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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/05/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 147 mins

The eagerly anticipated third film in the Harry Potter series is, like the book, easily the best of the three so far.

It was a bold decision for Warner Bros to put Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Great Expectations) in charge of the third installment in the Harry Potter franchise, but it has paid off beautifully. Cuaron has more than done it justice, delivering an enjoyable, beautifully directed film that is comfortably superior to its two predecessors.

Dangerous Wizard On The Loose

With a longer book to get through in the same running time as the previous films, Cuaron and screenwriter Steve Kloves don’t mess about. For example, the script makes short shrift of the Dursleys - once Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has turned his annoying Aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) into a giant balloon he leaves his uncle’s house and –in a superb set-piece-gets picked up by the Knight Bus, a glorious purple triple-decker that deposits him in London where he quickly reunites with his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson).

Once the students reach Hogwarts, Harry discovers that a dangerous wizard named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison and may be looking for him.

To make matters worse, Hogwarts is playing host to the Dementors, the terrifying, soul-sucking Azkaban guards who have been stationed at the school to protect the students from Black. Luckily, Harry receives help in the form of the new Defence Against The Dark Arts tutor, Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), who teaches him to protect himself against the Dementors. However, Lupin has some dark secrets of his own…

Impressive With A Wealth Of Detail

The design of the film is extremely impressive and every frame contains a wealth of detail, particularly in the sequences set in the school. Cuaron also frequently ensures that something is happening in the background – this allows for a particularly amusing game of Spot The Giraffe whenever the school paintings are shown. There are also lots of weirdly atmospheric touches, such as the spinal cord-shaped candles or the Choir Toads.

Perhaps the most notable change is that Cuaron has coaxed genuinely decent performances out of the three leads – Radcliffe finally seems confident in the role and pulls off his Angry Potter scenes nicely. Grint also seems more relaxed this time round, although it’s Emma Watson who emerges as the stand-out with an extremely appealing performance.

Elsewhere there is the usual terrific character work from Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane. Michael Gambon (taking over from the late Richard Harris) makes the character of Dumbledore his own. In addition, David Thewlis is wonderful as Professor Lupin – his scenes with Harry are genuinely moving. There’s also good support from Gary Oldman, Robert Hardy and Emma Thompson as Madame Trelawney.

The film isn’t entirely without flaws – for example, key details have been dropped and there’s also a scene where Harry’s scar clearly appears on the wrong side of his head. Also, because of the nature of the story, it frequently feels as if you are skimming through the best bits and it’s only the inventive shots of the Whomping Willow that clue you in to the fact that the seasons are changing and the film isn’t taking place over a couple of weeks.

That said, this is a hugely enjoyable, beautifully directed film that puts Christopher Columbus’ previous two efforts to shame – if only all blockbusters could look this good. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 11/12/2017 22:46

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