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:: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry again finds himself in grave danger. Insane murderer Sirius Black, played by the highly adaptable Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element, Dracula, Air Force One), is on the loose, having escaped from the hitherto inescapable wizarding prison of Azkaban. Convicted for betraying Harry’s parents to Lord Voldemort and killing anyone in his way, he now appears hell-bent on adding Harry Potter to his list of victims.

To add to Harry’s woes, the Azkaban guards sent to Hogwarts are terrifying monsters who feed on happiness, and ultimately destroy their prey by sucking out its soul. They send chills through poor Harry and seem to affect him more than his classmates.

These foul creatures are responsible for the ratings controversy that ensued in the week leading to the film’s release. The original M15+ rating for horror elements, and these things are a little creepy, was thankfully revoked to allow kids to see what is still a kids movie, albeit one with broad appeal.

With the young cast growing up and a new director on board, it is quite different to the first two instalments. Alfonso Cuarón (A Little Princess, Great Expectations- 1998) was unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books and films until he was approached as a possible director for Prisoner of Azkaban. His style is noticeably more cinematic and mature than Chris Columbus’s, with understated, down-to-earth characters in a remodelled and eerily beautiful wizarding world.

He has also drawn some excellent performances from Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint (Harry, Hermione, and Ron, respectively), who have developed outstandingly as actors since The Chamber of Secrets. Now teenagers, they seem very natural in their roles and interact confidently with the adult cast.

As a film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is highly accomplished, however as a book adaptation, it will disappoint many die-hard fans. It is not the literal representation of J.K. Rowling’s words that we saw in The Philosopher’s Stone or The Chamber of Secrets. This was partly due to a new director with a new perspective and partly to J.K. Rowling’s own wishes during pre-production that the film be faithful to the spirit of the book, rather than the restrictive literal meaning. The film does not suffer long background explanations or minute details, preferring to use the time exploring characters or their magical world. As a consequence, it loses much of the intrigue and excitement of the previous films.