlis as R.J. Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. He expertly works with Harry to supply several tender exposition scenes that don't slow down the movie. All in all, the adult cast shines as they relish their roles without chewing scenery.

Special effects were at the center of the first two films, but in PoA they largely take a backseat to traditional dialogue scenes. That allows the fewer primary visual effects (not to be confused with the numerous background paintings, etc.) to range from solid to superb. Buckbeak looks perfect, while the Dementors quality tattered look will suffer from comparisons to LOTR's superior Ringwraiths. But due to sheer originality, the Knight Bus tops them all in an early thrill ride. Good stuff as usual from Industrial Light & Magic.

Speaking of reliable technicians, John Williams has composed yet another excellent score. With the choral song Something Wicked This Way Comes, Williams has added another lingering tune to his already familiar work, allowing him to weave both themes throughout the film. The guy's a machine, and while he does occasionally produce some melodramatic scores, this is not one of them. Its tinges of darkness and minor keys (?) accurately mirror the action, soaring and subsiding as needed.

Lest you think the movie was the greatest film ever, I should point out that because Cuaron trimmed so much from the book, the numerous scenes sometimes feel rushed and truncated, as though we are dashing through a museum in an effort to see everything as quickly as possible. The truncation did not bother me because I knew the omitted information, but the pace was too choppy over the middle portion of the film. I could also argue that if you haven't seen the others or read the books, then you won't fully understand everything, as characters and skills aren't entirely explained. But that's a minor complaint, because will anyone actually see this one who hasn't seen or read the others?

Like it or not, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is clearly the most cinematic of the first three movies. Rather than simply churn out a live-action version of the book, director Alfonso Cuaron utilized tools like telescopic fades, zooms through clock towers, and additional character development as he adapted the book to fit the big screen. The result is a emotionally darker film with more humanity than the first two combined. More than just a four star film, but not quite worthy of a full five stars, PoA was the best film I've seen so far this year. Thoroughly enjoyable to the last shot. 8.5 out of 10.

(Note to parents: I didn't think PoA was as dark or scary as the second film, but still be warned that this features images more frightening than the average PG-rated movie.)

Recommend this product? Yes

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